The Everton FC Fans Forum has been an enigma to say the least. In the very humble opinion of us at Evertonians for Change there have always been issues surrounding the Forum, including who exactly is part of this “Fans Forum”, and what exactly gets discussed. These were chief amongst a number of concerns that we raised with Everton FC CEO Robert Elstone in our most recent dialogue with him. I say “dialogue”, but, certainly with regards to our last letter, it has been one-way traffic and we’re still awaiting a reply some two months later.
The Fans Forum simply wasn’t good enough. Over the past nine months, Evertonians for Change have very vocally been calling for, amongst other things, a constructive and representative line of communication between the fans and the Club. Conscious that it is far more constructive to offer alternatives instead of constantly criticising, we developed an initiative that took the Fans Forum and expanded upon some of the ideas already being implemented.
Our Fans Parliament idea was by no means totally novel. On our way home from the away game at Wolves in April last season, one of our members was browsing through the Wolves match day programme and saw a similar initiative already in operation, and seemingly very successful, at Molyneux. Upon seeing this we decided that introducing such a thing at Everton F.C could only benefit the Club and go towards building bridges between the Club and its Fans. That being said, our Fans Parliament wasn’t a direct clone of the one at Wolves, but the basics were there. We looked further afield in the Premier League and saw successful initiatives at our neighbours, Liverpool, as well as Manchester United. Arsenal even holds an interactive forum every Friday night on their TV Channel. These are just a few of the many that were (and are) in operation. If open and honest dialogue between the Club and a group of representative supporters was good enough for Liverpool, then it’s a dead cert to be good enough for a Club who pride themselves as “The Peoples Club”.
We put our proposition to Robert Elstone, who seemed to think that the Fans Forum in its current state was “Fit for purpose”. We even spoke to our Chairman about it only a couple of weeks ago, and he described the idea as “Grandiose”. We disagreed. Our ideas were hardly those revolutionary kinds of ideas that have had South American, right-wing, fascist dictators quaking in their boots. In fact, it was more evolution than revolution. It also is important to note, with regards to the forum already in place, that no one knew who the Evertonians were who were selected to be on the Fans Forum. No one knew what the selection process was, or what criteria needed to be met. No one knew what the agenda was, what was discussed or how to raise issues which they would like to be discussed at future meetings. In fact, some of the stories that we were being told about the Forum were damn scary; members being sworn to secrecy and unable to discuss what was on the agenda. Equally as worrying was the rumour that reached our ears that, at the time last year’s accounts were due out, one of the “important” points being discussed at the forum was whether Z Cars should also be played when the teams emerge after the half time break.
Our response was simple, and, I’m sure you’ll agree, not grandiose at all. The Fans Parliament should have a democratically elected selection of people on the forum to represent the different corners of the fan base (not those that were selected by the Club). Those elected should serve for a fixed term before being replaced by another group of representative supporters that were also elected. The agenda for the meetings should be set by the supporters with no such thing as a list of topics not up for discussion. The Parliament should be chaired by a neutral person (in the example of some of the aforementioned clubs this was done by a local journalist). Last but not least, the minutes of these meeting should be a clear and concise representation of what was discussed and available in the Public Domain.
The secret to whether or not this could be successful is respect, both from the fans point of view as well as the Club. To use the Wolves model once again, if in the upcoming agenda there was an issue with ticketing prices, for example, the person responsible for setting the ticket prices would be expected to attend the meeting. If there was a problem with the half-time pies during one game, the catering manager would attend. We were even told that on one particular occasion a number of concerns were raised with regards to the redevelopment of Moyneux. As a result of the help and input from Supporters, some of the plans surrounding the redevelopment of the ground were changed to incorporate their views or concerns. If only Everton FC had something like this in place 5 years ago, the Destination Kirkby fiasco may have been resolved a lot earlier.
The Club, in a blatant attempt at trying to appease us and our growing support saw fit to arrange a special one to one “Sharpie’s Surgery” over the summer with our then representative, David Martin. Imagine our surprise when Dave presented our Fans Parliament idea to Sharpie only to be told that a lot of the ideas we put forward were in the process of being implemented into the current Fans Forum already. So on one hand we had been told that the Fans Forum in its current format was “Fit for purpose” yet only a matter of weeks after being dismissed (yet again) by Robert Elstone, Graeme Sharp was telling us that those ideas which we had presented were already being implemented. Sure enough, at the first game of the season at home to QPR there was, for all to see, an advert in our match day programme advertising the new and improved format for the Everton FC Fans Forum. All you had to do was fill in an online form, and in 300 words or less explain why you believed you should be on the Everton FC Fans Forum. Progress, at last. Indeed, a quick look today at what is online at Everton’s official website and we can see that not only is the Fans Forum page easily accessible we are also greeted by the following outline of the new Fans Forum:
Mission of Everton Fans’ Forum
• To provide an open, honest and transparent dialogue with the Club and its supporters on all Club issues
Aims and Objectives of Fans’ Forum
• To provide its fans with a sense of ownership and participation in the Club
• The supporters on the forum will act as a ‘sounding board’ to the Club providing honest and candid feedback
• The forum will generate feedback through its members’ networks and the Club will make every attempt possible to act upon this feedback
• The agenda will be an open agenda driven jointly by the Club and supporters on the forum to reflect key issues and priorities for both the Club and its fans.
• To keep Everton supporters in touch with items of discussion, progress and actions taken via Club media channels and other media if appropriate.
Membership of Everton Fans’ Forum
• Members to be recruited on a 15-month rotational basis (starting October 2011)
• Membership runs from October until December the following year
• Existing members to assist in selection of new members
• Recruitment process in August each year
• Process to be reviewed in 2014
• Meetings are every month with the exception of May and June
Now, we are quite happy here at Evertonians for Change to take criticism where it’s due. But we are quite happy to take the credit as well, and this, in our opinion is nothing short of a back handed compliment from the Club. It’s great to see that finally the Club are taking on board what supporters want to see. It has to be said that, after the decision over the weekend to refund this season’s shirts bought with Arteta or Beckford’s names on the back, the Club certainly appear to be on a roll, and, it’s fair to say, the Club certainly appear to be getting their stuff together. It’s just a shame that for all the posturing earlier in the year, and the blatantly dismissive nature of our CEO and his unwillingness to meet us despite his door “Always being open”, that something like this couldn’t have been implemented earlier.
But still, there are plenty of issues arising from this new forum. For all the good work that they have done, we still don’t know who exactly is on this Fans Forum and who they represent from the supporter base. Who was it that selected them to be included and what were the criteria for selection? I know a number of people who applied (including me), some of whom can claim, fairly, to represent a large number of Evertonians, yet no response was received to the unsuccessful applications. How do we raise issues to be discussed at the next meeting? Who chairs the meeting and when will the minutes of the meeting be available? At the moment, the minutes of the August meeting are available to view, but it’s interesting to note that the last meeting was scheduled for September 15th, yet there are no updates as to what was discussed or whether this meeting even went ahead.
The supporters of any Football Club are its lifeblood, and you would be very hard pressed to find any as passionate and knowledgeable as Evertonians. Respect has been, and always will be, a two way street. These are the first few steps being made to renew and rebuild the respect between Everton FC and its fans, and the Club should be commended on implementing a number of the ideas that we directly presented to them over the past several months. However, no one knows better than Evertonians that it is important not to rest on your laurels. There is still plenty of work to be done to increase Fan participation and to build and enhance the relationship between the Club and its Supporters and we at Evertonians for Change, as well as The Blue Union, intend to see those aims achieved.