Middlesbrough Supporters Forum……Minutes 49

Monday 8th August 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), Michelle Coleman (MC), Caroline Walker (CW), Paul Dews (PD), Helena Bowman (HB), Lee Fryett (LF), Yvonne Ferguson (YF)

1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies were received for: Paddy Cronesberry (PC), Ifshaan Mahmoud (IM), Jeff Collins (JC), Matthew Gale (MG), Helena Bowman (HB)

2. Welcome
MM welcomed all attendees to the first MSF meeting of the season.

LF advised the group that PD and himself would need to leave at around 19:30 to attend a call and would like to go through as much as they could before then.

LF advised that before the meeting gets fully underway, he wanted to raise an important point about MSF. LF advised that the value of MSF is massive to the club and MSF should be proud of the working relationship we have developed as club and fans forum, and it is probably one of the best in the country and YF gets comments about this on a regular basis.

LF advised that to get that impartial, balanced, and informed view of the fans is massive to MFC and to be challenged by MSF is great. LF advised the MSF challenge us in a fair and balanced way which is great for us and allows us to be proactive and help us make decisions going forward. LF advised that this is where he sees the value of this group.

MM advised that as we have moved naturally onto pricing of tickets we may as well go straight to agenda point one, which is a discussion around ticketing.

3. Ticketing
JD advised that everything has gone up in the stadium such as food and drink and to then have an increase on match tickets and travel, when you add all of that up, its expensive and disappointing.

JD advised that everyone that he speaks to at home and away games are disappointed at certain aspects of ticketing.

LF advised that he doesn’t want MSF to get disheartened and think the work they are putting in is falling on deaf ears. PD advised that the work does not get disregarded at all.

MM asked the group if anyone had any further points to raise on ticketing, as nobody did MM stated that he has had discussions with both LF and PD individually and MSF would continue to campaign for creative ticketing and continue to work with MFC. 

MM advised that they would now move on to membership schemes. 

4. Membership Schemes
LF advised that the consideration of a membership scheme is on the club’s agenda and wants the process to involve MSF in it. 

MM advised that memberships has come up time and time again as a high priority for supporters. MM advised that we have talked about this for over 18 months now and it needs getting on with. MM asked what we can do to progress with this with some realistic targets of when we can aim to have something in place.  

LF advised that the next step is to put some concepts together and have some sessions in smaller groups in person to understand key objectives that fans would want to achieve from a membership scheme. LF advised that the club could then go away and try and work something up that tries to achieve as many of those key objectives as possible that also achieves what the club requires economically / financially with a view of then putting all of that through the decision-making process with plenty of time to get a decision and implement. 

MM advised that sounds great, but we really need to communicate with the fans that this process is actively underway. MM advised we can’t be in the same situation with memberships in another 12 months.  

PD advised that there is no issue with MSF advising fans that the process of looking at memberships is starting. MSF should get some ideas together for the sessions LF has mentioned and we can start to work through things so we can make progress.

LF advised that if we can get the smaller sessions organised in person, that would be the next step. LF also advised that he is happy for MSF to say that they are working in conjunction with the club on memberships now.  

MM asked if anything came of the work Teesside university students had undertaken. LF advised that it has been a slow process as the students have now done their dissertations and they now must wait before they can share it with the club as it must get marked etc.  

MM asked if anyone else wanted to make any points around memberships. As nobody did, MM summarised that MSF would come up with some high-level ideas and set some sessions up to discuss. 

Due to time, MM moved on to some supporter questions whilst PD and LF are still present. 

5. Supporter Questions
MM advised that he had received some questions from supporters that he sent over to MFC ahead of this meeting and wanted to go through them to get some answers on them. 

MM asked if there was a possibility of having different types of season cards for those that work offshore and can’t get to all games such as fans that work offshore or away during the week. LF advised that if you work it out, you pretty much get your midweek games for free by being a season card holder.

MM asked what the situation was with the stock of away shirts. PD advised that the club had put a recent statement out about it. MM advised he had seen that. MM asked if the club had been given any expectations on when more deliveries may arrive. LF advised that we are in a better position than other clubs, but there are lot of different factors causing the delays. PD advised that Sheff Utd had to get an off the peg kit to play preseason games in as they did not receive any playing kit until 2 days before the first game of the season.   

MM asked is the club still looking to allow fans choose a kit design from a number of choices. LF advised the club have some ideas on this and it would be good to invite Jo Swinnerton to the next MSF meeting to discuss this. YF asked if we can add to Jo to next meeting. 

MM asked about what was happening with the Boro App. PD advised that the App is in beta testing, and it will be ready to download at the end of the month. 

MM advised that he had lots of feedback regarding the queues at the fans bar and concourses and it seeming to take a long time to get served. MM asked if there is anything that can be done to help reduce waiting times such as bottle bars, card only express lanes etc. LF advised he believed on Saturday they had introduced an express payment lane in the fanzone. 

LF asked the question about pre poured pints and what the consensus would be around this. LF asked if the group though fans would be happy to take pre- poured pints as appose to queuing up longer to get a freshly poured pint, because this could be an option, however fans would need to accept that this would not be as, as good experience as a freshly poured pint.  

RF advised put the pre- poured pints in the express lane then if you don’t want a pre- poured pint, fans will have to queue.  JD advised that you get this at other clubs, pints are half pre- poured and then topped up when ordered, and this saves a lot of time. JD advised that pre- poured pints would be fine for him personally and a lot of other people. LF advised that he would feed this back to HB as it will help with internal discussions the club are having. 

MM advised that fan zone is getting more and more popular and busier each game, so something is needed to help with the wait time. MM advised that Gary P does a great job there.

MM advised that supporters are not happy about the steel river song cutting into pigbag. MM asked if something could be done about this. PD advised that he is looking into it. 

MM advised that some supporters had raised a question on how they could ever achieve a gold status. YF advised that the gold cards had been issues to everyone that had been a season card holder for 20 years from the first game at the Riverside. RF advised that if somebody achieves 20 years as a season card holder at the riverside should they not be classed as gold? RF advised there is currently no way for supporters to become gold. LF advised that this may need to be looked at further and can be potentially discussed as part of memberships. 

MM advised the next point was raised by JD a while back in relation to an opt in option for cup tickets on ticketing accounts, meaning those that opt in get their cards auto uploaded for cup games rather than having to log in and order a ticket each time. LF advised that it is a good point, and he will investigate this further with seatgeek. RF advised this may now be made more difficult if the club only open certain stands for cup games. LF advised that we may have to do some work around this regard to preferences, but we should explore it. 

MM asked if there was any chance of a TV screen being added to fanzone to watch live games – LF advised that this is being investigated. 

MM advised that fans had asked him to raise the issue that at the Marseille game, lots of fans had been sent to the north stand ticket office to collect tickets only to find it closed and this led to a delay in them getting in. LF advised it was an error on the system and he could only apologise to those impacted. 

MM advised that his final point was for awareness in that Cleveland Police had been in contact to set up a meeting with MSF, MFC, Stoke City and Staffordshire Police ahead of the Stoke City game to discuss any concerns etc to ensure a better experience for Boro fans and to also organise a supporter meeting ahead of the up-and-coming Sunderland game. 

As all questions had been completed, LF and PD advised that they would need to leave the meeting and if there was any last questions to pass them on. 

6. Boro Brick Road
MM advised he wanted to provide a brief update on progress with this. 

MM advised that himself and RN had visited the Boro brick road on a number of occasions through preseason and had been discussing a plan on next steps. 

MM advised that he had created template of how the bricks are laid out and had broken the template down into sections ready to start documenting the messages on the bricks and their location. MM advised the next step was to seek some volunteers to help document the bricks over a period of 1-2 nights per week whilst the weather was decent. MM advised that he had come up with a method of how to do this. 

JD asked how many bricks need documenting. MM advised around 6000 bricks mad up of double and singles.  

MM advised that he had started documenting some of the bricks himself already to make the overall documentation when we have volunteers onboard easier.  

MM advised that himself and RN had been in contact with Chris a Briconomics (the original manufacturer of the bricks) and he has given advice on how to go about cleaning a small section of the most unreadable bricks to see if it makes a difference in terms of being able to visually see the messages again.  

MM advised that Chris at Briconomics had told him and RN that Briconomics had spent a couple of days cleaning the bricks closest to the Ayresome gates in the past and that is the main reason why the oldest bricks look in better condition than the newest bricks. MM advised this is positive news and is one of the reasons we want to try and clean a small section of the most unreadable bricks as a starting point to see if it is worth cleaning the rest. 

MM advised that once we have all bricks documented, and we can potentially clean them up, we have had some offers from people who can take some aerial shots of the bricks with drones that will support the overall documentation of them. 

MM advised that each brick would have its own unique code, and that code will then refer to a location on the brick road so will allow supporters to locate their brick more easily. 

MM advised from all the conversations had so far, digging bricks up, moving them and repainting them is not a viable option. 

MM advised that once this process has been completed, we will work with MFC and briconomics to look at other options with a potential photo wall like what has been done at Anfield like the wall of champions. 

RN advised that people have been really pleased that we are looking to do something. 

RN advised that the council would be open to use of the other side of the wall from the Ali Brownlee Quote to use as photo wall mosaic of fans. 

MM advised he will get some dates out and ask for volunteers to help.

7. My Town, My Shirt
RN advised that HB at MFC and Joanne Littlewood at Middlesbrough Council are hugely into this idea, it came from a pilot idea at Cardiff City in that a photographer took 30 photographs of people from a diverse background, different ages, and then turned the photos into an exhibition.  

RN advised they have £2500 pledge from FSA to do this, Middlesbrough Council are putting in another £2500 and we hope to get a regional arts grant. 

RN advised that he was at a meeting with Joanne Littlewood at Middlesbrough Council, and they are looking at different initiatives for Middlesbrough town centre to help improve the town centre, give it a better image, and bring people together.  

The plan is to build up a digital archive of people’s photos of them wearing a Boro shirt. This will be a good cross section of people and it’s all about people feeling that they belong in the town and in the shirt. RN advised that they are looking at things like murals on walls in the town and maybe on walls pointing the way to the Riverside at different places.  

The feeling is we should always point the way from the town and the Club had been looking at this when the killers were on. 

RN advised there is a possibility of using briconomics again and use all the digital photos put together to make a memorial or photo at the stadium like Liverpool’s wall of champions. 

RN advised the group hope to start in October with the launch of discover Middlesbrough, then by May the hope is to achieve some of the goals. This could be a mid- and long-term project. 

RN advised that this is something that is very visible and something that is done with the football club with the fans showing that people from all different backgrounds and cultures belong in the town and the club. 

RN advised that once all the funding has been confirmed and in place, a group will be put together to move things forward. 

JD advised that the walks from the town to the stadium needs something to sell the town better and this will help brighten things up and it sounds fantastic. 

RN advised this scheme has happened at around 10 clubs already and it looks like the ambition of Middlesbrough may make it the biggest in the country. 

RF advised that it sounds fantastic. 

8. Staffordshire Police Report
MM asked the group if anyone wanted to comment or discuss the report from Staffordshire police in relation to the issues as Stoke last season. 

RN advised that he felt it was very much a misrepresentation of what went on. RN advised that it was great that we got a document, and he would agree with a lot of the eyewitness statements and that he had not experienced anything like it in 25 years. RN advised that every single Middlesbrough fan was treated like they were a protester. 

RN advised that if you look at all the criteria, they had to go through to bring in the measures they did, they failed at every point. RN advised that the communication was poor, the PA was not working properly, and they didn’t make any communication in the half hour they kept people back, nobody had a clue what was going on. RN advised the situation was created by the police. 

MM advised that he was pleased that the FSA and local press highlighted the failures by the police. 

JD advised that it is not often the police hold their hands up and admit they got something wrong. JD thought it was a big win to get the police to admit their failings and hopefully the next game will be handled better. 

LW advised that we should publish this report on the MSF website. MM agreed. 

9. Supporter Group Updates
JA asked if the club could provide a date for the player of the year awards. YF advised that she would chase this up with PD

JA advised that a couple of clubs such as Spurs and Southampton have been leaving parts of the grass at their training grounds to grow as a meadow and planting wildflowers as its good for the environment. JA asked if this is something MFC would consider as part of green initiatives. MM advised that he would ask the question to Helena. 

CW advised that John Foster wants to attend a meeting with us all. MM advised that he had been messaging him about meeting up and will get onto him. 

CW also advised a foodbank press release will be out soon. 

MC advised that she would now share the responsibilities of the chairmanship of Rainbow red with MG going forward.  

LW asked what we already know about the connection between the club and the ladies team. RN advised that it is a separate entity now and that Ben Fisher is the chair and Andy Campbell is the Manager. RN advised the club was reformed and they play from Stockton Town FC. RN advised that it would be good for them to have more of an association with MFC. 

LW advised that people are still asking about the Mikel Beck charity game. RN advised that we need to speak to Dave Roberts about this as it was him who was arranging it. RN advised that Dave now works for FIFA and has not seen him for a while.  

RN advised that he email Dave Roberts to get his thoughts on it. 

MM advised that the only other thing he wanted to mention was a change in Chairmanship for Boro North America as Ellen is returning to the UK and Jeff Collins will now be their rep going forward. 

MM advised that he would pass YF contact details to Jeff. 

MM asked if anyone had anything else, as they did not, MM closed the meeting.