Minutes of the latest Supporters Council Meeting held on 22nd April 2018
Welcome, Introductions and Apologies
Angela Smith (chair), David Harper, Nigel Hackney, Linda Bennett, John Slaney, Daniel Stevenson, Nick Mansfield, Rob Doe, Wayne Harrison, Julia Zuk, John Smith, Sean Ruane, Runar Kvernen, Brian Edwards, Adam Hindhaugh, Mark Mills (all SCSC); Tony Scholes, Rob Killingworth, Anthony Emmerson, Adrian Hurst (all SCFC).
Richard Bestwick, Mark Barnett, Mike Tudor
1. Fans Concerns
The Supporters Council felt that in the current circumstances it was entirely correct to devote much of the meeting to discussing the main point raised by supporters – the demise of the playing standard, a dis-connect between the Club and supporters, the perceived lack of concerns from management and owners, and what the plan is for putting things right from next season. The Chair highlighted how disappointed the Council and the fans they represent have been with many aspects of this season. Tony Scholes was asked what he thought of the current season and what lessons have been learned.
He started by emphasising that the most important thing at the moment is to focus on finishing the league as strongly as we can and to try to retain our Premier League position. However, he added that whatever happens over the last 4 games (including if we stay up) it has been an incredibly disappointing season and one that is hurting everyone at and associated with the Club. He argued that our issues this season weren’t the result of complacency and that everyone was working as hard as they always have to try to achieve success for the Club; he also noted that he did not feel that there was a dis-connect with the majority of supporters whose backing for the Club and the team has been fantastic and has been further highlighted by record attendances at the bet365 Stadium and by strong Early Bird season ticket sales. He did however accept that mistakes and poor judgements had been made. He said that the Club feel the pain of our current position every bit as much as supporters, saying that the Club have to accept responsibility when things don’t go as well as we would have hoped and he personally accepts that responsibility.
Tony Scholes pointed out that although Mark Hughes and his coaching team paid the immediate price of our disappointing season when they left in January, no-one at the Club has shirked responsibility for the part they have played, including the senior management team right through to the playing staff. This was discussed at a meeting of all coaching and playing staff on the Monday immediately after Mark Hughes’ departure where Tony Scholes personally told them that we all share responsibility.
Tony Scholes was asked to confirm the decision making process about transfers? He stated that the recruitment team (Tony Scholes, Mark Cartwright and the whole scouting team) act on the manager’s initial views of where he feels the squad needs to be strengthened by identifying potential signings and then, with the manager having the final decision, agreeing a preferred option (player) to pursue. He explained that the structure and process has not changed in 6 years and has delivered many good signings in that time, but again all of us involved in the process have to accept that some poor judgements have been made. He explained that the Owners, the manager, the technical director and himself were involved throughout the process of player recruitment, whether that be player signing, retention or sale. But the strongest and final voice is always that of the manager, noting critically that the Club only signs players that the manager absolutely wants. In response to a direct question he then qualified this by saying that there have only been two occasions where, and for very specific reasons, a player has been signed by the Club without the manager being the person driving that purchase. In response to a further question Tony Scholes confirmed that the Club did try to sign a striker during the January transfer window.
The question was asked as to whether in hindsight an earlier decision on changing manager should have been made. This was agreed by Tony Scholes. He noted the significant goodwill that Mark Hughes had generated at the Club, by virtue of the success that he had delivered in his first three seasons with the Club but accepted that given that the decision to change the manager was ultimately made, evidently it would have been better to have made this change sooner.
The comment was made by Council members that the writing has been on the wall for the past 18 months and it was felt that the faith in the previous manager – on the back of three ninth place finishes – was ill judged and prevented quicker changes.
When questioned about his own position Tony Scholes replied that he remains fully committed to his role and also reassured the Supporters Council that the owners remain 100 per cent committed to the Club.
It was suggested that there is a dis-connect between supporters and the Club hierarchy, which Tony Scholes felt was not his view. He cited good season ticket sales for next season. However, it was put by Council members that there is certainly a dis-connect with some players, particularly those involved in well documented actions which affect the Club’s reputation. Tony Scholes agreed that some of the player stories in the media have been damaging.
Similarly, there have been reports about the perceived lack of discipline and fitness at Clayton Wood under MH. It was questioned how it was allowed to happen? In response Tony Scholes emphasised that all managers manage in different ways and have a different approach. Whilst we have discussed many things with the manager and always have a frank exchange of views, as a Club we always take the approach that you have to allow the manager to manage his way.
On a related topic, with media leaks happening, it was asked if the Club has tried to stop the stories from being published. The reply was that stories are often created by people with vested interests and are often wrong. The Supporters Council felt on occasion and for stories of strategic importance that the Club should be more proactive, whilst also acknowledging that correcting stories of a more trivial nature would be all consuming.
A comment was made by the Supporters Council that the Club and team appears to have lost its identity. We don’t know what our style or identity is. It was stated that we need to get back to our ‘down to earth’ identity which reflects the local area, where players’ character is considered necessary as well as ability.
The Club representatives confirmed that a number of scenarios – dependent on which division the team will be playing in next season – are already being discussed but the focus mainly for now is to complete the season as strongly as possible.
The Council said they were pleasantly surprised and appreciate the forthright discussion, stating that they feel better about the Club’s position than they did at the start of the meeting, but did feel that the Club needs to do much more in terms of keeping supporters updated with information to remove the vacuum which then leads to misinformation and rumours. In conclusion, the Council members asked if the Club could be more pro-active in engaging with supporters through the media and directly, to get back the ‘one-club’ identity we have been renowned for during much of our Premier League stay. There is often a huge gap between fans and players and officials of most top division clubs and Stoke have always worked hard to avoid this but in the Council’s view they need to do what they can to reduce it at the current time. They suggested that the Club could release a statement to supporters at the end of the season to outline what they feel the mistakes were, what they have learned from them, and to emphasise that players and Club staff do care about the Club.
In conclusion, Tony Scholes reiterated that mistakes have been made and all at the Club are fully committed to rectifying these going forward. In addition, he again reassured the Council that the owners remain fully committed to Stoke City.
2. Review of Actions from previous meeting
(a) Dangerous Parking
The Club has progressed talks with Highways England. HE is looking to secure funding to bring forward an enforcement scheme. The Club continues to look at additional parking options.
(b) Shuttle Buses
The Club is discussing options with bus operators regarding potential new/different routes.
There has been no progress to report on Council members and Club representatives meeting to discuss how the website could be improved.
The Club are in favour of developing a Fanzone but would ask the Council to support the feasibility with ideas and input. Action for Council.
3. Ticket Pricing
The Supporters Council stated that they are disappointed that despite some ideas on ticket pricing being put to the Club by them, the Club had no further dialogue with them before announcing the new season’s pricing structure. Tony Scholes accepted that this should have been done, but in mitigation there have been no changes to prices, otherwise there definitely would have been dialogue.
It is noted that a proposal to have a young person’s pricing band is still awaiting response from the Club. It is asked that the Club create a new band for next season’s match day prices and also consider for future season card campaigns. Action for Club.
New Corner – Club confirmed that majority of seats are sold to a variety of groups and the extension of the popular City7s initiative. The Family Stand has also been extended to host an additional 400 seats from the development of the new stand. The Club recognises that this means that there is restricted number of individual/pairs of seats available but expanding the fan base is an important aspect of the Club’s growth. There are some seats still available for the Crystal Palace game (at time of meeting).
4. Away Travel
The Club has not yet made a decision as to whether free away coach travel for supporters will be offered again next season, irrespective of which division we will be in and decision will be communicated in due course.
5. Cashless Payments
There will be a trial of cashless payment options at catering outlets in the West Stand for the 2018-19 season, to allow it to be evaluated for possible further roll-out around the ground. This stand has been chosen as it has the most catering outlets and there is existing IT infrastructure which can support the pilot.
6. Pre-match screen/PA
There was a discussion around the PA system which appears to be very loud or very quiet at certain times. It was explained that the system has to be of a minimum sound level to act in its safety capacity, and that things like how many people are in the stands (before and during games) can also make a huge difference. Leading experts have been involved in the setting up of the system and a team monitors it on match days. It is suggested that any specific issues should be identified to the Club.
7. Club Museum
Council Member John Smith gave a presentation on how the idea of a potential museum being sited at the bet365 Stadium would have the potential to attract more supporters and visitors to the site/City. He felt that many supporters would have items and artefacts that could be loaned to the Club.
The Club suggested that there be a meeting to discuss the idea further, with the option of a ‘pop-up’ version to also be considered. Action: Club and Council to arrange meeting.
8. Stadium/Fan Observations
The Club was asked to clarify which items qualify for Club shop discounts in relation to Team Card. The Club said an explanatory piece would be clearly communicated on the Club’s website over coming weeks.
A question was asked if there was any likelihood of automated turnstiles. The Club responded that there was no plan to convert turnstiles as it is important to maintain a face to face assistance at turnstiles, particularly so for younger/less experienced supporters.
The possibility of outside bars was posed, particularly at the start of the season when the weather is likely to be good. Toilet facilities would also be required.
Club shop late evening opening one day per week was asked to be considered, as well as later Saturday afternoon opening. Club staff members said that whilst there has been no evidence that this has worked previously, they’d take the suggestion back to retail staff
Turnstile queues often block circulation routes around the ground, and it was asked if railing could be installed on match days to better manage queues.
The reduced number of retail/food outlet staff was noted for evening games.
The Council has received good feedback regarding the decision to keep concourse TVs on after the game and to remind supporters of the availability of Delilah’s bar post-match.
Pre-season friendlies – the Club stated that details of a potential pre-season tour and friendly fixtures are likely to be announced later than usual, possibly not until the current season has come to an end.
The Club confirmed that seasonal disabled parking charges have been equalised with non-disabled spaces for 2018/19 and users were given 12 months’ notice of this price change. This was part of the overall review of parking and parking charges, with the Club stating that seasonal on-site parking for all supporters remains great value.
Charity Collections – the Club confirmed that a particular charity is given permission to collect within the grounds, although it has been disappointing that only a few have informed the Club of the amounts raised, as is requested. Any charity collections on approach roads have not come via the Club and thus supporters should do their own due diligence.
9. End of season awards
The Club confirmed there will be no end of season player’s awards event.
NOTE: Norwegian Supporters Club – 30th anniversary weekend at Tollgate, Blurton, 4th to 6th May; all are invited
Date of Next Meeting – this is the last meeting of this season. Meeting dates for the 2018-19 season are to be announced.