Football Supporters Federation Conference

A decent turn-out for the first conference of FSF since FSA & the NatFed merged.

The overall feeling was of concern at the number of clubs in crisis & the underlying reasons.

Beyond the specific motions passed, Conference adopted the Fans' Blueprint. This is a series of points for fans, clubs, authorities, media & Government to address, being aimed at "Reclaiming the Game". We also discussed away fans tickets, fairer ways of dealing with player suspensions, club franchises & the like.

The best speaker was Andy Burnham MP, Chair of Supporters' Direct. His vision is of not-for-profit clubs (never mind that 74 of 92 are in debt), with proper regulation and an independent commission to oversee the game. The examples of Lincoln & York are worthwhile templates – albeit York City Supporters Trust (which now controls City) does not own the ground. I had a chat with YCST's chair, Steve Beck; he said it gets harder all the time. I also chatted with Yvonne Fletcher, the fan-on-the-board at Luton who has just resigned her position. The desperate situation her club is in currently shows how quickly things can change.

Kevin Miles, who co-ordinates fans' embassies at England away games, said supporters now must make ourselves seen as the solution, not the problem. This was underlined by Sean Costa, a civil servant from (I think) the Home Office. He was brave enough to stand in front of us & give the Government line on safe standing. We're asking, why is standing allowed at RU, RL etc. but not at football – especially as countries such as Germany have allowed standing areas convertible to seats for UEFA games. He said there were crowd issues with football – i.e. the Government sees football fans as different from other sporting groups. We would wish to demur, but it shows the battle we have to try to change thinking at the top.

Details will be on-line in due course; www.fsf.org.uk is being built.

Outside Conference, we had some big bonuses. Friday evening, the FSF dinner, we had Luther Blissett as guest speaker. Not only did I manage a chat – we once sat on a cable-TV football panel together, & he intends to pop in for Steve Fletcher's testimonial – but being a saddo I had him autograph my menu. Worse – the FA Cup was on display so I & many others lined up to have pictures taken with the thing. My grin almost split my face; I had my hands on the trophy of the oldest football competition… Then immediately after Conference, we were taken for a ground tour. Simon Inglis took us round the outside, explaining the history & context, & then up into the East Stand directors' box. I refrained from singing the old South-Enders' song ("Bertie Mee said to Bill Shankly…") but did buy Simon's "Sightlines" book & had him sign it. A Gooner then took us round the inside of the stand; Herbert Chapman's bust, & that picture from Wembley 1950 where King George VI is shaking hands with Freddie Cox. See – Boscombe gets in everywhere!
Peter Wicks, Greenford