Published: 21 August 2000
IT'S GOOD TO TALK
Upon arriving home after the Newcastle game I sat down with a cup of coffee and my feet up and decided to have a quick read of the match programme. It's looking very different these days - smaller in overall size, but seems to have more pages, and it's whole layout is more contemporary, with pull-down menus like you get on a website. Not normally one to approve of much that the PLC does these days, I have to say I approve of the new format, if only because it fits much better into my pocket or bag!
On actually sitting down to read it though, I found a surprise on pages 6 and 7 with the announcement of the formation of a Manchester United Football Club Supporters' Consultative Forum. Briefly, the Club have consulted with the Electoral Reform Society to come up with a system that would lead to the formation of a fans' forum which they believe will include all fans' groups and interests. The forum will consist of 3 representatives of Season Ticket and LMTB holders; 3 representatives of club members; 1 representative of private box and executive suite members; 1 representative from the family stand; 1 representative of the over-65's; 3 representatives from UK and Ireland supporters' clubs; 1 representative from the Disabled Supporters' Association and one representative each from IMUSA and Shareholders United. It was proposed that meetings will take place four times a season, on a matchday (with the first taking place after the Chelsea game on 23rd September).
Upon first reading, this seems a big step forward - at last the club are prepared to listen to fans, to take on board their views. Any fan can apply to be on the forum and there is going to be a random draw to choose those actually being invited to join - the only exception being the disabled fans' group, IMUSA and SU, who are to put forward their own representative. But previous experience and a natural cynicism gained over many years made me look a little closer at the proposals.
First, there are some very notable exceptions in those being offered representation. Only those aged 18 or over are eligible to apply. Thus the one group which is most notable by its absence at Old Trafford these days - the young - will not be represented. And neither will overseas branches. Whilst it is obviously difficult for an overseas branch to ensure that the same representative be present at all four meetings in a season, they should surely be given the opportunity to try? There are some branches who do send people to Old Trafford for every home game and they may be able to ensure that they are represented if given the opportunity.
Second, the three pages in the programme give a lot of information about how the Club developed the application procedure, who can apply and so on, but it gives little more than hazy generalisations about what the aims and objectives of the Forum will be and nothing at all about how much real influence it will have on practices and policies at Old Trafford. Peter Kenyon says in the accompanying article that the aims and objectives of the Forum are:
"To create an environment for a cross section of fans to interact with club officials"
"To develop a better understanding of fans wants and needs"
"To provide a channel of open communication in order that the club can present it's policies"
Nowhere in this do I read anything about how, or even if, the Club will take action on any points raised by the Forum; whether or not meetings will be open to other fans so that we can see what is being discussed; how other fans will contact their representatives - are they even going to tell us who they are? Will we have any rights to insist that they discuss the issues that we want discussed or will they be jumping on their own particular hobby horses? Of course the latter points would be less of a concern if the Forum were to be elected, but of course it isn't. We are to put our faith in a secret ballot at Old Trafford - where have I heard that one before?
For the really cynical of course, it is possible to imagine many ways in which the Forum could be used to the detriment of the fans, or a particular set of fans. It's not difficult to imagine the Club using the discussions as justification for many unpopular policies - because, lets face it, once they have been seen to consult (as they did over the Singing Area) they can go away and do as they like.
I suppose that time will tell how genuine the Club (and in particular, Peter Kenyon) is in the development of this initiative. At the moment, we have to accept it at face value to some extent and at least give it a chance. But always with cynicism born of experience (particularly the recent experience of those of us in the Scoreboard) until we actually see some real benefits for supporters and not simply a very clever and manipulative PR exercise.
Our Salford Lass
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