Middlesbrough Supporters Forum……Minutes 48

Monday 25th April 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), Ifshaan Mahmoud (IM), Peter Hodgson (PH), Ellen Sowerby (ES), Paul Dews (PD), Helena Bowman (HB), Lee Fryett (LF)

1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies were received for: Paddy Cronesberry (PC), Yvonne Ferguson (YF)

2. Welcome
MM welcomed all attendees and advised that he had sent around some information ahead of the meeting for all members to read regarding the Boro Brick Road.

MM also advised the group that a guest from TV company SBS News Australia would be joining the meeting later as he is making a documentary about diversity, discrimination and racism in football and would be filming members of Boro Fusion and Twe12thman at Boro’s home game against Stoke.

3. Membership Schemes & Ticketing
MM asked LF for an update on progress with membership schemes and if there are any draft proposals that MSF could review and if any membership scheme implementation is planned for next season.

LF advised that there was no major update to give on progress, however membership schemes would now be top of the agenda following the completion of the season card campaign. 

LF advised that the initial phase of this work will be to look at match by match pricing, and that he will set up a separate meeting with MSF to look at this subject in terms of what the club’s thinking, the group can then pull together some thoughts and ideas.

LF advised that MFC would put together some suggestions and 2 or 3 recommendations to the chairman and would then work with MSF to gather their thoughts on this. LF advised that once the next couple of weeks are out of the way and we know what is happening with the playoffs, this will be a real priority once the season is finished. LF advised the goal is try and get something to the chairman early summer in time for the start of the season.

LF advised the next part of this is looking at memberships. LF advised that we will use the same meeting to discuss some options around this.

LF advised that the PHD students from Teesside Uni that had been working with MFC completing some research on membership schemes have now gone away to pull together their reports and these are due to be submitted by the end of this coming term. LF advised that the students are also wanting to speak to members of MSF.

MM asked if the PHD students had only been looking at 18-21 membership schemes or membership schemes for all the fanbase. LF advised that MFC had asked the students to focus on 18-21 but is sure that there will be some wider findings that will come out of the research. LF advised that MFC are very aware that they need to look at memberships as a priority and that 18-21 is a good starting point.

LF advised that match by match ticket pricing will be the focus for the next 6-7 weeks and he looks forward to getting MSF involved in these early discussions. LF advised that the goal is to factor in the thoughts and ideas of supporters into discussions and the scenarios that are presented to the chairman. This will be alongside the financial modelling from the finance director and the Chairman will select the option he wants to go with. LF advised that the next step would then be looking at memberships and the aim is to try and work towards getting something launched for the start of the season.

MM asked for any comments or questions on ticketing from the group. JD advised that he had been asked by a couple of people to raise a point around having an opt in and opt out box on ticketing accounts for home cup games so you can opt in and automatically get your cup match tickets either sent to you or loaded to your season card rather than having to go online for each individual game. LF advised that it’s a good idea that they could explore. LF advised that they did have a cup membership scheme in the past and other clubs also have them. LF advised that he thinks this is something that Seatgeek could certainly support us with. LF advised that we should have a more in-depth discussion about this when we have the ticking meeting, but it is something we can explore further.

RN advised that he thought supporters would really welcome the reintroduction of a membership scheme and that the previous ideas MFC gave to MSF sounded good. RN advised that for a lot of people that are not season card holders, it’s a great way of making them feel part of the club and helping them on the journey to getting tickets and potentially a season card at a later stage. RN advised that he feels it’s important that the club try and do it for next season. LF advised that he agreed with RN and that it goes beyond match ticket purchases, the fan base is wider than ever, there are supporters like ES in the USA, fans living away from the area and expats in other countries that engage with the club digitally and watching on streams that can’t commit to season cards, we need to do more for these supporters to make them feel part of the club, it’s about understanding what the entirety of our fan base is and what the looks like. LF advised we now need to get to a starting point with membership schemes as we have talked about it a lot and Junior and 18-21 membership is the first steps. Now that we have come out of covid and have a full season with supporters under our belts, we can start to plan forward again. LF advised that all the feedback is fans want memberships, so we just need to ensure we do it right.

RN advised that a point had been raised to him by a family about their situation sitting in the family zone. RN advised that this family had sat together for 8 years in the GRFZ, and that one member of the family had now gone above the age of 18, so the family would need to split up and sit in different stands. RN asked LF if this something that MFC should be looking at as we have children that have been sitting in the family zone since being a child and then they must move to take advantage of the 18-21 ticket pricing. LF advised its difficult it maybe something that needs to be explored, and that putting an 18-21 category in the family zone takes away tickets that families and younger fans that can get at a more accessible price. LF advised the balance needs to be right and that he understood the situation. PH asked if the area was full and if there was an option to giving families some extra time in the family zone. LF advised that there was no real way they could cater for every individual scenario, and that MFC need to be careful that we don’t make things too complex. LF advised that there is a piece of work that MFC need to do around what now for the family zone and what do the club need to do to retain the children. LF advised that he would speak to Alex in the data team and get him to run some data on the ages of people in the family zone and start to come up with a few ideas.

MM advised that RN wanted to raise a point about the lateness of away tickets going on sale and if MFC could do anything to influence how soon tickets can be received and sold ahead of the game to give supporters a longer lead time to make travel or hotel arrangements. RN advised that the EFL says tickets should be released 4-5 weeks before a game. RN advised that a lot of fans panicked about Swansea as they wanted to get on with making their arrangements to get the best price. RN advised is there anything we can do to push towards that. PD advised its very dependent on away clubs releasing tickets. PD advised that several clubs following COVID are down on staff, and that he thinks it’s been the worst season he could remember for MFC receiving away tickets close to the game. LF advised that the issues encountered with Fulham and Derby tickets being late have been down to staff shortages at the away club. LF advised that MFC do want to show sympathy as some cubs have struggled with staff shortages, LF advised that he will read up on the EFL guideline and speak to the EFL on how much the timescale can be enforced and will keep an eye on it.

MM advised that he had a few more things on ticketing. MM asked if all the card payment issues had now been fully resolved as it caused a lot of frustration for fans. LF advised that it also caused a lot of frustration for MFC. LF advised it is something that MFC must apologise for, it was unfortunate that the issues came at a busy period with tickets for Spurs, Chelsea going on sale and season card renewals all in the mix. The feedback now is that there are no further issues and we have had the pain.

MM advised that he had a final question on ticketing, MM asked if we do manage to get to the playoffs, are MFC and its systems prepared for it and do they have a plan. MM advised that he would not want to see the same frustrating problems that supporters encountered  with cup tickets in that seats disappearing as you clicked on them etc. LF advised that we have gone through with Man Utd and Chelsea tickets has really prepared us well for it. LF advised that MFC have a plan in place in terms of what they will do with priority points but understands that MFC can’t please everyone. LF advised that the Man Utd away game was a good example of how things can work well.

RN advised that you can’t change / edit your group of who you can get tickets for following the ticket site updates. LF advised that he would take this away to be looked at.

MM asked if we do get to the playoffs, are the club planning to offer season card holders the option of purchasing an extra ticket for the home games like they did for Chelsea as it caused a lot of debate and frustration between fans. MM asked for thoughts. JD advised that it should just be down to season card holders and priority points in his opinion. PH advised that it should be one person, one ticket, CW agreed. LF advised that the reason they did this was down to season card holder feedback, people wanted the ability for the cup games to bring family members. MFC want to get the stadium full and get a good atmosphere in the stadium. It does need to be looked at. JD advised that in his opinion that somebody with zero points should not be getting a ticket ahead of somebody with 10 or 20 points, JD advised that he personally did not think that this was right. JA advised that she agreed and that the other issue that season card holders got frustrated with was that they had moved seats to sit with friends or family, but their original seats had been unavailable, and people started to panic as it showed lots of seats sold out when they weren’t. LF that is the way the system works to hold the season card seats, LF advised that they will work with seatgeek to see how the seat could be released if the season card holder selects another seat. LF advised that these games ended up still going to general sale and priority points, and we can reward season card holders. 

LF advised that they will look at it, look at what the away allocation is, what the demand is, if the club think it will sell out and engage with MSF and get the general feeling amongst the supports. LF advised that if the feeling is that Season card holders don’t want this benefit and they feel it should just go to 1 ticket per account then we may go down that route. IM advised that he knows 5 or 6 season card holders that took advantage of the extra ticket offer and felt that with COVID and keeping their money in the club for the season behind closed doors, it was a good way of rewarding those supporters. LF advised that season card holders are the most important revenue stream to the club as its guaranteed and it allows the club to plan in the summer. 

MM asked if there was anything else on ticketing before he moved on to the next agenda item.

4. Boro Green Agenda
MM asked HB if there was any update on MFC completing the green code questionnaire and how MFC rated on that.

HB advised that the questionnaire had now been completed, and it was 25 questions long.

HB advised that the green code is the EFL’s environmental sustainability code for all clubs to complete if they want to. HB advised that the questionnaire is the first stage of the process and asks what the club have in place now, and what they have not. The outcome of this then determines an action plan on which the club are now waiting to receive. The questionnaire is in-depth, going into biodiversity, sustainable travel, energy usage, saving water, wastage, fair trade food. HB advised the club has fed back on were they think they are, and it is going to take some work to achieve this code.

HB advised in some areas the club are good, energy levels are monitored intensely, and we know exactly our energy usage across the stadium and training ground. HB advised if we look at things like biodiversity and water reusage we are not so good.

HB advised that once the action plan comes back, the club will take it from there, but it is not an overnight fix, this will be a 2–3-year process to make us more sustainable and carbon neutral.

MM asked if any further investigations had taken place regarding the park and ride, an action from the previous meeting. HB advised that is probably one of the things that will come out of the green code application.
MM asked if anyone had anything to add, and then moved on to the next agenda item.

5. Home and away game behaviour
MM advised that sending club stewards to away games has gone down well with supporters and he had received some feedback saying that it was great to see that visible presence and more emphasis being placed on the ladies toilets following feedback to the forum.

MM asked if the club plan to continue doing this next season. HB advised that if it is working well, then the club will continue with it. RN advised that he brought this subject up at an FSA meeting last week and that that the general feeling was that across the championship when home stewards travel to away games, it seems to have helped the situation. RN advised that one of the problems to get over is that host clubs can say no to this and that they have at times. RN advised that an action seems to have helped.

MM advised it was great to see the text service being launched for reporting racist, abusive behaviour at homes games, as it was something that had been discussed a lot at this forum. MM asked if there had been any further thoughts on how this could be used at away games to capture issues. HB advised that when the launch of it was announced, there was good feedback on social media. In terms of away games, it will be just a matter of working with clubs and reporting it whilst there as it does get back to MFC.

MM asked if anything was followed up on regarding having stewards on official supporter coaches following reports of some antisocial behaviour on board.  HB advised that she would check on this.

MM advised it’s a good news story that the as a direct result of conversations with MFC that MFC stewards have been going to games and a text service has been launched. 

RN advised that the FSA will be working over the summer to look at safeguarding policies as lots of clubs have used different interpretations of the law on if under 18’s can go unaccompanied or not on a bus.

HB advised that drug operations with dogs have been successful this year and a fair few people have been caught.

MM advised that at homes games there has been a big increase in supporters drinking pints of beer in their seats whilst watching the match. MM advised as there is no one to stop them on the stairs, its easy for them to do, and it seems to be getting worse. RF advised that smoking and vaping in the stands throughout the game is also common. RF advised it happens every game and stewards don’t seem to do anything about it. HB advised that she would take this away as an action to look at as this is not allowed. JD advised that at home, some fans see others doing it without issue so just copy it. 

MM asked if there was any other questions or comments, before moving on to the next agenda item.

6. Boro Brick Road
MM advised that he and RN had held a meeting with the company that installed the Boro brick road to discuss potential options available to restoring bricks that had faded.

MM advised that the bricks are important to people as they are memorials and supporters with bricks are enthusiastic about doing something about them.

MM advised that meeting was good and informative and that he had circulated some of the options proposed by Chris Graff to MFC and all MSF members to review ahead of today meeting.

MM advised the one big thing that him and RN took away from the meeting was that to replace the bricks was going to be costly and that you would have to do all of them or nothing. MM also advised that Chris Graff gave them some great ideas from work they have recently done with other football clubs to maybe do something different on a memorial wall, like Liverpool have done. MM advised that there was also an option to raise funds for MFC foundation by doing this.

MM advised that once the season closes, MSF could try and treat a small section of the faded bricks using the knowledge of Chris Graff to see if has any impact.

RN advised if we try and clean a section of the bricks and it brings them out well and the messages can be read, then we look at cleaning the whole lot. We would then get the company to come in and seal them. RN advised he has been speaking with archaeologists and that we should get them in to do a photo survey of the bricks and we could look at funding application to get further support for this. We then compile a complete digital record of as many bricks as we can, hopefully all 6000, that people could access.

MM advised that briconomics had advised us that to try and clean and paint all bricks in situ due to risks with weather and how long it may take would be a high cost. It would be complex to only just do individual bricks. MM advised that briconomics also advised that if they take them all up and transport to factory to try and clean them prices would start at least £30k and may increase. MM advised that briconomics also mentioned that even after taking them all up and potentially restoring them, owners would be faced with the same problems with fading impressions further down the line.

MM advised that briconomics had advised that because the boro brick road is stood on by people and grit is put down in the winter, the grit compounds into the bricks and makes things worse regarding wear and tear. Briconomics have advised it makes no sense to take them all up and try and restore them.

RN advised that as it is expensive to do, and we expect that the issues are only going to happen again if they do get repainted, we should do a couple of things in stages. 

RN advised that stage 1 could be that we try to clean them up and then produce a record of all the bricks as they are now even if they are unreadable. Then the 2nd stage we look at another memorial / mosaic like the Liverpool wall of champions to celebrate a player or to be part of the 25 years at the Riverside celebrations. RN advised that these walls could raise money for charity and that potentially £200k for MFC foundation. RN advised we could maybe offer those supporters with bricks a discounted space on that mosaic.

MM advised that Chris from briconomics had advised that he would be confident that MFC Foundation could make £150k from this and it would be great to link all this in. MM advised that this could be something that we think about for the Ugo memorial. MM advised the mosaic could be anything we wanted; it could be a picture of some BORO legends built up from supporter photographs submitted. MM advised that the software that briconomics uses, places all the photos of supporters that have requested and paid to be part of it, in the right place the build the mosaic. Supporters also get their own smaller copy of the picture showing them where they are located that they can keep at home. MM advised that he thinks its worth MFC having a conversation with Chris.

JD advised it would be great if we could get them photographed get an accurate database and have a way of supporters being able to find their bricks and do an initial clean. Then look at the memorial wall.

MM advised that he would be happy to use money from the MSF bank account to try and clean a small section of bricks and pay for any database recording.

JA advised that the wall behind Shepardson way would be ideal. LF advised that the council own it so it would be discussions with them.  LF advised it would be good to know if the technology work on the red pillars.

PH advised that a local engineering company could maybe build a frame and the mosaic could then be placed near the fanzone if we are struggling for wall space.

MM asked the group how they though we should progress. HB advised that she would pick up some of these points with RN. 

RN advised that he has had feedback from YF earlier in the week that people have been asking her about the bricks as it is a memorial and that she would welcome a way forward on this.

MM advised that the amount of people that had commented passionately about sorting the bricks out had taken him buy surprise following the post RN made on FMTTM about it. MM advised that it would certainly be appreciated by supporters if we could progress with some of these things.

RF asked who worked with the council from MFC to get the the Ali Brownlee quotes on the bridge. RN advised that it was a council scheme. RF asked could we not ask them to do something on the other side facing the stadium. JD advised the council asked for areas of Middlesbrough that quotations or art installations could be put up and he messaged them with the suggestion of the quote, and they chose Shepherdson way.

MM advised that there are some good actions to take away from this and work on.

MM advised that he would move on to next agenda item as Darren Marra from SBS Australia had now joined the meeting.

7. Equality, Diversity, Inclusion
MM advised that Darren had now joined the meeting to introduce himself and talk about what he is filming at the Stoke match with Boro Fusion and Twe12thman. 

MM asked Darren to give an overview to the Group, DM advised that they arrive in Middlesbrough on Friday and will be filming on Saturday at the Stoke game. DM advised that they are hanging out with Boro Fusion pre match and meeting with Danny Chapman of Twe12thman pre match. PD and sky has authorised DM to follow and record IM and Danny whilst they are in their seat to put a 30 min documentary together.

DM advised that this will be for Australian public broadcaster SBS and they are looking at fan movements, anti-racist movements and what clubs are actively doing to try and make stadiums safe spaces. DM advised that the reason they are speaking with Boro Fusion is that they are such a good representative for the BAME community in Middlesbrough.

DM thanked both MFC and MSF for helping support this.

MM asked IM what the day will look like for Boro Fusion. IM advised that they will start at the mosque at 12:15, with an interview about the community and film a prayer at around 13:30 then walk to the stadium. DM advised that he would be meeting Danny at North Ormesby working mans club.

MM thanked IM and DM for their updates and moved onto the next agenda item.

8. Supporter Questions
MM asked supporter groups for any issues, concerns, or questions that they would like to raise.

MG advised that at the Chelsea match there was rent boy chants, and Rainbow Reds put a statement out that was well received, but they did receive some negative comments.

ES advised that she has speaking to PD about the Boro Canadian supporter group and DAZN in that they keep buying games and then they are not streamed, so Canadian supporters are missing lots of games. PD advised that he had taken this up with the league, and the league have advised that they are looking into it. ES advised that she had spoken to stream AMG who passed the buck to DAZN, however ES can’t seem to get past level 1 of customer service to speak to the right person. ES advised if supporters are buying games and then they are not being streamed, something needs to be done about it. ES advised that this is specific Canadian problem. PD advised that he would speak to the league again and see if he can get a resolution.

JA asked if the club had the Boro supporters club player of the year trophy as they are unsure of their location. PD advised that the cabinet in reception would need to be located.

RN advised that he had encountered a supporter at Swansea that was booing taking the knee. RN asked if anything needs to be done about a new message. JD advised that there is a message on the big screen before kick-off about any form of discrimination not being tolerated and it was very clear. JD advised that he had the same issues with a young lad booing taking the knee and when he questioned him on why he was doing it he just said he didn’t agree with it. PD advised that the message about all forms of discrimination has been on the big screen all season. RN advised maybe the fans need to do something about the message. IM advised that he would look to do something in get the fans involved in an info gram. PD advised that a video is being released tomorrow with academy youngsters on this theme. PD advised let us know what you think of it.

RF asked if Boro are the only team in the championship that don’t take the knee. PD and MG both advised there are a few other clubs such as QPR that don’t take the knee. RF advised that the way not taking the knee was communicated suggested that the club / players would tackle it in other ways, and he had not seen the club tackle it in other ways, if other things are going on in the background this should be communicated. 

MM asked if anyone else had anything to raise, as they didn’t he moved on to a quick discussion on the fan led review of football that had recently come out in the news.

10. Fan Led Football Review
MM advised that some of the key things that came out of the review that was backed by the government was having shadow boards, a white paper to be produced in the summer.

MM asked for any comments from the group and what this may mean for Boro.

RN advised that we should stress that the process of the review took around 6-9 months and dialogue was going back and forth between civil servants, Tracey Crouch, and supporters. It was detailed work that was being completed on each of the points. RN advised that it really has been close work between supporters and Tracey.

RN advised the independent regulation is important not just for premier league and EFL to ensure we don’t have scenarios like Derby County in the future. RN advised that he thinks it is positive that its happening and it’s happening soon and that a lot of MP’s have supported it.

PH advised that he thinks it is vitally important that they have a leader that spearheads the implementation of it all, and it is someone that knows football, maybe either a fan like RN or JD to talk on behalf of supporters.

RN advised that he assumes it will be something like Ofcom that would be set up. JD advised that he would be worried if it was a government heavy organisation, and he would much rather the fans had the majority representation. JD advised that he would rather it be led by people that know the sport than a government appointed chairperson.

MM asked if the football club had been involved at all with any of it. HB advised that it will be a standing agenda item on the Clubs exec meetings going forward and Neil is on the EFL board and has EFL insight into this. HB advised that it has been discussed at the highest level of the football club. HB advised that there are 10 key recommendations that are not just about finance, its about shadow boards, equality, and diversity. We will see what the white paper says in the summer and from a club point of view we need to prepare to take on the recommendations if they are made mandatory and these are the discussions that the football club are having now.

RN asked if anyone had seen the report that safe standing had improved safety standards in football. HB advised she had seen it and the pilots have been positive. RN advised that this is going on at Cardiff in the away end and there is survey going on with supporters since Christmas since it was put in to get their observations and thoughts on it all.

HB advised that the club would wait to see what the pilot results bring back and the results released recently are very high level, the SGSA will release a full report in due course into the 5 pilot clubs. 

MM asked if there was any new updates on matchday experience and atmosphere work. LF advised that we now have a standard procedure to measure this against, we now have mystery shoppers that take place, and we pay for visit football to come and score ourselves against it with the goal of improving every year. We also talk to supporter groups. LF advised that you will start to see some small things happen and the club are working on and we will start to publish that more as we do it.

LF advised that manager is very keen on increasing atmosphere and experience, and we will probably slowly introduce things.

PH advised that the local associated songs such as steel river before the teams come out has been a great touch.  JD advised a few years ago the power game won top choice for run out music via a poll, but for some reason it reverted back to pig bag. RF advised that they have had a meeting with John Foster, and they think he really wants to listen to fans, and it may be an idea to invite him to a meeting to discuss ideas. CW advised that she would have a word with John and ask him to join a meeting.

CW advised that it would be great that once the fixtures come out that we can lock in games to collect for Middlesbrough foodbank, so fans know them in advance.

MM asked for any further comments before closing the meeting.