Middlesbrough Supporters Forum……Minutes 51

Monday 6th March 2023 / 18:30 – 20.00 via Zoom


Mark Motley (MM), Jill Atkinson (JA), Michelle Coleman (MC) Kulbir Kaur Peacock (KP), John Donovan (JD), Rob Nichols (RN), Jeff Collins (JC), Red Faction (RF), Helena Bowman (HB), Lynsey Edwards (LE)

1. Apologies for Absence
Yvonne Ferguson (YF), Lee Fryett (LF), Paul Dews (PD), Paddy Cronesberry (PC), Ifshaan Mahmoud (IM), Caroline Walker (CW), Liam Wilson (LW)

2. Welcome
MM started the meeting by welcoming all members and guests.

MM advised that Lynsey Edwards, the head of MFC Foundation was an invited guest to provide updates on all the things going on at the foundation and advise how MSF could support them and answer any of the MSF questions.

MM advised that he would change the agenda around slightly so that it started with discussing the MFC Foundation followed by the Stadium to allow those needed to leave to do so.

3. MFC Foundation & My Boro My Shirt & East Cleveland Bus
MM advised that he had invited Lindsey along as there’s quite a few things going on with the foundation around Rory’s big week, various collections, the bike ride, the Carrick boot room collection, and MSF wanted to know how they and Boro fans can support that. MM also advised that the group would like to hear more about the east Cleveland matchday bus service and how that was going.

LE thanked the group for for having her and advised that there’s a lot going on and that It’s been a busy few months and there are few more busy months to come.

LE advised that they launched a partnership with the Michael Carrick Foundation in December, which saw them donate hampers to the MFC Foundation Christmas in the community campaign and then they did the first Carrick boot room collection in January. LE advised that they also gave out some boots to the Teesside university kick session in January as well.

LE advised that they plan to do further boot collections at the Preston and Norwich games. LE advised that the Foundation also has a boot collection / drop off point at the Herlingshaw Centre in South Bank for people that are coming there.

LE advised that they are also trying to do a Boro shirt collection for the Preston game as, part of the My Boro my shirt piece as well.

MFC Foundation Community Week
LE advised that the MFC Foundation has its community week in April, and it starts on the 15th with the Norwich game through to the end of that week. LE advised there will be bucket collections for the foundation and the participants will be part of the walkouts flag waves. LE advised that the aim of the week is around raising awareness and it’d be great if we can raise a little bit of money, but it’s more about getting the name of the foundation out across Teesside. LE advised that last year they were able to turn the monuments in Middleborough Red, thanks to Andy Preston, and they will be looking at doing that again.

LE advised that before the night game against Hull on Wednesday 19 th April a bike ride will be taking place. LE advised that there’s about 30 people starting at the Hull stadium on the Wednesday morning and cycling all the way to the Riverside ready for kick-off. LE advised that a few of them will be pitch side to be presented to the crowd. LE advised, if anybody still wants to join, they are more than welcome to sign up. It’s about 105 miles. LE advised that she could people want to join it, to get in contact with Paul Murphy if anybody wants to reach out to him.

LE advised that they will be putting things out across the Foundation’s social media and obviously if companies, businesses, schools want to get involved they can like donate a pound or raise a bit of money, then that would be great.

LE advised that they have a few other fundraising events left this season. There is a Golf Day on the 23rd of May at Rockcliffe. So, any teams that want to enter then Alan Geddes is the person to speak to. There is the Ladies Day in June, which will be at the stadium. It’s a bit of an afternoon Tea and test event and again, it’s to raise a bit of money and bring women together to celebrate the foundation.

MM asked how MSF could support the foundation. LE advised anything that you can do to promote the name of the foundation would be great. It’s already been great this season.

LE advised that longer term they are going to be looking at what the foundation strategy is, what they are delivering for the community. So at that point it’d be great to come to MSF around getting a bit of a survey out to fans around what they want from the foundation and what we can do for them.

LE advised that the continued support of MSF is great and raising the awareness and name of the foundation is brilliant. LE advised that the club and foundation are up for a few awards, so hopefully we can celebrate that success as well.

MM asked for clarification on when the next Carrick Boot collection will be taking place. LE advised that we’ll do boots and shirts on the 18th of March Preston game and then we’ll do it again on the 15th of April at the Norwich game.

HB advised that Preston are looking to bring about 2000 fans. So, it would be an idea if we include, Preston Football Club, and any supporters in anything we send out regarding the food bank and this collection.

HB advised that its Preston’s annual Gentry game, which is, they nominate one away match per season and it’s for loved ones who have passed away and it’s celebrating their lives.

RN advised that Preston Police have got a good Twitter page and they’re probably a good place to start with that.

MM advised that some of the feedback that he had received around the My Boro my shirt campaign was that it was not that clear on what it was all about and that MSF were thinking of maybe putting something out to clarify it.

HB advised that the overall concept is ultimately about pride in your town and your shirt and your club. It’s also about creativity and art and ultimately what it’s going to end up in is a mural on the side of building with a picture of one of our fans in their shirt and then various streams off the side of that, including the competition that we’re running. HB also advised that they will also look at a live exhibition of photos of all these people who have taken their time to take photos.

HB advised that there’ll be something called My book or My Story, which is about sub stories of Boro fans and why they’re proud of their club and their town. HB advised that’s it’s quite a wide-reaching project. It’s quite difficult I’d say to summarize in a few words, but that’s what it’s about.

LE advised that she thinks the team will just finalizing some coms so hopefully we’ll have something within the next couple of days.

Carrick Boot Room Collection
MM advised that just for completeness, a lot of boots got collected at the last food bank, what’s the plan with distributing those?

LE advised that the Michael Carrick Foundation will help check the boots and clean them up and then they find a couple of kick sessions to distribute them at. LE advised that they would probably have a chat with the foundation as to whether Michael wants to come back out again or whether we just do that by ourselves. LE advised that they are just getting up to a good amount of stock to make sure that we’ve got enough to take down to our sessions where we, we’ve got those high numbers. And then when we’ve got adult ones again, we’ll just go through the same process and we’ll probably go down to our active through football program. LE advised that she can, get some more information on when we’re going to distribute them and make sure we’ve got the comms in place around that.

East Cleveland Bus for Supporters
LE advised that in terms of the bus service, we launched it for the Luton game back in December after the World Cup break. We’ve used the Boro bus, which is a 21-seater because that’s our bus and we wanted to see what the demand was. It’s £2 for an adult return and £1 for a child. Each person must have a match ticket to get onto the bus.

LE advised that the bus is currently fully booked with a waiting list. It’s something that the foundation is funding ourselves because we, we see the demand and the need and, and clearly the fact we’ve got a waiting list shows that even more.

LE advised that they have a partnership with Aviva who help them to maintain the two Boro buses. LE advised that they are going to try and have a conversation with them around how they may be able to help next season continue this with larger provision. LE advised that part of that conversation would be around what other opportunities there are aside from East Cleveland. LE advised that she would keep us updated as soon as we’ve got any more information on that. But it’s a positive start for that East Cleveland route.

MM asked was there, was there a reason why like the East Cleveland area was chosen more and if you were to expand it, is there particular areas that you’ve already got in mind to expand it to?

LE advised that the Boro buses are funded through the Foundations East Cleveland project, the buses belong to that area, and we have that funding allocated to be able to cover those costs. LE advised that we also wanted to see whether there was demand for it before we could expand into other areas. LE advised that if we were looking at other options, we’d have that conversation with the club obviously as well as the supporters around where is the demand where existing public transport isn’t available. But the reason for East Cleveland was around our funded project out there and the request from the funders put this on.

KP asked if there is a possibility then that we could try and work on a funding bid via the lottery or anybody else to see if there’s, there’s a way of securing this transport so that we can get it to harder to reach communities as well as east Cleveland. LE advised that she can certainly have a look into that and see what might be available. KP advised that she would be more than happy to work on something with LE on it.

JC asked if the amount raised at the last Boro shirt auction was ever released. LE advised It was just short of five and a half thousand pounds in terms of the amount of money that we got.

MM asked if there was anything else we can help the foundation with promoting or that need us to try and get involved with at all. LE advised that now we’re just grateful for the support and just continue to raise the awareness and it’s just good to know this forum is available for us to be able to share what we’ve got going on. Thank you. LE advised that she will just keep, keep sharing things with you if that’s okay.

4. Stadium
MM asked RF to expand on their questions around safe standing.

RF advised that since he submitted the request to discuss safe standing at this meeting, the club have been in touch with some fan groups to engage about this subject and are looking to organise some meetings, so we might as well wait and see what the meeting brings and then bring up the next meeting after that.

RN advised that he took a load of photographs for HB at Cardiff, and he would send them on to her. RN advised that he had asked Cardiff how they sold the safe standing tickets and if they provide any advice when selling them etc and they said they don’t. RN advised that this is a floor in the process as not everybody was asked whether they wanted to sit or stand. RN advised that it’s probably essential in those situations if you were talking about rail seating to give people the choice of sitting or standing, then it’s essential that the club selling the tickets makes that clear.

RN advised that he knew there were some people that did get their tickets and they were in rail seating area, and they were seated. There were fans in their seventies and eighties that didn’t know they were in a rail seating. It’s key that that is done correctly on sale if that happens.

Segregation at the Riverside
MM asked about the size of the segregation as it keeps coming up. MM asked for reasons why segregation gap is big especially when we have just a small number of aware fans.

HB advised that there are certain restrictions in the makeup of the stadium as to where segregation is required, however if there is ever a possibility that the ground will sell-out or that other areas of the ground are nearing capacity, the segregation will always be moved to allow as many supporters as possible in. At present, where supporters see large segregation and empty seats, there are always plenty of tickets elsewhere in the ground to purchase. Saying that, for the QPR and Reading matches we have reduced the segregation in the East Stand on the back of a higher demand for home tickets and also because the away teams have brought smaller followings. On those two occasions where we have open extra blocks in the East stand, we’ve sold to 30 – 40% of the total capacity in those areas.

HB advised that from now on the away tickets will be sold firstly in the corner of the southeast stand nearer to the screen, in the upper and lower tiers (rather than just along the upper tier). Therefore, if the away team only sell a small amount, we can open more of the east stand, where stadium layout allows. As games get busier towards the stadium, potentially with larger away followings (e.g. Burnley) supporters will see a difference in the segregation to ensure we can allow as many supporters as possible into the stadium.

South Stand Season Cards
RF asked why we don’t we sell South stand season tickets to the right of the south stand (if facing the pitch) but can buy walk ups. HB advised that this is because of Cup ticket requirements. Because the FA Cup away allocation is higher than league matches (15% of capacity so up to c5,000) in a scenario where we have a home tie with a full away allocation, we would need to move season tickets holder from those south stand seats. In previous seasons, when we did move supporters, this did cause significant difficulties however is something that we are reviewing.

Stadium Improvements
MM asked about any planned stadium improvements such as the Fanzone etc.

HB advised that they are working on some business cases for many areas of the stadium including the fan zone. HB advised that a few supporters have mentioned covering the fan zone with a roof because as it is not used in bad weather. However, some supporters have fed back that they think a roof might be detrimental to the current atmosphere it creates.

HB advised that we are looking at general refurbishment and upgrades to the stadium. There are many parts which haven’t been upgraded since the stadium was built and require investment.

MM mentioned that a big screen at the fanzone would work well as, when you walk through the college ground there’s a big TV screen now, something like that at the fan zone would be absolutely fantastic. HB advised this is also on the project list for consideration.

Fan bars closing early.
JD advised that we we’ve got 20,000 fans walking away from the stadium and If you keep the concourse bars open, you will keep the fans there much longer and you are going to get a fair bit of revenue. Not everybody goes straight away.

JD advised that there has been lots of instances in the Twe12thMan bar when there’s still a few hundred people there and they’re pulling the shutters down and you’re driving customer away. HB asked what time do the shutters go down?

JD advised it’s getting earlier and earlier you’re talking about, quarter past five.

JD advised that we can have the big screen on watching highlights or watching the build-up to, to the later game. HB advised she would take this away.

RF advised that you come down after taking our banners and stuff away and by the time we get downstairs it shut.

UPDATE FROM HB re closing of the twe12thlman bar early when people are still in there: – HB advised that she has spoken to the team and that this did happen for the QPR match and it shouldn’t have. As long as there is a demand there (and not just a couple of supporters), the Twelfth Man will be open until 6pm. Similarly, we have one bar open in each stand (lower and upper) after the match. If there are several people still in the areas wanting a drink, then they will stay open. If there are only a few and it’s less viable, then we would close it. That will be down to the judgement of the Area Manager’s on the day.

MM asked about vaping in the stadium and the club’s stance on this as concerns are being raised by a supporters about it happening on the concourse and in the stands.

HB advised that smoking, including the use of e-cigarettes, is banned fully from the Riverside and where possible the club will take action against individuals using vapes. HB advised that the EFL are currently looking into a campaign to highlight that vaping is banned in stadiums and MFC will use various channels including the big screen, programme etc to remind fans that it is banned within our stadium.

HB advised that supporters who witness people using e-cigarettes should report it to a steward. Supporters using vapes will be given words of advice, but the Club reserves the right to take further action if the problem persists.

5. Football White Paper
MM asked if anyone wanted to discuss the information that came out on the new football white paper.

RN advised that we still don’t know a lot the details. RN advised that we don’t know about the director’s fit and proper test exactly, and what it’s going to be.

RN advised that he thought that supporters asked for a fan on to be on the board of clubs and Tracey Crouch wasn’t an advocate of that so she came up with an alternative, which is a shadow board, but we don’t yet know what that will look like. So, we still need find them sort of things out.

RN advised that there’s a lot of things that need to come out.

RN advised that he thought that the independent regulator that’s coming out from the white paper with powers to change things across football is really welcome because we have to stop this sort some of the current scenarios that that are happening at other clubs such as Reading. RN advised that we can be thankful that it’s not going to happen at Middlesborough in the future.

MM asked what’s the next step or timeline with the white paper now as such or more detail? Do we know?

RN advised that we have to find out when it actually becomes legislation and hopefully it’s going to be later in this year. RN advised that it is important to point out that even though Tracey Crouch put it together, it was worked on supporters groups constantly for the last couple of years.

RN advised that it really has been fan led and it’s, it’s very detailed.

RN advised that we should look forward to it becoming legislation and there’ll be a few battles obviously with the Premier League, and other people, but it’s come at the right time because of what happened with the European Super League, it means that maybe the Premier League haven’t got quite as much power as they had.

RN advised that any government or prospective government knows that they’ve got to listen to the supporter base and all in all the Football supporter’s association is really pleased with it so far, it’s a unique, unique opportunity.

6. MSF Season Card Price Increase Communication
MM asked the group how they felt the extra information MSF put out about season card prices was received. MM asked the group if they all felt it was the right thing to do as MSF did still get criticism for not putting enough information out and a perception of not challenging more against pricing increased.

RN advised that he thought people appreciated the fact that we went into a meeting with Steve and Neil, and all argued the case against price increase and then put information out about what we got back from the football club.

RN advised that Steve Gibson gave us a lot of figures and he put those out on FMTTM for others to see and there has been a fair few people that have been past critics and came back and said they totally understand why increases needed to be made.

RN advised that coming out with all these figures was appreciated and people understand now that gulf between it costing us 30 pounds or 32 quid for a ticket and the club getting far less than that back as it just seems unbelievable that, that they only get that much out of it.

RN for us to get all the figures and get all the breakdowns of different clubs pricing stand by stand and how many concessions in each stand and take that to the meeting with the chairman was good.

RN advised he realised that some people criticized and asked why is this information was given to the forum and why it isn’t it coming straight from the club? But it was the intention of the chairman to go by the forum to the fans, wasn’t it? RN advised that the Chairman made it quite clear that he wanted to publicize all this as much as possible. RN advised that he thought it’s been quite a positive thing without a doubt.

MM advised that there is a bit of a perception that MSF have not challenged the club on pricing. RN advised we did challenge in the meeting and was presented with information from the football club.

JD advised that the fact that we have put it out and there’s the recognition that we are going to be going into meetings more regularly with the executive with Steve Gibson going forward. And, and that’s a bit of a, a breakthrough.

KP advised that she appreciated the information and that the number of concessions really surprised her and that she thought fans just didn’t know that.

RN advised that when we talked to the Chairman, he told us about the levels of corporation tax the club have to pay and even capital gains tax on transfers. RN advised that he didn’t know that capital gains tax was taken, but if you buy a player then sell and you make money, that’s subject the capital gains task tax. RN advised it’s all these hidden costs that as a normal supporter before last week, I didn’t know anything about that.

RN advised that the chairman explained that when we receive £20 odd million for a player, we don’t get that as a lump sum and it doesn’t go into the bank on the transfer, It’s, it’s done over several years. RN advised that the first two deals we might have got 4 million, 5 million and people wrongly think that the club have this big chest of money that we’ve got from the sale of two players. It’s not always like that. RN also advised similarly, when we buy players, obviously we pay in instalments. it’s a complicated business.

MM advised that he felt it was a good step forward and hoped that this type of communication with the chairman will continue as it had been useful for fans to see.

7. Meeting with Steve Gibson Prep
MM asked the group about the scheduled meeting with the Chairman and what key subjects they should try and cover ahead of it.

MM asked the group for some items and would re ask the group in a week or so for agenda of items to discuss.

MM mentioned key things that had been mentioned so far had been membership scheme, safe standing, walk up prices, family zone, better season card financing schemes and early bird season card prices for new buyers.

JD advised that the chairman is open to ideas and if you give him a decent argument with facts and figures to back it up he’ll consider it. If we go, there and tell him something ridiculous he will dismiss it. JD advised that he’s as honest as the day is long and he’s, he’s a very successful businessman and it’s all down to figures.

JD advised that he’s open to suggestions, good suggestions that will put the club in a better place but also it won’t cost a huge amount of money because it’s all about the club running successfully and keeping within fair play and keeping competitive on the pitch.

RN advised that he think Steve’s good at showing you why he does things the way he does. RN advised we said to him we were still disappointed that in a deprived area that the fans must pay a little bit more. But I can understand it, he’s still ambitious. He still wants the club to do well.

RN advised it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, lots of other clubs have bent the bridges have done far so much financially and suffered. RN advised that the chairman is keeping us on a, on an even keel on a right level.

MM suggested that the group agree on 5 key themes that should we want to discuss and they should then form the focus of the meeting. MM advised he would then send the themes to the Chairman ahead of the meeting.

8. Other
New BAME Supporters Group Update
KP advised that she has set up a Facebook group for a new Boro BAME supporters group called Boro Masala.

KP advised that she has also put information out on the Teesside Asian group and asked people to get in touch with her personally if they want to be involved in the group.

KP advised that she needs to further talk to the club to get an actual meeting together to establish the terms and conditions for the group and put together a mini constitution because she wants there to be a focus for this group.

KP also advised that her goal is also about assisting the club as well, in terms of being able to communicate better with the BAME community. KP advised that she is hoping to get a meeting in the next three to four weeks organized and, and get people signed up onto the group.

EDI Survey
KP also advised that she wanted to raise a couple of points around the recent Equality Diversity and inclusion survey and how we could get more fans to complete it. KP advised that the survey was only sent to those that had opted in to club communications but maybe a link to the survey could have been shared on Boro Socials. KP advised that when she asked members of MSF to share the link the volume of returns went up.

KP advised that the survey wasn’t just for BAME issues its also for everybody. KP advised that she was trying to encourage as many people from all walks of life to, to fill that in as there are lots of good ideas of how we can improve and what needs to happen out there and the message about the survey needs to be spread that little bit farther.

MSF meetings for the wider fan base
MM advised that he wanted to maybe look at expanding one or two MSF meetings a year to other supporters either in person or online.

MM advised that when he posed the question to other MSF members, all agreed that it would be a good idea.

MM advised that he knows Boro Supporters Club 2020 have a member’s scheme and invite guests’ speakers along so maybe we could use that forum to hold a more expanded MSF session and invite club reps.

JA advised that Helena Bowman came and talked Boro Supporters Club 2020 a couple of months ago and she talked about a lot of things that she’s just talked about a lot of subjects. JA advised that she thinks it’s a good idea.

MM advised he wanted to have other ways of getting information out from the group and conversations to the fans. MM advised that Bristol City hold a couple of bigger sessions a year with more fans involved and release the outputs from those meetings.

MM advised he would think further about this and chat with MFC.

9. Meeting Attendance
MM advised he wanted to discuss the subject of having deputies to attend meetings if people are not available. MM asked the group what they thought of having one especially as we had some missing people today.

KP advised that it made perfect sense.

MM advised that Paddy had not been at the last few meetings to represent Middlesbrough Disabled Supporters and we could do with a rep from that area.

JA advised it would be a good idea to maybe invite Owen Swift into the group who is part of Boro Supporters 2020 and disabled.

MM asked the group if they had any issues with involving Owen with the forum. All members present agreed it would be a good idea to ask Owen.

JA advised that she would speak to Owen and get his thoughts on this.

MM asked the group to let him know if any of their groups would want to nominate a deputy before the next meeting.

MM advised that he had talked with Yvonne Ferguson who had suggested
potentially adding another group to MSF. MM advised Yvonne had suggested that he speak with Dana Malt from the Boro Breakdown about having an input into the forum. RN advised that would be good as Dana also writes for FMTTM and could also act as a potential deputy as well as rep the Boro Breakdown.

MM asked the group if anyone had any objections of him approaching Dana for an initial conversation. All members agreed they had no issues.

MM advised that he would reach out to Dana and Owen in the coming weeks and report back to the group.

MM asked if they group had any other items to discuss.

MM closed the meeting.