Supporters attending the latest fans forum have been provided with an update on proposals for a new Supporter Charter as part of an ongoing review of Liverpool Football Club’s sanctions procedures.
The Stadium Fans Forum, which took place ahead of the recent home game against Brighton & Hove Albion, was attended by eight forum members and three representatives from the club. The meeting lasted for approximately 90 minutes.
With the issue of the residential area around Anfield also on the agenda, local councillor Ian Byrne was also invited to address the forum.
A review of the Supporter Charter, which was prompted by a number of incidents in which fans had been ejected from the stadium last season, is being headed by chief operating officer Andy Hughes who presented forum members with an overview of the work that has been done to date.
“We knew we had some issues with the process and as a result we have been working over the summer to make the improvements we feel are necessary to make it fit for purpose,” he said. “This has included consulting with James McKenna from Spirit Shankly whose input has been really helpful and we have also sought guidance from the Independent Football Ombudsman who, again, has provided us with assistance.
“As a result of this we have been able to produce a first draft of what will eventually become the new Supporter Charter but I can also report that we have already enacted a couple of changes simply because it was clearly the right thing to do.
“Firstly, we have moved away from suspensions pending investigations. Now, there is a clear process which involves an investigation being conducted and the outcome of that investigation being put before a panel before any sanctions are triggered.
“The second step would then follow if required, affording the supporter access to an appeals process with an appeal, if desired, being heard by different staff. If the supporter still is not satisfied after those two steps, a third is then made available in the form of an appeal to the Independent Football Ombudsman.
“As I said, these improvements have already been implemented because it made absolute sense to do so rather than persevering with the process which was previously in place but changes can still be made subject to consultation.”
Club senior solicitor Neil Morgan then explained some of the background behind the proposals. “At the heart of what we are doing is a determination to allow people to put their case forward before we start applying any sanctions,” he said.
“I have met with the Independent Football Ombudsman on a couple of occasions and he has asked us to make it clear in the process that supporters also have the right to appeal to him and we are, of course, more than happy to do so.”
Forum member Goronwy Brooks was then given the opportunity to present any concerns held by Spirit Of Shankly (SOS), the supporters’ trust. Referring specifically to sanctions relating to misuse of tickets, he said: “There is a clear need for the club to promote its own ticket transfer system more in order to allow supporters the chance to transfer tickets without risk.
“It would also be fairer if, rather than punishing a supporter who has made a single honest mistake with regards to tickets, the club focused instead on repeat offenders. There needs to be a way of differentiating between the two.”
Andy Hughes responded: “Without going into too much detail because it wouldn’t be right or fair to refer to individual cases, what I can say is that there has been a significant drop in negative feedback since we switched to the new way of working. It does seem to have had a big impact but I certainly take on board the points Goronwy has made.”
Forum member Frank Chart then asked if it was possible for a supporter to appeal both the decision and the sanction with Neil Morgan confirming that would be possible in both cases. He also asked if the club would be willing to add an independent party to the appeals panel. “We have discussed that possibility internally and it is somewhere we would like to get to,” Neil Morgan confirmed.
Forum member Jayne Page said: “I’ve noticed that supporters are given 14 days to appeal and I can’t help thinking that in some cases this won’t be sufficient. If you are on holiday for two weeks it would definitely be a problem, so can the 14 days be extended if necessary?”
Neil Morgan responded: “The correspondence will be in the form of both letter and email so if someone is on holiday they can certainly email us to ask for a delay and we will look to be reasonable in all such cases.”
Jayne Page added: “If the ombudsman asks for a case to be reconsidered, who at the club would do that? Would it not make sense for fresh eyes rather than having the same individuals involved who have already considered the case?” Andy Hughes replied: “I would agree. That is a good suggestion and it would make sense to go down this route.”
There was a consensus among the forum members that the Supporters Charter should be presented as a matrix rather than a chart before being signed off and made available to supporters. Neil Morgan agreed to take that suggestion on board as part of the ongoing process with a commitment to report back to the stadium forum once the review is at its next stage.
The Anfield area
In light of a number of issues raised by residents living in the vicinity of the stadium at Anfield, head of operations Simon Smith opened up a discussion on the matter by detailing some of the problems that residents face on matchdays.
He said: “I have attended some residents forums and the feedback about matchdays is not particularly positive to say the least. There are issues involving litter, car parking and a lot of the kind of problems that you would associate with big crowds but there are also concerns about people actually urinating in gardens and even reports of drug taking off bins.
“Clearly, none of this is acceptable and that is the message that is coming back louder and louder from residents and understandably so. As a club, we are determined to be as good a neighbour as we possibly can to those who live close to the stadium, which means we are just as determined to do whatever we can to make the situation better.
“We have already made some changes in this respect. For example, we have increased the number of portaloos from six to 36 with those stationed in the fan park remaining open until an hour after games have finished. Also, an additional 14-17 parking attendants will be operational on a match day and we have introduced a litter picking team which will cover the streets around the stadium for two hours post match.
“The purpose of putting this issue on the agenda is to see if there are ways that we can work together – club, residents and supporters – to make match days a more pleasant experience for residents.”
Speaking as both an Anfield resident and a local councillor, Ian Byrne outlined the relevant issues and spoke of the need for a collective effort to resolve them. “I suppose it’s logical, if certainly not acceptable, that these kind of problems have got worse as attendances have increased, meaning greater numbers of people are brought into the area on a matchday.
“I attend a lot of residents’ meetings and people are telling us that they are sick of it now. In the past, the relationship with the club has been really poor and, although things have definitely improved in this respect with the work being done by Red Neighbours, it’s clear to me that there is an urgent need for a grassroots supporters campaign to sort this problem out once and for all.
“As far as I’m concerned, the message is quite simple – if you visit Anfield as a supporter you have to respect the community and respect the area. Nothing else is acceptable. If it comes from the grassroots, from the supporters themselves and those who represent them, it is such a powerful message and people will be much more responsive to it than if it comes direct from the club.
“I know that the club cares about this and so it should, but we need to find a way of making a lasting difference because it simply isn’t right that people who live around the stadium have to put up with these problems. As a stadium, Anfield is a special place for all of us but the area is also a special place, especially for those of us who live here, and it deserves to be respected like anywhere else.”
Asked by Frank Chart whether the problems were worse before or after games, Ian Byrne responded: “It is both, either side of the game. What I would say is that not all of this is malicious by any means. It is more thoughtlessness than anything else which is why I think we need a campaign that is built around raising awareness of basic stuff like where toilets are located.
“Once the level of awareness is raised it then becomes more about self-policing. Again, the message is straightforward – support Liverpool, support the area.”
Goronwy Brooks suggested introducing signs informing supporters of where and how far away toilets are, while Ian Byrne suggested a poster campaign backed by supporters’ representatives would be a positive step. With regard to the latter, forum chair Tony Barrett highlighted a trade union poster campaign which had been used to great effect in London, suggesting a similar approach could be taken in and around Anfield.
Concluding the discussion, Simon Smith said: “What we have got here is a starting point for a collaborative approach. There have been some good suggestions and the information that Ian provided highlights why this is an urgent concern for the club and also why we want to resolve these problems for the sake of local residents. There is already a great deal of work taking place on this front but it is extremely helpful to have this kind of input from supporters because it is only by working together that we will make the kind of impact that is obviously required.”