As the reality of our relegation sinks in, everyone at Ashton Gate is already preparing for next season. As well as the continuing consultation process over the proposed Ashton Gate redevelopment, we are also talking to our supporters about our plans for season tickets for 2013/14. We’ll be meeting with our Fans Parliament next week to discuss plans.
David Lloyd, Supporters Liaison Officer
There has been understandable disappointment at the nature of the end to our season. This has led to a feeling from some that the club somehow doesn’t care, and that supporters views aren’t being taken into account.
At the beginning of this year I started a debate on the One Team in Bristol internet forum, in which I addressed the perception that there was a widening gap between club and fans. Everyone at City was genuinely keen to start an open dialogue with supporters to see how we could improve things. As the season draws to an end, I thought it might be a good time to look at what has changed since then.
Better fan engagement and a closer dialogue with fans was something that was highlighted during that debate.
This is something we have worked very hard on, and I think there has been some real progress. The Fans Parliament was already up and running at the start of the year, but we have continued to meet with them to discuss a series of issues. We have set up a working party drawn from that Parliament to discuss the proposed redevelopment of Ashton Gate, which has led to some real and substantial changes to the design, based on feedback from fans. I continue to attend regular meetings of the Supporters Club and Trust and mingle with supporters in the bars and concourses before the game. Kevin Smith and I called into the Three Lions pub for flag day last Saturday, and I was also chatting with fans in the Supporters Club and Bar BS3 after the game. As ever my door is always open and I am happy to talk to any City fan, at any time.
I had this e-mail from one of our core supporters in the East End. He’s a season ticket holder, and very active in promoting that stand. He’s also been critical of some of the things we have done in the past. It was very heartening to receive this, as it does show that we are moving in the right direction off the field:
“Firstly Fan Engagement. The improvement in engagement between the club and the fans has been severely improved, I was with you and Kevin Smith during the day you done visits to the two off site pubs which was an excellent initiative. You have helped me get the flags in and out of the Eastend, communicate meeting dates with the Fans Parliment and you have been excellent with the Eastend and the Ashton Gate redevelopment which I will touch on now.
“The Eastend - we had problems with the netting, the message got through and you and Kevin swiftly admitted it was a bad decision and we will be back to normal next season - great work. The Stewarding for a particular period was over aggressive and heavy handed, to sort this you and Adam held a meeting with Eastenders (which in itself deserves credit). You listened to the problems and to the positives and the stewarding has been massively improved, in fact it is a pleasure to have a chat and banter with some of the stewards on matchdays.
“The Ashton Gate redevelopment is obviously of great interest to me and everybody who follows BCFC. I am so proud of our club for listening to fans, taking the good and bad and pretty much designing a stadium around people’s preferences and opinions. I hate to mention them but if you look at the blue few down the road they have been told 'here's your stadium, here's where it's going, cheers then'. Our club has shown class and that's more than we can ask for. With that, you will always get disagreements from every part of the ground but believe me it looks excellent. It's a modern stadium but with the core identity of BCFC it will be completely unique.”
We’ve also worked really hard on getting our players out and about in the community to meet supporters, and this has led to a 250% increase in player appearances over the past season. We were recently visited by Dave Palmer, the PFA’s community liaison for the Sooth, and the official who is responsible for monitoring the club’s work in this area. We received this e-mail following his visit.
“I felt it was appropriate to drop you a line to highlight the great support that has been provided by Joanne and your department on the player engagement side this season.
“Player appearances have gone to a new level at the club and this was highlighted at the visit I made to the Homeless FA Launch where all first team players and management accommodated the group in such a positive and productive way.
“Jo has provided great communication and put some really useful systems in place that will only enhance the support for our members within this area. We have also featured a number of articles on our Website throughout the season. Scott Murray has also kindly offered to by our PFA Learning Rep on a local level and Louis Carey's PFA Player in the Community application was very well received by the panel earlier in the year.
“It was encouraging to hear that resources for what is a very important area for the PFA will still be provided next season!
“Keep up the great work and once again many thanks for your continued support!”
City are also being recognised at national level for our engagement work. Our Community Park, Scott Murray’s ‘Welcome to Ashton Gate’ video, our pre-match cappings and random upgrades to the Directors Box for those who tweet from their seat have come in for praise. We have won the Football League’s Family Excellence award for the last four years, and have high hopes of scooping the award again when results are announced next week. As recognition of the huge strides we have made in recent years, I was invited to join the national judging panel for this year’s awards. I spent a very enjoyable day at the Football League’s office in London, as one of two representatives from the Championship. (We weren’t allowed to vote on our own division).
After the judging I received this e-mail from Andrea Brown, Customer Services manager at the Football League:
“Many thanks for taking part in the judging for the Family Excellence Awards yesterday. It is important from The League’s perspective that there is input into the decision making process from the clubs themselves and in this respect your input was invaluable.
“The League’s Family Excellence Awards are now in their sixth year and they are a key part of the strategy to attract and retain fans and so add to our long term sustainability. The Awards process provides critical feedback to clubs which assists them in developing the match day experience. It also increases awareness of the needs of potential and existing family supporters, and identifies the ‘hidden’ barriers to fan attendance. Clubs also state that the Awards can provide a catalyst for them developing a strategic focus on the issue of attracting new supporters and promoting positive change within their own club.”
This highlights some of the very real and positive changes that have taken place, and which will continue in future. The club is changing fast behind the scenes, and we will be talking more about this over the next few months. We are revolutionising the way the club is organised, and the way in which it will develop. As Sean O’Driscoll wrote in his programme notes for the Huddersfield Town game:
“This is a stable football club, with a supportive owner, which immediately means we don't face the urgent, sometimes crippling, panic over finances that relegation can bring. Yes we need to stop the losses and meet the terms of Financial Fair Play but this isn't a club that faces the threat of administration or anything serious like that. This is a massive positive.
“Bristol City will get promoted back to the Championship. Definitely.
“The aim will of course be to bounce back immediately, but we cannot get fixated on, and distracted by, the 'when' because the most important thing is that when the club is promoted it goes up a more rounded, better football club with more strings to its bow.
“The hardest thing in football is to balance developing a club behind the scenes while remaining competitive on the pitch. There will always be people who argue you are focusing too much on one to the detriment of the other.
That is where it's crucial everyone holds their nerve, doesn't panic and doesn't let the short-term cloud the long-term vision.
“Some big strides have already been made behind the scenes, particularly in terms of recruitment and Academy development and that work cannot be abandoned for a punt at possible short-term gain.
“There will have to be flexibility, and we all will have to give at times, but as long as we all understand the reasons why we are bending and do it together then we can grow as an increasingly strong, stable football club.”
We are aware that buying a season ticket is a huge commitment, particularly after our recent form. It’s important that supporters understand what they are buying – on and off the pitch – for next season, and we will do our best to get that information out there.
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E-mail questions, requests and dedications for David email@example.com. Alternatively write to Ashton Gate Stadium, Ashton Road, Ashton, Bristol, BS3 2EJ.