Published on Saturday 4th March, 2017 by Celtic Trust
Last week (Monday) was the first meeting of the Supporter's Forum process which was kicked off when a resolution organised by the Celtic Trust was put to the Celtic PLC AGM in November 2016. As indicated late last week, the Trust has concerns about the manner in which Celtic organised the meeting see here and we will return to them here. I would point out at the outset that those, like the Trust reps, who were at the back of the hall, could not see the whole of the presentation screen or, indeed, clearly hear all of the responses from the top table. This is an issue which needs to be addressed for the next meeting but, for the time being, we must place a health warning on some of the fine detail of the responses we report here. However, a formal minute was taken and we are assured it will be distributed.
The meeting itself, chaired by Board Member, Brian Wilson, was attended by around 40 supporters with around 7 representatives - including a few department heads - of Celtic PLC. The structure of the meeting was that for each part of the three-item agenda, a presentation was made, and then questions/points were made from the floor - followed by responses from the 'top table'. It felt, to some extent, like a mini-version of the question and answer session of the PLC AGM which, as useful as this might be to some fans, is not how we envisaged these meetings would work.
The three items on the agenda were:
For some reason the first item was moved to the end of the agenda which was an odd decision. The discussion on season ticket pricing was prefaced by a presentation which indicated that ST sales made up 22% of Celtic's revenue last year; that we look not to bad compared to EPL clubs and that the average price is less in real terms than it was ten years ago. We were also told by the Club representative from Media and Marketing that ST holders were at the 'core' of the marketing activity - or words to that effect. We took that to mean that ST holders are targeted in terms of squeezing more money out of them!
There followed a discussion with contributions/questions from several of those present on topics ranging from child ticket prices and arrangements; student discounts and the purchasing process. Our secretary, Chris Stewart, asked the key question, which was 'have you decided on the pricing structure for next year'. The reply to this question was no which was, again, very odd given that the representative from media and marketing had indicated, in the discussion on how ST renewals are handled (indicating a desire to move them to digital/email rather than letters) that the packs this year would be going out in March. However, they are adamant that no decision has been made so watch this space.
The next item was the issue of allocation of away tickets.This represented the opportunity for the Trust reps to carry out their mandate from the Open Meeting which took place last October, to convey the view of those present that night. We told the meeting that those 120 or so fans who attended the meeting in Royston were clear that they wanted a fair, transparent and open system (which they believed they already had in most respects); that they accepted that there would not be enough tickets for some games but that they did not want a divisive system put in place; that they wanted the loyalty and commitment of supporters to be recognised in respect of their 'history' of away game attendance; that there were a number of complaints about the functioning of the Ticket Office and the way that tried and tested systems were changed with no notice; that they did not understand the motivation for any proposed change and that they suspected it had more to do with 'controlling' the away support. The substantive part of the views of the Open Meeting were reflected in almost every contribution from the floor of the Forum and also in the views collected by John Paul Taylor, our SLO. The responses from Celtic were that no decision had been made and there was a distinct impression given that it was already off the agenda.
Angela Forbes responded to the criticisms of the Ticket Office and did agree that there had been some changes in processes, especially around the League Cup semi-final and final. She indicated that the numbers on the Home Cup Ticket Scheme had gone up from 10000 to 15000 in one season and that this had presented some difficulties which she hoped had now been resolved. She also said that though she had come to mutually acceptable arrangements with the CSA, the ARCSC, the AICSC and some independent buses, some buses had not come to an arrangement with her and that presented difficulties.
The question to which we had not received an answer related to the motivation for a review of the away ticket distribution scheme in the first place. Jeanette Findlay, also representing the Trust, had to ask the question a second time and this time she received the answer. John Paul, who at least responded when others at the top table remained silent, indicated that the main motivation was the new Unacceptable Conduct rules with the complaints of new season ticket holders being an additional - but it appeared, secondary - motivation. This was something which many people suspected back in October when the 'review' was first mentioned but it is, nonetheless, disappointing that Celtic have put people through the hassle of worrying about this for over 5 months just because of the dreadful attitude which the Scottish footballing authorities have towards us as a group of fans. In a related note, there were worrying stories circulating after the meeting regarding the highly skewed nature of some of the reports produced by Match Delegates this season.
The meeting then moved on to the final part of the agenda (which should have been the first). Michael Nicholson, the Company Secretary, set out the background to the setting up of the Supporters' Forum in terms of the resolution passed by the Celtic PLC AGM last November. He managed to do this without ever mentioning the Celtic Trust by name which was interesting... He went on to inform the meeting of the process for issuing invitations, which was as follows: the recognised organisations such as the Trust, the CSA, the Affiliation, the Green Brigade, the Irish Association and the Disabled Celtic Supporters Association are standing members of the forum and are invited to every meeting. The Club also invited anyone (individual or those from a website/fanzine/blog etc) who had ever attended this kind of meeting in the past; in addition they advertised the meeting on their own website and issued invitations to a selection of those who responded. It appears that anyone who phoned to complain about anything in the preceding weeks was also invited. All in all there were between 40 and 50 people in attendance.
Michael Nicholson then set out the various responses he had had and indicated that some 'fans' were unhappy about that process - he didn't mention us by name at that point either! A number of people indicated that they had enjoyed the evening and wanted to widen it out. Therein lies the problem. A meeting of 40 people can only ever be a question and answer session and there is no space in that format for detailed discussions and for further probing of the club representatives. There were at least three or four points where a response from the top table required a follow-up question - not least of which on the decision on ticket prices - but the format simply did not allow for that.
Jeanette Findlay, for the Trust spoke of our vision of the process. She reminded the meeting and, especially, the Club representatives, that the Trust has a long history of trying to get the Club to open up and improve its communications with fans. She mentioned the Road Shows of a number of years ago, which were proposed by the Trust and which the Club initially said they would do on an annual basis. In the end, they were held in a number of venues around the country and in Ireland in one year only. She indicated that the format of the present meeting was more akin to the plan for the Road Shows and called on Celtic to reinstate them to allow supporters in various parts of Scotland, Ireland and England to see presentations, ask questions and put their points across. However, she reminded the Club representatives that the wording of the resolution and its associated supporting statement (of which the meeting had been treated to the edited highlights only) envisaged a much smaller meeting between club reps and delegates of organisations, and with individual fans being invited to contribute to specific agenda items 'from time to time'. She explained why that allowed for a more detailed discussion with specific points being pursued to a satisfactory conclusion.
This remains the position of the Celtic Trust. Those individuals who were invited to the meeting last night were all good Celtic supporters who all had particular contributions to make and the club should have events which allow them to do this. We have been the instigators of just such events. However, a meeting of forty or more people cannot hope to do more than scrape the surface of more difficult, controversial or complicated issues and we maintain that a properly constituted meeting with delegates from organisations in attendance is the best way to do that. The results from those deliberations can then be shared with the members of those organisations and, as the Trust has a proud history of doing, with the wider fan base.
The Trust will continue to argue this position in respect to the formally constituted supporters' forum. We will also continue to argue for more events like last night to which individual fans can be invited.
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