Fans Liaison Committee – April 2008

The Fans Liaison Committee met for the final time of the 2007/8 season on April 16th. Chairman Paul Duffen and Commercial Director Andy Dawson were present, as were Amber Nectar…

Stadium stuff

A query was put about the possibility of the capacity of The Circle being increased during the summer. Paul Duffen replied that any increase in capacity will not be undertaken until there is a “proven demand” for it, at which point it would make poor business sense NOT to have an additional 7,000 seats in the stadium. Any such increase would be a major project, most likely a significant expansion of the East Stand (which, incidentally, may contain corporate boxes and/or hotel facilities). No other means of increasing the capacity is really feasible ahead of 2008/9.

The habit of the PA welcoming each stand as part of his pre-match activities was questioned – many feel that while introducing visiting fans to the Circle was worthwhile when 26 wide-eyed Macclesfield supporters were present, but will look a little absurd should City make the Premier League. The chairman said that all of these things are to be reviewed the summer. In a broader sense, DuffMan explained that when he arrived at City he was not inclined to change too much of what he found. Now that he’s been here a year, and has his feet under the table and the respect of the fans, he presumably feels more comfortable with making alterations to things.

A query was raised about the pitch. This is to be relaid in the summer, during a break in the eggchasing season. The chairman spoke with remarkable fluency about the way in which the turf requires attention. The system installed five years ago is, we learn, Desso Grassmaster, featuring synthetic grass which is to be the case once more. Refreshing this is a fairly intensive operation requiring the shifting of some 600 tons of material, but Mr Duffen spoke keenly of his desire to ensure the state of the pitch is the best possible, which has not always been the case during some East Yorkshire winters.

Issues regarding two-way traffic flows outside the West Stand were raised, with fears of the potential for accidents. The club is aware of the problem, but reducing the risk to absolutely zero in a small area with several thousand people in it just isn’t really possible.

The state of the Walton Street carpark has been an issue for some time. Attempts to reach an arrangement with the council have been impaired by the departure of the officer previously responsible, although contact has been made with his successor.

John Cooper is to be made aware of continuing problems with hot water provision in the West Stand toilets.

Andy Dawson is undertaking a full catering review in the summer. The club is frustrated by the knowledge that all is not quite as it should be, and acknowledged that the use of agency staff can lead to linguistic problems. The fact that the beer-only kiosk in the East Stand has been shut in recent weeks will be rectified for the Crystal Palace game. Mr Dawson is also going to examine the possibility of increasing the Sports Bar’s ability to quench thirsts by adding a bottle bar to the existing pumps.

The stadium’s image was queried – one fan felt it looked a little shabby while being featured on ITV’s “The Championship” last week. While the missing “O” in the West Stand entrance is undoubtedly an irritant, and the unclean and unwieldy design of the dug-outs not being ideal, the chairman felt that overall it looked fine – and noted cheerfully the impressive impact the “Dare to Dream” slogan on the scoreboard had as the ITV man was recording.

Much discussion surrounded the Ipswich game on May 4th. City keenly hope to arrange a beam-back to the Circle, although firm arrangements cannot be made until Sky Sports decide which game(s) they wish to broadcast. Meanwhile, all but 700 tickets were purchased today, and remain on sale to those with five previous away matches logged to their customer reference number.

The club’s Away Direct scheme was discussed. At present, this has approximately 300 members, comfortably below the capacity of every away end in the country. However, this figure is likely to rise next season, particularly in the event of City going up. Would this scheme be suspended if it grew to the point at which it exceeded the number of tickets City could get for away matches? This is not something that is unduly exercising the rather overworked ticket office staff at present, although should it arise as an issue in the future it will be looked at. Incidentally, it appears that next season’s scheme will not include the option to return 3/4 tickets, as has been the case thus far. A bit of a shame.

The club’s new season ticket pricing structure appears to penalise mature students, formerly covered by student concessions but now unable to take advantage of the young persons discount that has taken its place. Paul Duffen agreed that this is so, but pointed out that the new scheme assists apprentices, those on training schemes and so on, and observed that student cards are widely abused and in many ways “not valid pieces of ID”.

Other stuff…
One supporter asked if the club could look at broadening the range of retro replica shirts available. DuffMan is perfectly happy to respond to customer demand, although it cannot be denied that while it’s relatively easy to shift lots of replica shirts from the glory days of Liverpool/Man U/whoever, our slightly more, umm, modest history may make this a slightly limited endeavour. Additionally, our endless changing of kit manufacturers during the 1990s could make this tricky. However, the club’s vastly improved commercial savvy means that more retro items are likely to come about as time passes.

The idea of a memorial garden was raised at the last meeting, intended as a focal point for remembering the numerous individuals whose ashes have been spread at the stadium. The chairman is in favour of such a suggestion and stadium manager John Cooper is equally open to the idea – the club will need to speak with the council as such a feature is likely to be on their land.

On a similar note, the potential of city to reach the promised land after 104 years of striving has brought out of the nostalgic in some. Paul Duffen said he’s had numerous instances of people relating to him tales along the lines of “my dad never thought we’d make it/never got to see this”. With so many City fans having come and gone without seeing the top flight, could some way of acknowledging this be incorporated into any celebrations/events if – IF – we make it? The chairman readily agreed.

A rather far-fetched rumour surrounding Sam Allardyce being appointed as a Director of Football was related to the chairman. Wryly amused, DuffMan speedily quashed this suggestion.

A complaint was raised about the way in which the reserves’ fixtures frequently have a change of venue, which is insufficiently advertised. This will be mentioned more prominently on the official website in the future, although with many fans using the programme to plot their stiffs’ expeditions, it may be the case that encouraging the local radio to make mention of late changes. As a follow-up, the chairman was asked about North Ferriby’s United ability to host Premier League reserve football. The chairman said his impeccably able club secretary has not drawn his attention to any such issues. However, substantial investment in the training facilities at Cottingham may be made, which will include considerable spending on irrigation and levelling of the grass, which could cost up to £120,000.

The play-off dates have now been settled upon, including confirmation that the Championship’s final promotion spot will be decided at Wembley on Saturday 24th May.

Praise for the Juniors’ dazzling skills, seen recently on Soccer AM, was noted.

A query regarding the “Polska Tigers”, a group whose Polish flag has become a fairly regular sight in the South Stand was raised. There had been a suggestion that they had been asked to take this down at a recent game by a steward. The club is very keen to encourage anyone of any nationality to attend City games and quite rightly has no problem with flags being shown providing they’re not obstructing vital safety signs or impeding the views of others. Should the Polska Tigers be reading, the club is happy for them to get in touch and talk the issue over.

Pre-season friendlies were raised. Brian Horton is mainly dailing with this, though no firm decisions can be made until we know which division we’ll be in. However, in the event of promotion it is likely that a big European club would play here, and indeed would want to.

And lastly, because we all like such figures, the club has sold some 13,000 season tickets to date, three thousand of which are new applications. The club can only sell a total of slightly over 19,000 in total – DuffMan opined that in the event of promotion, this figured would be “tested”. Remaining space in the ground must be kept for segregation (groan), general sale tickets and away fans. Whether the club will reserve general sale tickets for the North Stand, or whether they’ll sell season tickets there, is yet to be decided. Ironically, promotion would entail the construction of a much posher media gallery in the Upper West Stand, necessitating the removal of 150 seats.

Andy Dalton