A day at Wembley

This won’t be a full report of the Supporters Summit at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, just a few thoughts and pictures from the day.  I hope to write more later.

We started the day by remembering the two Newcastle fans who died in the MH17 plane crash and the Sunderland fans who contributed to a fund to honour their memory.  The Sunderland fan who set up the fund had been hoping to raise enough for a floral tribute but the idea snowballed and the thousands raised will be given to charity.  It’s an example of the way that rival football supporters can come together.

The whole day was a reminder that, however deep the division between fans about on-the-pitch issues, we share a lot of common concerns off the pitch.  Robin Osterley, Chief Executive of Supporters Direct, spoke of a change in the Zeitgeist, saying that it felt as though we have reached a tipping point and supporters are no longer willing to put up with the treatment they’ve suffered in the past.

Greg Dyke, Chair of FA Board, addressed us via a video message. He assured us he was interested in the views of fans; I wondered if he felt he needed to say that because he was on holiday and unable to attend the summit.  We saw a shot of him chatting to an ordinary football fan as they leaned on the rail of a yacht. He said that not everyone was opposed to the introduction of Premier League B teams into English football; most Premier League managers were in favour.  He is committed to change, feels we need better facilities and coaching for kids, that more money needs to go to the lower divisions and ticket prices are too high. But he told us that you can’t change English football by diktat from the FA and suggested that when we debated, we shouldn’t just point out problems, we should suggest how we can change things.

After the video, summit participants began the process of identifying issues that we can work on together.  Many were concerned about the decline in grassroots football due to the rising cost of hiring pitches, poor facilities, and the high cost of getting coaching badges. We discussed Greg Dyke’s statement that the FA couldn’t rule by diktat and whether it was factually correct, the need for strong leadership from the FA and, if the FA couldn’t change things, who could?  FIFA suspended Nigeria because of government interference so, if the British government wanted to sort out football, what could it do without risking the same penalty?  There was also a call for fans to turn out for the march for ‘Affordable football for all’ on August 14th.

The day continued with other thought-provoking sessions and, for me, ended in a treat; a tour of Wembley Stadium. They have some great pictures lining the corridors but I was disappointed that the one chosen of the 2011 Carling Cup Final showed the flags laid out before the game not the wild celebrations at the end when Birmingham City won. The rest was all good though; we saw the dressing rooms and walked out through players door but not onto the pitch.  The new grass is growing ready for the Community Shield game in two weeks time.

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