Notes from the first Fans’ Working Group meeting

kcsoul

The meeting began promptly at 6pm in the Vice-Chairman’s suite at the Circle on Friday 25th July, and introductions were made:

James Mooney, Commercial Manager at Hull City AFC
Henry Crane, from City’s catering partners
Pete Curry, chair of the stadium’s SAG
Ryan, new director of the OSC and “prolific poster on Not606”, West Stander
Abraham, long-standing season ticket holder
Peter Gamble, marketing expert
John Watt, 50 years a season ticket and West Stander
John Wilson, season ticket holder since the 1960s
Sam Campbell, a student at Hull University
Ron Black, chairman of the OSC
Andy Dalton, Amber Nectar fanzine tosser
Mark Gretton, chairman of City Till We Die
George, local football coach
Mike Gothard, Ulltras organiser extraordinaire

At the outset, James Mooney said that while discussion of the club’s doomed attempt at renaming itself was not banned, it was not really the point of the meeting and was something he could not “easily discuss with any authority”.

Mark Gretton (CTWD) asked about the group’s proposed format. This was the first meeting, replied James Mooney, and similar ones with different participants are planning for coming weeks, at which point a more “stable” group with regular attendees will be put together, the aim being to meet monthly. Future chairs of the meeting may not be JM, but may be Simon King, perhaps Ehab Allam. Mark Gretton was keen for everything at the meetings to be made public, observing that it’s in the club’s own interest “good news, interesting things” to be known among City fans. This received common assent, particularly from Pete Gamble.

Immediately, season ticket sales were raised. They’re down, but JM said the club was not displeased with the final tally and they were a little above expectations, and will see more money raised through their sale for 2014/15 compared to last season. He defended the price rise, noting that City season tickets compare favourably with most other Premier League clubs, and spoke in favour of the concept of charging more for glamorous games (though defended what one person called “plastics”, saying that “we all went for the first time once”).

JM explained that the club’s revenue is broken down into two streams, “football and business”. Football income includes television income and competition prize money; business relates to ticket sales, merchandise, retail, corporate hospitality, etc. The latter is “significantly up”, and means the club will turn a profit for the last financial year. This led JM into effusive praise of Assam Allam, a “lovely man” who “really respects the fans”. This “selfish” “hooligan” and member of a “militant minority” raised a quizzical eyebrow at the latter assertion.

Season ticket prices are apparently considered quite a way in advance, with discussions for 2015/16 likely to begin between JM, Ehab Allam (of whom more later) and Simon King as early as November. JM could not give a particularly clear indication as to the likely outcome, but a rise as hefty as this summer’s is not on the cards.

Mark Gretton noted approvingly that Nick Thompson once had the wheeze of “flexible passes” – whereby a City fan could buy passes to a certain clutch of games, perhaps all in the same category. While endorsing the principle, JM described its implantation as “complicated”, pointing out that few other clubs do it.

How about dynamic pricing? This is something that Derby notably do, as do Fulham and there are plans afoot for Liverpool to do it. JM’s primary concern was that it can “undermine season ticket holders”.

The club’s difficulty with assigning priority for the two FA Cup games at Wembley last season was raised. JM explained that the club currently has two different systems that do not easily converse. The club is aware of this – it could hardly not be – and promised to improve the situation.

Ron Black, the HCOSC chair, enquired about the pot of money that is put aside by the Premier League to aid travelling fans, some £200,000 per club. Last season City used the cash for subsidised coach travel, but JM feels this was not entirely successful, citing the example of Manchester United, who used some of it to lower the cost of tickets in the away end at the Circle from £35 to £30 last season – when the group expressed a preference for lower-priced away tickets over cheaper travel (after all, many/most travel independently, especially out-of-towners), JM will put that sentiment to Ehab Allam.

The club, incidentally, has once again signed up with Acklam coaches for next season, JM reported – them emerging victorious from “the Allams’ strict three-quote policy”.

Ticket prices were discussed, with JM first disclosing that Ehab Allam had initially favoured higher costs for City’s FA Cup quarter-final with Sunderland last season before being talked into lowering them. It was noted that City would have been better off spending the money they did on a full-page advert in the Hull Daily Mail to whine about the name change on pushing tickets for that game, though JM said that City had done their best to drum up support for the match.

JM noted frustration with past ticket offers, claiming disappointing take-up and offering the example that trying to market the club in pubs/clubs is sometimes not successful or even allowed as that venue may be illicitly streaming the games. It was felt that the club needs to be bolder and more confident in its product – live Premier League football is something we should be proud of being able to offer. Mark Gretton made the interesting observation that when City made the Premier League in 2008, Hull University saw a spike in admissions requests that they were only able to attribute to the local football club’s success.

This led to a more wide-ranging discussion about how the club markets itself, with many feeling that the club doesn’t make enough of an effort in Hull itself – this fanzine tosser describing City as “interested in Asia but invisible in Hull, and that both Hull FC and Hull KR do this much better, perhaps because they’re rugby clubs in a football city but they still do”. While accepting that more can (should?) be done in Hull and East Yorkshire, JM defended the club up to a point, citing some of the promotions City have attempted.

So how can City market themselves? The club no longer sends texts to the phone numbers on its database advertising season tickets owing to small take-up – but would it work better for individual games? “Don’t forget, City are at home on Saturday, tickets are only £16!” was a proposed idea. JM said it’ll be looked into. He may not thank us for this, but while discussing the club’s marketing (“which has an increased budget”), James Mooney called us “Hull City AFC”. Don’t worry James, we won’t tell Mr Allam.

In response to a question, the club plans to engage itself in the Hull 2017 celebrations, with JM praising Phil Batty at Force-7.

At this point, we adjourned – for food! Henry Crane had thoughtfully brought an impressive array of foodstuffs that the club is either introducing or thinking of introducing for next season. Never ones to pass up a freebie, we can report:

  • Steak and ale pie, fairly chunky, quite tasty, definite improvement on grey slurry in existing pies
  • Hot dogs, perhaps not up to posh dog standards, but not bad if you like that sort of thing
  • Burgers (with wedges!) – very good
  • Chicken naanwich: small but tasty
  • Lamb naanwich: also small but tasty
  • Little portions of chicken curry: hot, good rice too

Though we suspect some of those are intended for corporate customers only, if the burgers, pie and hot dogs can replace the current fare, it’ll be an improvement. Ehab is reportedly in favour of “quality”, and this wasn’t far off it.

The discussion went catering-based, Henry Crane enthusing about how meal deals have doubled in popularity over the past season. But the issue of queues was reported by everyone, and admitted by the club – the upper West being particularly difficult. The club does have an idea, which is a pre-payment app for smartphones, meaning that those who pre-order food, from the previous day to perhaps up to halfway through the first half, can get served more quickly in a special express queue, while benefitting the caterers with knowledge of exactly what to prepare. Interesting idea.

Mark Gretton enquired about how much of this food will be locally produced, and was reassured with the response that practically everything in the club’s restaurant is from Yorkshire or nearby. It’s not always with the case with concourse fodder, because of the wildly different volumes and the fact that few companies can accomplish this.

What about healthy food? Most people would acknowledge that salad or pasta isn’t typical football fare – but again, if the club can receive orders in advance then catering for the health-conscious (and vegetarians/gluten-free eaters etc) is more viable.

Again, the issue of keeping concessions open after the game was raised. JM said that past trials have been unsuccessful; don’t expect this any time soon.

How about real ale, asked the fanzine tosser. Like healthy food, this just isn’t required in volumes that make it viable, but pre-orders could conceivably change that in the future.

We moved onto the apportioning of stands for various fans. Moving away fans and giving much of the North Stand to City supporters will not, in the short term, decrease the excessive amount of space given over to segregation, because – as Pete Curry explained – the issue is not just about creating a sterile space between away fans, it’s how many people you can have in a block of seats (14) between the nearest exit. However, if this alteration of allocations proves a success, the wasted areas of segregation may be lowered in the future.

City will also provide the whole of the North Stand to home fans in the event of away sides bringing a modest following, and JM promised that tougher action will be taken in the future on away fans in the City end. Good.

The issue of disabled supporters was raised, City having copped some flak for raising the admission costs for wheelchair users in recent times. JM defended the move, citing the free carer concession (“which cost the club money”) – however with an outstanding complaint from one supporter still being investigated by the club he declined to go into too much detail, while acknowledging that City “could be doing more”.

As an aside, the club has plans to involve more wheelchair users in the future – and, interestingly, members from the LBGT community, who have perhaps not always felt at home in football stadia.

On we went to a discussion of City’s new crest. JM said that new kits must be ordered in October, something that City failed to do, and was eventually done late by Ehab Allam. The club considered “hundreds” of crest options, with Assem Allam always favouring the current tiger’s head. Upon seeing some old kits from the 1970s with just that tiger head on them he plumped for that, adding the shield on.

This, we were told, had to be submitted by February 1st – at which Pete Gamble, not only a marketing expert but a regular dealer with kit manufacturers, observed that most makers (included Adidas) would have been able to facilitate a late change of crest if requested.

The generally feeling was of begrudging acceptance – though the inept kerning of the numeral 1 in the badge was disapprovingly spoken of (by us). JM said that the tiger’s head is now copyrighted by the club. That’s interesting, because Adam Pearson always told us it wasn’t copyrightable.

James Mooney apologised for inconsistencies in the name used in the season literature, and spoke of his wish to “wipe out” such uncertainties in future usage: Hull City should and will be used for player matters, the stupid Hull City Tigers for business matters. At which point, of course, ongoing examples of HCT being used for explicitly footballing issues were proferred. All of these will be corrected, we were told – except the URL of the club’s official website, which has been insisted upon at “board level”. So direct your irritation towards Ehab Allam for this pointless piece of aggravation.

Mark Gretton enquired if Ehab Allam’s role at the club is growing as much as it appears – JM confirmed that it is, and that he, with his father, constitute “unbelievable bosses”. We assume that was a means of praise rather than a literal description.

JM himself wishes to be a conduit between the fans and the Allams, with all three parties recognising that the club’s reprehensible conduct over the name change had seriously damaged those relations. That led into the inevitable discussion over the name change. JM repeatedly asserted that he does not know whether another application will be made to change the name, and at this point it was easy to empathise with him – the Allams’ unwillingness to make clear their intentions, even to their employees, meant that JM was being hung out to dry on the issue because they will not speak truthfully about their plans.

At which point the West Stand Johns observed that “no-one cares about the name change”, omitting only the tired and false cliché “it’s his club blah blah”…Mark Gretton was one of several people about to point out the facts of the situation when JM opted to end the discussion lest it become a quarrel.

Pete Curry moved the topic on to safe standing. The club is in favour of trialling it, but cautioned that it will not increase capacity without extra access and egress points. That would be very costly, as would building a standing area – and we need the Government to change the law first. So while the SAG is not opposed and the club is in favour, we may be standing in front of our seats for some time to come.

A quick figure: the SMC, should it ever wish to host concerts, may now accommodate 32,000 in the stadium and on the pitch.

The 2015/16 shirt, the second of the four-year deal struck with Umbro, will be ready much earlier than this season’s, and may even be worn and on sale for the final game of the season at home to Manchester United. There may also be a Europe-only kit (with a different sponsor) released should City make the group stages of the Europa League. JM promised big things about its style and quality.

At we ticked past four hours in the boardroom, things grew a little more relaxed, particularly after the earlier tetchiness and little else of note was discussed, though JM said that £1.5m has been spent on the pitch – which, in fairness, held up much better this winter and spring that it has done.

And, and after 4¼ hours, we adjourned. The elephant in the room will always be the name change, and it really is time the Allams came clean on their intentions. But otherwise, this was not an evening without merit.

UPDATE 1: John Wilson has been in touch with regards to comments made during the meeting, it’s Comment #5 below.

UPDATE 2: Henry Crane sent us a nice e-mail stating that the pies we scoffed are not new, but were introduced at the end of last season, that the naanwiches we described as “small” were actually cut in half (which makes them twice the value), and that everyone we had is ultimately intended for concourses as well as corporate hospitality.

25 replies
  1. Snaggletooth
    Snaggletooth says:

    Hopefully this represents the start of normalising relations between the fans and the club. And I stress “start of”.

    On the subject of real ale, I have enjoyed hand pulled beer at both Brighton & Hove Albion and St Helen’s RLFC, so it is doable. Those clubs will have gates of similar or smaller size than City, but the SMC has the benefit of selling to Hull FC supporters too. Personally, I would start small in one stand (East, probably) and then expand later once the concept was proved. Failing that, bottles of decent beer could be poured into plastic glasses by catering staff.

    Vegetarian food needs a kick up the arse. It should be easy to have two big containers, one with curry and one with rice, and slop a ladle of each into a box. If done well, this can be the healthy, gluten free and vegetarian options all in one meal.

  2. Nigel hill
    Nigel hill says:

    Next time someone from the west stands says the name change is not
    An issue. Send them to me I’ll explain a few facts.

  3. Pheasant Plucker
    Pheasant Plucker says:

    Erm, if you read the attendees Titface, there were two blokes called John who maybe both sit in the west stand? Just a thought………

  4. John Wilson
    John Wilson says:

    Generally a good report about the proceedings but as one of the “West Stand Johns” I must point out that you do us a great mis-service by failing to accurately state why we made the comments we did. We were re-acting to a comment by Peter Gamble that the only thing that ALL SUPPORTERS were interested about at the moment in relation to the club was the name change. This is patently not true, you cannot bracket all supporters in this way as there are many views. As one of the John’s I don’t want a name change but it is not my number one factor in my support of the club or the Allam’s. To then predict that the next comment would have been “it’s his club etc” is unwarranted and incorrect. Report facts, yes, put words in people’s mouths, no.

  5. Cayman Tiger
    Cayman Tiger says:

    “…with all three parties recognising that the club’s reprehensible conduct over the name change had seriously damaged those relations. ”

    Well yes most supporters, and a suitably non-committal look on JM’s face may have betrayed his personal views, but the Allams recognising their conduct has been and still is reprehensible ? No way, stroll on on that one.

    I would loved to be proved wrong.

  6. Cayman Tiger
    Cayman Tiger says:

    Oh and thanks for the comprehensive summary – as you say some positives, and a start, maybe, in repairing ‘some’ bridges.

  7. Bill Baxter
    Bill Baxter says:

    Don’t be fooled, until Allam comes out & publicly sates that the name change is dead & buried & apologies to those he insulted then I wouldn’t trust the guy as far as I could throw him.
    We’ve all seen/heard his dirty tricks & back tracking in the past & just because he’s sent one of his minions to try & smooth things over means jack shit.
    Don’t take your eye off the ball guys.
    Good report though, although I do agree with John Wilson’s comments about keeping these minutes to the facts as the forums might be better suited for “other” comments/observations.

  8. Abraham
    Abraham says:

    Andy, thank you for posting this. Being there I generally feel it is an accurate and true report. However I feel your portrayal of John Watt and John Wilson was unfair. Each fan is entitle to their opinion and just because it does not agree with yours, doesn’t mean you should degrade them and group them with your cliches. You probably group me into the same category. Anyway after speaking with John and John, I would class them as two of the most committed fans I have ever met, their views should be valued as much as anyone say yourself or Mark G. Many do not care about the name change and that should be respected, otherwise, do not expect your views to be respected.

  9. Chunder Monkey
    Chunder Monkey says:

    In fairness, there was an excellent real ale available in the south stand bar last season, which is free to enter if you have a season ticket.

  10. chrisatbirdies
    chrisatbirdies says:

    I sit in West stand upper.and the name change matters to me.
    We are hull city afc. We can still market our nickname.the tigers.i don’t see
    Why this should be a problem.

  11. Shuffle
    Shuffle says:

    I have to commend Andy on a marvellous report on club relations with the fans, but am still a bit disappointed that I have no idea on how we went away to Ferriby in the Billy Bly. I fear this will be indicative of a change in emphasis on AN this year, with a number of ANectars walking away from the club.

    However, I can only blame the Allams.

    For the West Stand Johns and Abraham, I completely agree that we cannot expect the whole fan base to agree with the CTWD beliefs. My best mate staggered me by espousing a ‘not bothered – who cares” mantra. It is however, utterly important to those who are part of CTWD, no matter how far or near we live, that the campaign continues and we are ready for the onslaught. I fear we have seen only a tiny glimpse of the Allam agenda and this season will be even harder to follow the club than last.

  12. Andy
    Andy says:

    5. John Wilson. My apologies if you feel misrepresented; as the above is likely to be the only full account of the meeting, that is the last thing I intended.

    As I recall (and I’ve checked with him personally) Peter Gamble observed that the name change “is the biggest issue facing the supporters”, rather than “all supporters”. That said, I do recognise that this isn’t everyone’s biggest concern about the club. I don’t understand that, but I accept it is the case.

    Naturally I am pleased to hear that you opposed the name change. For the record, I have amended the above piece to point towards your response.

  13. Bosco
    Bosco says:

    Andy, great summary thanks for keeping us informed.

    Nice to see the club trying to engage after the PR mess and abuse over the last year. I can’t help feel it is covering over the name change in the short term, but live in hope the old fella will let it go.

  14. JohnK
    JohnK says:

    Isn’t a supporter a supporter end of. Categorizing those that support the name change and those that don’t is a bit like British Rail saying that delays are due to the wrong kind of snow.
    CTWD and Amber Nectar may have been loud about their name change opposition and perhaps even more eloquent than the ownership but they don’t represent everybody.
    It also makes my blood boil that there is some kind of differentiation of a negative connotation given to people that sit in the west stand.
    if you are going to report on a meeting that took into account many people of different ages, background’s, views, etc. etc. at least have the decency not to put your own slant on how you report it.
    Pleased you liked the new pies though!

  15. Pheasant Plucker
    Pheasant Plucker says:

    Re 18
    You seem to have overlooked the fact that you’re reading the notes on Amber Nectar. As Andy’s an editor of Amber Nectar it should not be surprising that what he writes reflects the editorial stance of Amber Nectar.

    It also sounds like you need to take yourself a little less seriously – if you choose to sit in the West Stand and are presumably happy with that decision why would you be bothered and let it ‘make your blood boil’ when someone views your choice negatively?

    Oh and I think your analogy isn’t very good – I mean some snow’s good for making snowballs and some isn’t. Right?…..

  16. JohnK
    JohnK says:

    It makes my blood boil Pheasant Plucker because when I walked down the Wembley Way for the FA Cup Final and was surrounded by thousands of other Hull City supporters I felt a great sense of pride and belonging that we were as one, supporting our team, enjoying the moment and representing our City, no matter were we decided to sit at the KC.
    I accept your comment regarding the editorial slant of AN, sure you don’t read the Morning Star if you’re not a Communist, however this was a meeting of people with many views and backgrounds and given the corrections that have been made it is clear that the AN slant crossed the line between representing the actual discussions that took place and their opinion on them.
    Regarding snow balls hmmm yes you have me there.

  17. Rich
    Rich says:

    JohnK – I suggest you ask the club for their minutes of the meeting then. Will they be balanced?

  18. Pheasant Plucker
    Pheasant Plucker says:

    Re 20.
    How curious – so the blood boiling thing is all about how you feel and you don’t feel a sense of pride and belonging at the KC?

    On Wembley Way I suspect the sense of pride and belonging and being as one was more about the fact that everyone could forget about the name change nonsense for one day so City fans weren’t divided and could unite behind the team.

    The euphoria of this probably also made them forget you were a west stander…. (That’s a joke John so please don’t let your blood boil)

  19. Westhullonian
    Westhullonian says:

    It’s refreshing when the club lets us know, face to face, what it plans to do moving into the new season. I feel a slight reconnection with the club. A good start for the 14/15 campaign..

  20. Sircornflake
    Sircornflake says:

    Superb write up. Thank you for your and Mark’s efforts in representing the majority of fans concerns.
    On the issue of Ale as a publican Black Sheep now do a keg version of their Best Bitter and would be easily installed on a local basis on each concourse if demand were significant enough. From a marketing point of view my own wish for a partnership with Tiger Beer and a better quality of lager be made available on match days is something that needs addressing. I have noticed on recent visits that the evidence of a lack of maintenance on the beer lines also produces a very poor pint in the bars of the KC

    Something to consider

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