NUFC Fans United’s Forum representative, Steve Hastie reported back on the second fans forum which was held on January 6th. It had originally been due to take place on December 16th. Steve felt that there was nothing untoward in the postponement, as the club’s Secretary Lee Charnley and Finance Director John Irving had been called to a meeting in London that day on unavoidable club business.
As in the previous fans forum meeting, Steve explained that the club once again answered an array of questions on various topics. He felt that whilst in the first meeting the club had been open from the start, this time they seemed to be more reserved - perhaps following the banning of NUST – though they did open up more as the meeting went on, and encouraging progress was made.
Steve reported that as requested, he along with a number of other forum members called for NUFC to reinstate NUST to the forum (as was agreed by those present at the last NUFC Fans Utd meeting in November). However, the club insisted that the bans on both NUST and NCJ Media are not negotiable or up for discussion.
The topic of payments and costs between Newcastle United and Sports Direct was also raised at the forum meeting. Steve said that the panel were told that Mike Ashley sees Newcastle United and Sports Direct as two separate entities. The point was made by the club that Ashley owns 100% of NUFC and 64% of Sports Direct. NUFC are able to benefit by using Sports Directs buying power which means merchandise for the club shop can be bought in bulk cheaper. The money that NUFC pays to Sports Direct and which was reflected in the Sports Direct accounts, (£498,000) is to cover shipping, storage and handling of NUFC stores merchandise, as NUFC uses Sports Direct for these services. Other details concerning specific Forum related matters can be viewed in the forum minutes which are available on the clubs official website.
A number of questions were then put to Steve about the validity of the fans forum and concern was raised about what would happen if NUFC Fans Utd did or said something that the club didn’t like. Steve made it clear that if NUFC Fans Utd disagree with the club on matters, it will be made known, as has been the case on a number of occasions. The fans forum should be viewed as positive and valid as it allows for dialogue between the club and its supporters and it is important to use this as a vehicle to raise concerns, suggestions and opinions with the club. Respectful, open and honest dialogue is the only way forward for both club and supporters.
Following the first fans forum meeting and the subsequent banning of NUST there was one resignation from the fans forum panel, which was subsequently filled. There was concern from some regarding the process as to how this vacancy was filled as the process seemed to happen very quickly and quietly.
Concern was expressed that Supporter Liaison Officer Lee Marshall was not in attendance and whether this meant NUFC’s interest in NUFC Fans Utd was declining? Steve explained that Lee was aware of the meeting but sent his apologies. He was unable to attend as he had media duties at the FA Youth Cup match at St James’ Park. Lee intends to attend future NUFC Fans Utd meetings mainly as an observer; gauging opinion, although he will hopefully be available to answer some questions and to speak with supporters one to one after the meetings.
Despite the club’s non-negotiable stance on the NUST ban, the meeting’s attendees still felt that although NUST should have adhered to the rules of the fans forum, and had disrespected the forum and its members in not doing so, NUFC Fans Utd should continue to support the call for their reinstatement. One suggestion was made that NUST appear in front of the fans forum panel to explain their actions, before the panel themselves vote on whether NUST are reinstated.
A question was asked regarding dialogue with NUST and it was made clear that NUST are and always have been welcome to attend NUFC Fans Utd meetings. An email was sent to them inviting them to this meeting; as there have been for all of our meetings. Sadly, there was no response.
Again, a number of ticketing issues have been raised, in particular the difficulties many people have experienced trying to buy tickets for the Sunderland game. There has been a lot of anger that people spent hours on a premium rate phone line or online trying to obtain tickets for the game, and yet many of those who purchased tickets have been put up for sale on websites such as Viagogo and Gumtree at higher than face value prices. This in turn has raised an issue amongst many fans re the difference between Viagogo and ticket touting. One attendee who had experience of Viagogo was able to talk directly about how they saw the process working for them.
Steve explained that he had taken the matter up with the club to obtain the facts and their opinion on these matters and advised that the club see Viagogo as the safe option as it guarantees the buyer the match ticket and the seller their money. A season ticket holder selling their seat for example simply has their card deactivated for that particular game, whilst the buyer receives a paper ticket, and the club are aware of who is sitting in that seat. Therefore, should any incidents arise, the season ticket holder would not be held responsible. If this was sold outside of Viagogo, the buyer cannot be traced and therefore the seller would be held responsible for any trouble caused by anyone using their ticket.
However, sales of tickets on other online forums or websites is considered by the club to be ticket touting and it is actively looking in particular into the issue of tickets for the derby that are currently featured on sites such as Gumtree.
Issues were raised concerning problems with away tickets, particularly at the West Bromwich Albion match on New Years Day. A number of supporters had obtained their ticket legitimately through the club (NUFC) only to find that they could not gain access to the stadium as someone had already entered with a ticket for their seat. It was felt that this was caused by the club’s travel group system and tickets being cancelled and reissued. The way the Travel Group system works is also causing problems as these groups are created from who people have applied with and travelled to away matches with previously. Often the tickets are sent to the person in the group with the most amount of points. This has meant on occasions people have bought tickets but they have then been sent by the club to people who either are not going to the away match concerned or aren’t travelling with the buyer on that occasion. This is causing confusion, anxiety, chasing around and tickets going missing. This often means fans are travelling to away games without tickets they’ve paid for to have a ticket reissued to them by the home club. This in itself has left fans feeling anxious and apprehensive and the queuing and waiting around involved at the home club has impacted on the enjoyment of their away trip.
It was also reported that on many occasions, supporters were finding that travel group tickets were coming up short and families were struggling to have issues resolved to their satisfaction and having to rely on tickets being left at the visiting club’s ticket office for collection.
Concern was also raised about the telephone ordering process and the long waits encountered by many supporters in trying to purchase tickets for the Sunderland fixture. Anecdotal evidence was put forward regarding callers being held in a queue for up to 5 hours and running up expensive call charges (in some instances over £35). This must be regarded as totally unacceptable.
It was generally felt amongst the meeting’s attendees that the ticket office has been poorly ran for many years, but that it is currently worse than ever and that many fans have little confidence in the way that it is currently administered and organised. Some believe that the whole matter of grouping tickets and family and friends ticketing arrangements needs reviewing and that the club should set up a working group that includes supporters with experience of much of the problems and issues to enable it to come up with a more manageable system of group ticket purchases.
A suggestion was put forward for a St Patricks Day charity event on the evening of the 17th March at the Number 9 Bar on Stowell Street, with a talk-in compared by former NUFC player Joe Allon and featuring some Irish ex-NUFC players, as well as a quiz. Funds will go to the Stroke Association. This is a UK-wide charity, but it is currently trying to raise its profile in the North East. It was agreed that this should be explored further, with a view that the event takes place. Further information would be posted on our social media sites once arrangements were formalised.
Steve Wraith informed the meeting that he will be doing a Fire Walk in aid of the said charity at the Baltic on March 20th and donations can be made via his Just Giving page.
TOON TIMES EXHIBITION
The Newcastle United Foundation has been working on a heritage project documenting the club’s history, which will result in an exhibition at the Discovery Museum running from February 8th to October 5th; Recommended attendance for all supporters, young and old.
The Number 9, the online fanzine was launched this summer and NUFC Fans Utd have taken over its publication from Steve Wraith. A transitional issue was released over the Christmas period and it is planned to produce two more editions this season with the next being released in late February. It is hoped that many of the fanzines writers will continue with the fanzine, but we welcome anyone who would like to contribute articles on a casual or regular basis. The suggestion was raised that NUFC Fans Utd ask the fans themselves what sort of issues and articles they would like the fanzine to cover, and that this could be done via the website, email and social media. The online blog ‘Shite Seats’ announced that they are producing their own fanzine (which will be a traditional hard copy) with the first issue coming out in February. Both fanzines will be great additions to an already burgeoning fanzine scene in the North East.
Bill Corcoran addressed the meeting and informed us of a letter from Chi Onwura, the Labour MP for Newcastle Central (the constituency in which St James’ Park is located) Which she asked him to read out to the meeting. Chi has recently met with fellow MP Alison McGovern regarding ways that Labour could improve fan governance and increase supporter participation in the running of football clubs. Their findings so far have concluded that fan organisations are fragmented and that this impairs the opportunity for supporters to play a bigger role in becoming involved with the running of their clubs. Labour is currently developing policy and Chi hopes that NUFC Fans Utd will work with them to formulate opinions and ideas on this matter. It is hoped that NUFC fans will play and active roll in this.
The meeting ended with a wonderfully full, frank and open discussion on a number of matters that impact directly and or indirectly on our clubs supporter base, including ♯Time4change, MAOC, Fan group relationships and the strength of NUFC Fan Unity.
The next meeting will take place in February; date tba.