Last night saw the first Swansea City Supporters Trust Fans Forum of the season take place at the Liberty Stadium with well over 200 fans in attendance.
For those of you whom have never attended the event, it is quite a unique event by Premier League club standards because fans get the opportunity to ask the club hierarchy – from the chairman down to the playing staff – whatever question(s) they see fit.
On the panel last night were Swans Chairman Huw Jenkins, Michael Laudrup, Lee Trundle, Angel Rangel and Jonjo Shelvey. Nathan Dyer was also due to attend but unfortunately had to withdraw due to other commitments.
The forum adopted a slightly different format to that of previous forums’ with football related questions being answered at the start of the evening before an “off the field” question and answer session with Huw Jenkins, Vice-Chairman Leigh Dineen and Supporter Director Huw Cooze afterwards.
I shall now try and summarise some of the more interesting questions raised and any other bits of information worth mentioning. Apologies if some of the details is a little vague but I’d had information overload by the end of the evening!
Supporters Trust Chairman Phil Sumbler kicked off proceedings by introducing the panel and saying that Lee Trundle “no longer wears the number 10 shirt…. probably because it doesn’t fit him any more” – cue lots of laughter.
The expectant crowd were now ready to start asking questions…
One of the early questions was aimed at Jonjo Shelvey and he was asked his thoughts on how different was Swansea when compared to Liverpool and Charlton. The gist of his answer was that Swansea and the people here were much more friendly and as a player that is how you want it to be. He implied this wasn’t the case at Liverpool.
A favourite football fans question these days seems to be who is the best player you have played against and sure enough this was aimed at the panel with Rangel choosing Gareth Bale because “He has everything”, Shelvey picking Luka Modric whose ball control and strength for someone whom seems like 5ft tall is unbelievable and Magic Daps picking Wayne Rooney from his Everton days and all he’d achieved in his career afterwards.
I had to pause for thought at this point – had the artist formerly known as LT10 ever played against Rooney?
Which of course left Michael Laudrup and his choice… “He’s an Argentinean….. What’s his name?…. Oh yes, Diego Maradona”. The audience loved it and rapturous applause followed.
Unsurprisingly one of the follow up questions was who was the best player the panel had played with. Rangel chose Michu, Shelvey chose Steven Gerrard whilst adding that “You don’t realise how much Liverpool rely on Gerrard. If he has an off day, they lose.” and Trundle picking the legend that is Leon Britton.
Laudrup said that it was “Impossible to say” and could easily pick 7 or 8 players (including Romario and Michel Platini) from his list of former team mates. He also went on to say that sometimes the player people pick might not be the most skillful they might just be the one player whom everyone feels is the most reliable and they feel “safe” when they play.
It didn’t take long for the issue of playing Cardiff to come up and one fan politely pointed out to Laudrup the importance of winning the derby games.
Laudrup acknowledged the rivalry of derby games having been involved in a few himself but added that such rivalry and the importance placed on the derby games is just for the fans, for him it’s was about finishing as high as possible in the league.
Laudrup then turned the question back on the fan and asked him “would you rather win both derby games and finish below Cardiff or lose both games but finish above them?”.
Listening to Laudrup answering the questions and the intelligent, well thought answers he gives, you can easily see why the calm, charismatic Dane is held in such high esteem by so many in the footballing world – and not just due to his playing days either.
One of the funniest questions of the evening was aimed at Rangel when a lady in the front row asked him about his plans for his “five children” – which almost brought the house down with laughter whilst Rangel imitated with 3 fingers the number of children he actually had!
The questions kept on coming (mainly for Laudrup) and the more sensible ones that warrant a mention here were his views on the transfer market (and in particular British Players), how he motivated his players and his view on players using social media.
On the subject of transfers he pulled no punches in saying that he felt that British players generally weren’t worth the transfer fees being asked for them and that in order to find “value for money” clubs had to shop elsewhere – citing the Swans recruitment of seven Spanish players as a prime example.
He also added that in everyday life we all look for value for money in what we buy, so why should football clubs be any different. He mentioned Ben Davies as a fantastic example of local home grown talent – which was very important – but that we shouldn’t expect a constant supply of players through such development, perhaps with the exception of a club like Barcelona.
His views on social media probably drew the loudest laughter of the evening when he said that he accepted that it was part and parcel of life nowadays and (jokingly) that twitter was an extremely handy tool for knowing where his players were and what they were up too. He said “I just ring up my kids and they tell me…. did you know Chico is in Ibiza (or wherever)…. I saw a photo of him there on Twitter”.
The cool Dane also showed a more compassionate side when talking about the players and how he motivated then when confidence was low. It wasn’t a case of “Going to Burger King and forgetting about training until the next game” he jokingly quipped but more a case of knowing how each player worked/reacted in such situations as they are all “unique individuals”. Some responded better to getting through it by working in groups whilst others reacted better on a one-to-one basis.
Laudrup offered the comparison of how 21 year old Shelvey might react as opposed to “father of 5 children” Rangel. The phrase horses for courses springs to mind. Little wonder then that he commands such respect amongst those who have played with and under him.
This pretty much brought the curtain down on the football Q&A part of the evening and after a short break to allow for autographs and pictures the second part of the forum commenced.
It will come as no surprise to hear that this session was a more pointed affair with the whole issue of purchasing tickets the main talking point.
Vice chairman Leigh Dineen gave some background about the existing online ticketing system (supplied by tickets.com) and that the original contracts agreed by the Swansea Stadium Management Company (SSMC) were still in place.
He then went on to say that the club were actively looking at completely overhauling the ticketing system in time for next season. One such system would mean fans having a bar coded card which acted like a ticket credit card and would be used to gain entry into the ground. This to me sounded like a similar system to the one that is used at Reading and Coventry (and other football clubs no doubt).
Dineen also added that “We can’t hide behind SSMC as an excuse because we are a partner, but we are stuck in original contracts at moment”.
The issue of ticketing prices and the costs involved were also raised and Dineen explained that Swansea approached every Premier League club earlier this year with an offer to discount ticket prices for away fans at the Liberty if they reciprocated the offer when the Swans played the corresponding fixture. None of the clubs were interested.
In keeping with the away travel theme, a number of the initiatives being run by the club were mentioned – from the free scarves for those at the West Brom game (who’d travelled on official coaches) and the free meal deal at Southampton (paid for by the Swans) to the Crystal Palace 50% off an adult ticket when a child ticket is bought and free bus transport for the Cardiff ‘bubble’ trip.
Huw Jenkins mentioned the Stoke City model of free coaches for all away games and put it to the floor whether or not as fans we would like the same… you can imagine the answer!
In fairness to Jenkins he said on more than one occasion for us as fans to let the club know what we wanted and asked for our ideas (within reason obviously!).
Huw Cooze the Supporters Director responded to a question about the poor quality of the PA system in the East Stand and stated that £100k had been spent on speaker system and that it was raised by him at a meeting with the Council last week. As a result, the situation is being monitored by the Council and stadium.
From my own personal experience, the sound quality is poor is many parts of the ground…. unless you happen to be in the loos, where its crystal clear!!
Evening Post reporter Gareth Vincent no doubt squirmed in his seat when one fan asked Huw Jenkins about the club’s relationship with the Evening Post in light of the unwarranted and negative press it received during the summer. In fairness to Jenkins, whilst acknowledging he wasn’t happy with the coverage he said that it was part and parcel of the game today and we had to accept it, taking the positive coverage with the negative coverage.
Another fan raised the issue of the half time queues in the stadium for catering outlets. Huw Cooze responded by saying that given the size of the stadium and in particular the tight layout of the East Stand that this was inevitable but that issues such as this should be alleviated after the proposed East Stand expansion.
On the subject of the expansion, Huw Jenkins said that the Club was working on the required transport plan with the Council and that an expansion plan will be formally submitted at Christmas.
Some fans questioned the catering facility contracts and how they the catering facilities operated during half-time. It was suggested that an improved operation on match days might well improve things e.g have 200 pints of lager ready before the half-time rush rather than wait until half time and THEN pull each pint. Seemed like a sensible idea to me.
The issue of buying tickets over the internet was raised by several elderly fans whom were present who said that they would much prefer to collect their tickets in person as they either didn’t have a computer or were uncomfortable buying tickets online. I can’t recall them getting a definitive answer on this issue but I might have missed it.
The online ticket issue was prompted followed by a query about the £1.50 charge per tickets – which Leigh Dineen pointed out as part of the original contact the stadium had with the ticket supplier – tickets.com and that hopefully it wouldn’t be an issue in the future. Personally, I’ve yet to see an online ticket supplier waive this fee but we live in hope.
At this point Huw Jenkins commented on the purchase of tickets in general and outlined the approach adopted at big clubs like Arsenal, where fans (season ticket holders and club members) automatically get tickets for all cup matches and only contact the club’s ticket office if they wish to opt-out of having a ticket. He did emphasise that the club would also look for feedback from fans before any major change in ticket sales.
An 84 year old fan shared his disappointment at how a request to the ticket office to move seats during the summer (from the back of the stand due to his inability to walk very far) had been granted… only for him to receive his season ticket for the exact same seat! Huw Cooze offered to exchange contact details with the gentleman in order to resolve the issue asap.
Another fan asked about the pricing structure for the Europa League games and in particular the prices for the lesser teams, suggesting that it should be £5 or £10. Huw Jenkins responded by saying that the club had to be careful how much it reduced prices due to the % cut taken by the stadium and VAT.
Even the subject of stadium naming rights got an airing. Leigh Dineen responded by saying that with approximately 2 years left to run on the existing contract that the club would shortly be looking at options. GoDaddy (the American domain name giant) had apparently approached the club but Dineen made it abundantly clear that the club wouldn’t sell their soul for money let alone a dodgy sounding stadium name. The GoDaddy Stadium – erm maybe not.
Dineen rounded things off by saying that the club has a bigger influence now on what happens in the stadium than when we first moved in during 2005 and once contracts run their length, the club will be in a position to improve upon many of the issues raised by the fans (especially ticketing).
He also stressed that all of the points raised were being noted by two of the club’s commercial staff whom were present and that the issues would be looked at and improved upon where possible.
So there you have the fans forum as best I recollect.
Everyone I spoke to whom attended said what an enjoyable evening it had been and a lot of credit must go to the Swansea City Supporters Trust for organising the event once again.
Thanks must also go to the directors, management and playing staff whom gave up their time and were prepared to answer the barrage of questions thrown at them.
And that just leaves me to say roll on the next forum!