Middlesbrough Supporters Forum……Minutes 47

Monday 17 January 2022 / 18:30 – 20.00 via Zoom

Present: Mark Motley (MM), Rob Nichols (RN), Jill Atkinson (JA), Red Faction (RF), John Donovan (JD), Liam Wilson (LW), Matthew Gale (MG), Caroline Walker (CW), Paul Dews (PD), Yvonne Ferguson (YF), Helena Bowman (HB)

1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies were received for: Ifshaan Mahmoud, Peter Hodgson, Paddy
Cronesberry, Lee Fryett, Ellen Sowerby

2. Welcome
MM started the meeting by welcoming all attendees.

MM mentioned it was the first meeting since November 2021. MM also advised it was good to have HB along at her first MSF meeting in her new role at MFC.

MM advised that he had removed the membership scheme update from the
agenda as LF could no longer join the meeting. MM also advised that he
intended to pick up with LF separately on some points around this and ticketing.

MM advised he would update the minutes with an update once he had spoken to LF.

3. Entry to the Riverside – Covid Plan B rules
MM advised he would start the meeting with any updates on entry to the
Riverside under plan B restrictions.

MM asked the group if anyone had any comments, updates, or issues to raise regarding entry to the Riverside under the Plan B restrictions.

MM mentioned that there had now been 2 games at the Riverside under these new guidelines, the most recent one being boxing day when a large crowd attended. MM advised that it had been mentioned on several occasions to him and other MSF members that the checking of the Covid passes by stewards was not really happening now and that a lot of supporters are not wearing masks upon entry at the turnstiles. MM advised that it appeared that it was no longer being enforced and asked if the club are still supposed to be enforcing these rules.

HB advised that supporters should still be showing either a covid pass, negative lateral flow result or an exemption form to gain entry and that you must wear a mask. HB advised that stewards should be checking every single person that comes into the stadium.

HB advised that they have had a lot of good feedback on the way it was handled and that MFC got Public Health to agree for to 2 lateral flow testing sites at the first 2 games and this was to support those that had not seen the messaging about entry requirements. HB also went on to advise that the Health Bus was on site for the last game for any supporters that had any questions.

HB also advised that ahead of each of the last 3 home games MFC had held an open day for supporters that YF had organised to help those supporters that may not have a smart phone and needed some extra help with preparing for entry. HB advised that MFC wanted to ensure that as many people could go to the games as possible. HB also advised that stewards have a supply of masks if any supporter forgets to bring one along.

HB asked if anyone had any feedback. MM advised at the last home game
stewards outside the turnstiles at the North stand seemed confused as to what they were doing and that he did not see any of them ask to see covid documents. MM advised that he just walked in out without question and those around him that didn’t have masks on didn’t even get questioned. CW advised that on the East stand concourse hardly anyone was wearing a mask.

HB advised MM that he should have been checked and she will feed this back.

JA advised that when supporters are leaving the stadium it seems that most
people don’t wear a mask and maybe a reminder would be good.

JD advised that at the North stand he has been asked every time to show his
covid documents and that delay is minimal, and entry is quick.

LW advised that he had no issues with entry and his only comment would be that stewards seemed surprised that he was showing them his covid pass.

MM advised that a factor may be that we have had a large gap between home games and people may have just genuinely forgotten the rules.

MM asked how the supporter open days had gone. YF advised that the first 2 had been busy but the last day had less numbers. YF advised that it had been well worth putting them on.

YF advised that the average age of those that attended the open days ranged
from between 66 -90.

JD asked if there could be some visual reminders for people as they approach the stadium to get their documents ready. MM advised that there are some signs already. HB advised the main issues is those people that arrive and don’t know anything about the rules of entry.

JD asked if it was possible to have point outside each stand that supporters in the day could go to and ask for help on downloading the app etc. HB advised that is the purpose of the health bus as it has Wi-Fi on it. HB advised a lot of people went to it.

YF advised most of the people that are struggling don’t have a phone or don’t have an email account. YF also advised that some of these individuals may not have family to support them.

HB also advised that this has also helped MFC identify and engage with some supporters that are socially isolated and that the MFC foundation can now work with those individuals going forward.

YF advised that the big concern that MFC may need to promote more is that
supporters are not putting masks on when leaving the game. LW advised that getting these things out into the local media helped previously, BBC Tees and the Gazette did a good job with that. PD advised that we could ask them to do a reminder ahead of the next home game.

HB advised that MFC are proud of what they have done and the praise they have had on how the situation regarding entry has been handled and its important that the standard is kept. MM advised that we impressed with the
communication and the way boxing day was handled and the patience and
compliance of supporters.

RN advised that there is a massive difference in concourses home and away. RN advised that at Blackpool hardly any masks had been worn and it was difficult to make your way through the concourse. RN advised that lots of people he knows got covid, himself following that game. RN advised that it is much better at the Riverside.

4. Away Game behaviour
MM advised that we wanted to get an update on actions from a separate
meeting that he had held with MFC about away game behaviour back in early December.

MM advised that he had been in contact with Chris Patzelt (MFC Safety Officer) and had been advised that MFC would look to send stewards to some away games that are closer to Teesside to support on the concourse.

HB advised that MFC had requested to send stewards to both Blackpool and
Mansfield but both clubs turned MFC down.

MM advised that Chris had also advised him that 12 MFC stewards had been
ready to travel to Sheffield United, however the game then got postponed.

MM advised that Chris had also said that he would continue to talk to safety
officers at other clubs in advance of MFC traveling to ask for extra emphasis on men entering the female toilets.

MM thanked MFC for acting on this action as he felt it would make a difference to the concerns of female supporters.

MM advised that another action taken away from the meeting was for further investigation into a text service for supporters to report issues they experience at games home and away. HB advised that they are currently looking at how this works at other clubs and MFC will implement something, its just a matter of working out how it will work logistically. HB advised at home games the phone would likely to be in the control room, for away games we need to think about this further.

MM asked RN to comment as he had attended a national meeting last week on the subject and had some updates for the group that would be useful to hear.

RN advised that he had attended an FSA meeting last week which was called by an FSA case worker as she had received an unprecedented number of complaints and queries from fans and club safety officers throughout the season from around the country. RN advised that there had been a lot of common themes identified that MSF have raised with others around behaviour.

RN advised that clubs are having problems with staffing stewards and the quality of stewards as well as issues with turnstiles not being open.

RN advised that it was identified that there has been a real upsurge in fan-on-fan tension and fights between supporters from the same club. RN advised that the group commented that lots of home fans now seem to get tickets in blocks near the away fans to taunt the away fans and pushing people out of their seats to do it.

RN advised that there was a lot of good discussion from different people
representing different clubs and that a working party was being set up to discuss some solutions between clubs. RN advised that it was interesting to hear about a situation at Hull City. Hull had received a spot check from the Safety Group and part of the stadium could have been closed due to problems in a particular block near the away fans. RN advised that Hull City sent a communication out to their supporters to let them know that a block would be closed to stop this behaviour happening.

RN also advised that there was some interesting work going on at Swansea City regarding a behaviour working group. RN advised that Swansea got all club staff and lots of supporters to sign an unacceptable behaviour policy and an acceptable behaviour agreement and they have a matrix of sanctions ranging from match bans to suspensions. RN advised that anyone that does get banned or suspended must sign up to the agreement in order to reattend games at some point. RN advised this is only a recent implementation, but the feedback is that it has been well accepted.

HB advised that she would be interested in hearing more about that. RN advised that he would get back in touch and set something up to speak with Swansea.

YF advised that there are things in place like Swansea at MFC, but we have not got it in a policy in black and white, but we do complete some education with supporters.

RN advised that he would take part in the working group to look at solutions and look at best practices.

RN advised that from the group that met, there was a consensus that its not a football issue, it’s a change in society since covid.

RN asked if MFC would try and put stewards on official supporter travel coaches as there had been feedback to MSF about anti-social behaviour on board them with people drinking alcohol and behaving in certain ways. HB advised that she would take this away to find out. YF advised that there has been some complaints into MFC about the attitude and behaviour on coaches. YF advised that Chris P was looking into the issues.

5. Issues at Stoke away
MM advised that MSF had written to the Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police and the Staffordshire Police and Crime Commissioner on behalf of Boro fans regarding the unacceptable behaviour towards innocent Boro fans by Staffordshire Police at the Stoke away game.

MM advised that he received responses from Staffordshire Police and the Crime commissioner advising that they are investigating it and that they had received a lot of complaints already and that they are treating the issues as one large complaint.

MM advised that a case manager had contacted him directly to advise that they are on with gathering all the evidence from supporters and police such as video footage and statements and that they could not give a timescale on when the report and outcome would be ready. MM advised that its likely to be months.

MM advised that anyone that has made a complaint will get a copy of the report. MM advised that there is also an opportunity to appeal if we do not agree with the findings.

MM advised that Staffordshire police have invited him to view the video
evidence of the pepper spraying at some point in the future so that he could
further understand how the pepper spray was used.

MM advised that he did not expect any further correspondence soon until the investigations are well underway. MM advised he would ask the case manager for regular updates.

HB advised that MFC have also contacted Staffordshire police and asked for
feedback and had received the same responses as MSF.

MM advised that he would continue to work closely MFC on the subject and
keep them informed of any new updates he receives throughout the process.

JD advised that it would be interesting to see the footage of the bodycam
incident as the police have a protocol to follow and if the pepper spray was

MM advised that he was pleased to get responses from Staffordshire Police and the forum will continue to ask for regular updates on progress. MM also advised that MSF would continue to keep supporters informed as when required.

RN advised that he had spoken to some people from Stoke who had told him that they had never seen that many police at a Stoke game for years. RN advised that walking around the stadium that lots of cars had also been prevented from leaving the carpark, there were lots of frustrated people. It was a massive operation that inconvenienced the whole stadium.

6. Green Football
MM mentioned that supporters had asked for information on the club’s green strategy and that this was a subject MSF had on the agenda for November’s meeting, but we removed so that we could get HB along to give an update.

MM advised that supports wanted to know about what MFC are doing and if the club had thought about park and ride, bicycle parking and the use of recyclable products.

HB advised that the EFL have recently launched the green code which is all about environmental issues and sustainability which is a type of governance and list of criteria that clubs work towards meeting, and clubs are then awarded the green code.

HB advised that the starting point for the green code is a questionnaire which MFC complete themselves. On completion of this, this will determine MFC’s current position. HB advised that MFC recycle everything, and nothing goes to landfill. HB advised that you could allow for 10% contamination, i.e. if on a matchday you have a bin for cups and it also has food in, this is ok and it gets sorted following collection.

HB advised that as the club have been redecorating any area of the stadium, LED lighting is installed, but we don’t yet have LED right across the stadium.

RF advised that he thought MFC were poor at this and that we have the wrong ideology, we should be thinking about re-use rather than recycle. RF also mentioned that other clubs have dedicated bins for certain types of products, however MFC seem to have just 1 type of bin to put everything in together.

RF mentioned that in Germany you pay a little bit extra for your first drink and you get a plastic cup with a handle on it and when you take the cup back you get your money back. This also saves club having to collect cups and cups get washed and re-used. RF also mentioned in Germany that they have bins for everything, food waste only, cups, cans only etc.

HB advised that there are lots of initiatives that we could look at and from her point of view it’s the start of the journey. HB advised that from what she
understands everything in the bins at the riverside does get recycled even if the items within them are mixed. HB said the bins go to a recycling plant and gets sorted.

HB advised there are lots of initiatives we could look at such as the reuse of
rainwater etc, however there is a financial implication to some of these
initiatives. HB advised that she would love to bring ideas back to this group and see what the opinion is of them.

RF asked if we could have a clothing recycling point outside the stadium, HB said its something that could be considered and is a great idea.

JD mentioned that when we do foodbank, could we not do a clothes collection at the same time. HB advised that MFC foundation did a clothes bank collection during lockdown and got 50-60 bags of clothes.

HB advised that any ideas on this subject that she is happy to hear them as there are things MFC need to do.

JD advised that park and ride was also brought up years ago and that never got off the ground. RN advised that he thinks that this initiative got far along the line in that tickets had been printed for it but then a company objected as the site designated was under Redcar & Cleveland council and they thought it may impact their access on a Saturday, the objection was upheld and the whole thing was stopped in its tracks.

JD advised that Southampton and Brighton have a similar scheme and we have seen that it has been successful. RN advised that at a meeting he attended a few months ago, it was said that the biggest carbon footprint for any football club is home fans travelling by car to their stadium, so its probably going to be the biggest thing for MFC to look at on the green charter.

HB asked how long ago the park and ride scheme was looked at. RN advised he thinks it was probably about 15 years ago. YF advised that she would have a look back through old folders to see if she can find any information on it.

MM advised that it should be investigated, especially with all the issues with cars still parking on the edge of the A66.

HB advised that this is something that MFC could look at. HB also advised that the MFC foundation do a lot of work in east Cleveland and had been looking to put on a bus from that location every match, we wanted to make sure people had access to the club.

JD advised that it may not get a massive take up initially, but even if it takes 10% of the cars of the road it makes a massive impact.

RN advised the people had asked about cycling to the stadium but didn’t know what to do when they got there in terms of parking their bike. HB advised that there is no bike shed, but at the front of the west stand attached to some of the lamp posts there are U bend cycle secure points that we would advise people to use. HB advised that this probably needs looking at if people don’t know that they are there. HB advised that there may be funding available for these types of things that can be investigated.

CW mentioned it would be good to look at vehicle charging points, HB advised that she is already looking at this with a local sponsor.

MM asked if there was anything else anyone wanted to mention on this subject and that it sounded like things are in the early stages and MSF would be happy to help support on this.

HB advised that once the green code questionnaire has been completed and she understands MFC’s current position, she will bring it back to the group to discuss further and get thoughts.

HB also mentioned that the council had bought some Rhino guards that are for anti-terrorism, and they will be put in certain areas so that you can’t drive a car into the stadium. They will be implemented at some point this season. These can be put up and down between matches to protect fans.

RN asked if disables fans will be able to get through these types of barriers, HB advised that she would make sure they can and ensure that this is considered.

7. Equality, Diversity, Inclusion
HB advised that she wanted to put this onto the agenda to talk about
RiversideBy Side which is MFC umbrella campaign for equality, diversity, and inclusion of which the aim is to eradicate discrimination across the club, internally, fans, businesses MFC work with a hard-line on if someone hears discrimination MFC will address it and if necessary, ban those responsible.

HB advised that MFC complete a data capture every year to try and increase the diversity of fans and understand if supporters are comfortable in reporting discrimination and that they know how to. HB advised that one of the messages is tell a steward if you hear anything and we want to get this message out there. HB advised that the text line already talked about could be used to report this behaviour if that easier.

HB advised that one of the reasons this subject was put onto the agenda was
that when we have had teams from London visit, we do sometimes get
homophobic chanting from our fans. HB advised that we have Luton at start of March and Fulham in April, and MFC would like to be pro active about it. HB asked if anyone has any ideas about this.

JD advised that he thought in general the levels of abuse have declined but it does still happen, and the way forward is to report it and try and identify those people.

MM asked RF about what they tried to do to drown the chants out. RF advised its something they try and actively move away from and use the drum and megaphone to try and drown it out or sing a different song over the top of it.

RF agreed that these types of chants are becoming less and less like it was
maybe event 2 seasons ago. RF advised its about educating people, fans
educating other fans as well as MFC doing the same and the media.

RF advised that he thinks putting messages on the big screen is also helping.
MG advised that he was at the Swansea game, which was a Rainbow laces game, and didn’t see anything on the big screen. PD advised that it was there.

MG advised that he thought the best way forward would be that the message should not just be for the rainbow laces match it should be on the screen more frequent. MG advised that it has recently been in the news that Chelsea rent boy is now classed as a homophobic chant so now a fine or caution could be given.

HB advised the message is, if you don’t report it, we can’t do anything about it. MG asked if stewards had been trained in what to do if somebody raised the issue with them at a game. HB advised that they should know and there is some training in the next few weeks planned with all of them.

MM asked for anyone had any thoughts or ideas that could help with this to feed them into Helena or himself. RN advised we should be pro active ahead of these games.

8. Foodbank Collections
MM asked if MSF could complete another foodbank collection at the home game against Coventry on 29th January. YF advised that she didn’t think that this would be an issue. YF advised that she would also look at some future dates for the remainder of the season.

YF advised that she would come back to MM to confirm all ok.

JD advised we should push the foodbank as hard as last time and hope we get a similar result as it was a fantastic amount given.

9. Ticket Refunds for supporters with COVID
RF advised that they had received a few queries from supporters that had
bought tickets and the contracted covid and could no longer go. These
supporters had asked to swap tickets to another game but had been told they could not.

RN advised that he had also had people contact him about the same issue.

JD advised that he doesn’t understand the reason around this as the club have still got the money and if they have been asked to isolate and can’t go to the game that’s what they should do. JD advised that there should be some form of flexibility.

MM asked if this is something he should take up with Lee Fryett. PD advised that he would pick this up to be looked at.

JD advised that to give context, if a family of 3 are spending £120 on tickets and can’t go to game or transfer tickets to a future game and can’t get a refund, then they are out of pocket. This may fore them to go with covid.
RF advised they understood the non-refund element but if you have covid and can’t go to game, its about keeping other supporters safe as well.

10. Supporter Questions
MM advised that a question had been raised about having more drop of points on official club transport for away games. RN advised that there used to be different drop off points, Middlesbrough, Billingham etc and he really didn’t know about this and if it applies now. PD asked YF to pick this up and feedback.

MM asked if there was any update on fans being able to vote on kits. PD advised that it has potential, but it won’t be for next season, but the one after.

LW advised that he had wanted to raise a question about the coverage of youth team games and under 23’s and it was interesting that yesterday there was actually coverage of this.

PD advised that staffing was reduced after lockdown, and it has been impossible to cover everything. PD advised that some of these games have clashed with first team games, so MFC had nobody to cover the games on the same days. PD advised it is something he is mindful of, and he would like to stream all the home games. PD advised he has spoken to Teesside Uni about this, and MFC want to do better. PD advised that the response on social media to them covering one of these games this week has made it worthwhile.

LW advised that lots of fans had been chatting about this on Oneboro and that Dana Malt from the Boro Breakdown had emailed the club about helping with this on a voluntary basis. LW advised if it is a resource issue and people are willing to cover the game then maybe we ask them. PD advised he would investigate it.

The group all commented on how good the Boro twitter account has become and that there has been a positive response to it.

Meeting with Chris Wilder & Kieran Scott
PD advised that for the next meeting it is likely that he will be able to get Chris Wilder or Kieran Scott to attend once the transfer window is out of the way.

PD advised this will be sometime in February and he would get one of them to come to then meeting and the other to the March meeting.

MM thanked PD for organising this.

11. Supporter Groups
MM then asked supporter groups for anything they wanted to raise or discuss.

MG advised that he had been supporting some schools in the area with
inclusivity and discrimination work and has directed them towards the MFC Foundation.

RN asked about the Man Utd Ticket prices and how that was broken down. PD advised that apparently Aston Villa only paid £30, and they only wanted to take 3000 tickets. This meant Man Utd could sell the remaining tickets at X amount. If Aston Villa had asked for the same amount as MFC, they would have paid the same prices as MFC would have paid.

PD advised that when the draw was made, MFC thought that 10,000 would go, then it got put on ITV, 8pm kick off on a Friday night, it did start to make us think should we ask for the 9,500. We could have had 3,000, 5,600, 7,500 or 9,500 and what ever amount MFC decide to take, they must pay for. PD advised that Neil Bausor said we will take 9,500 and if we don’t sell them, then we don’t sell them, then at least we have given everyone the chance to go.

RN advised that they charge £30 for away fans in the premier league. RF advised that it is an horrific ticket price as it would cost him a fortune to take his family. PD advised the price was a consideration for MFC, i.e., will supporters pay this price if its live on ITV.

RF mentioned that stoke have a campaign going for next season looking at a
pricing scheme for the championship.

RN mentioned the memorial for Ugo. MM mentioned that was one his points that he wanted to follow up on. PD asked if supporters could come up with some ideas. JD mentioned a banner like the one at the back of the press box for Ali Brownlee could work. JD advised that he organised this via shutter media.

JA mentioned that she had received several emails recently asking for a Boro rep to go on local radio stations of teams we are playing to discuss Boro. JA mentioned that Owen and Yusuf and done some of these.

JA advised that they did manage a face-to-face meeting in November.

LW advised that there are a lot of overseas fans on oneboro and they had asked if audio and video streams get adjusted pricing across the season. Could this be confirmed. YF advised that she would ask the question and come back to the group.

Update from YF on 20.01.22 – Match pass prices stay the same. £10 for video, £3 for audio. Initial season pass for video is £170. Seasonal audio £45
We used to pro rata the seasonal passes down after every month however this year the EFL said about offering a half season pass. So for the boxing day game onwards, the seasonal passes are halved. £85 and £22.50.

LW asked about the MFC foundation shirts that auctioned off, as he was told that the auction provider took a cut from it and would it be worth investigating a different provider. YF advised that this is now being looked at for next season. LW also advised that when these shirts get auctioned off, they always go to the highest bidder and could the club think about putting a couple of shirts up for a raffle so there is more opportunity for others to try and get a shirt. MM advised you would get more people bidding for it this way. MM advised that he would take this up with HB.

Update from HB on 21.01.22 – The shirt auction provider is matchwornshirts and Foundation is going into their second year of a three-year contract with them. However, we did negotiate a lower percentage on the new contract so as many funds as possible can go to MFC Foundation. We have also run raffles across the last year on the match worn shirts, as we have previously had the feedback about the shirt prices being too high for some bidders. I’ll ensure the Foundation continue to do this to make sure the shirts are accessible to as many supporters as possible.

MM asked if anyone had any other points to raise, as nobody did MM closed the meeting.