Supporter Engagement Pays Off in Liverpool

Liverpool and Everton fabs posing together outside Wembley Stadium

Liverpool and Everton supporter involvement in the Council’s Ground Safety Advisory Group (GSAG) has reaped rewards in recent weeks.

Following entry issues at the Liverpool v Everton derby in early 2014, the Council’s Ground Safety Advisory Group (GSAG) met to discuss the issues and to produce recommendations for future derby fixtures. Bob Humphries from the Liverpool Football Club Supporters Committee and Kathy Keig from the Everton Fans' Forum represented the views of the fans. 

The GSAG follows the multi-agency model approach and safety teams from both clubs, the council, the police and spectator representatives developed integrated plans to improve the experience for supporters. A review of queuing arrangements was undertaken and plans for better communication with supporters both prior to the match and during entry were developed. Cllr Ann O’Byrne Chair of the GSAG said, “The Group extensively reviewed the submissions presented to it and through a team effort, drew together a proactive set of recommendations. The team approach was essential in ensuring all parties were able to provide their input in an open forum and develop recommendations that were practically actionable in a co-ordinated way. 

The Group considered that the recommendations, which were accepted by all parties, would provide a framework for them to work together to enhance the supporter experience for future derby games at Anfield.”
Prior to the next derby fixture, a joint fan engagement and communications strategy was produced to inform and educate the supporters. Club and Local Authority websites, Blogs, Twitter and Facebook were utilised to update and remind supporters of the arrangements and instructions for getting into the stadium.

The operation went smoothly and the enhanced communications were well received. Supporters heeded requests to arrive early because of the positive manner in which the requests were made by both clubs and the police. Sports Grounds Safety Authority (SGSA) Inspector Rick Riding says “The operation for the game was a success, and one of the reasons for this was because the fans were given a true voice. The authorities and the clubs listened and acted on what they heard.” 

Following the game the Clubs, Police and Local Authority issued a message of thanks to all the supporters who attended the Merseyside derby at Anfield. The Group also thanked the supporters groups directly for their assistance in helping deliver messages to the supporters. 

The SGSA guidance on Safety Certification states “Local authorities are encouraged to consult representatives of a recognised supporters’ group where possible. Indeed there are no objections in principle to such a representative attending SAG meetings, if this is considered beneficial.”
Recommendation 31 of the Taylor Report, produced after the inquiry into the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster states: “The Advisory Group should consult representatives of the club and of a recognised supporters’ organisation on a regular basis.”

While neither explicitly recommends or requires supporter representatives to become members of the SAG, both are clear about the value of good communication, meaningful fan engagement and consultation with supporter groups.
“We have a great model here, what we did worked, don't let it be a one off.” said Kathy Keig. “Keep the communication channels open and allow authorities clubs and fans to work together for the benefit of every football supporter.”

In recent weeks, both the Conservative and Labour parties have set out their aspirations for engaging with football fans. During the House of Lords debate on 30 October on giving football fans greater say in the running of clubs, Lord Chris Holmes said “The Sports Grounds Safety Authority has done excellent work for the last 20 years. One of the authority’s key recommendations has been to have fans involved in the local authority safety advisory group. There are two important points to make. First, this demonstrates that fans should be involved in every element of football, not just with the governance of the club but in every element of the spectator experience. Secondly, and crucially, sport is nothing without safety.”

“Engaging with supporters and inviting their views about safety issues can really benefit all parties,” says Rick Riding. “The example seen in Liverpool clearly shows that listening to the view of the supporters results in a better spectator experience for all.”

The SGSA is continuing to encourage engagement with supporter groups at sports grounds. Over the coming months we will be looking at how and where supporters are involved in SAGs and will be sharing our findings. If you have any examples of where supporter engagement is making a positive difference, please let us know.