Supporters Meeting: good turnout & spirited debate
A fantastic turnout of 100+ supporters gathered at the Global Energy Stadium on Tuesday June 2, 2015 for an open meeting attended by Club Chairman, Roy MacGregor, Director of Operations, Peter Swanson, Stadium & Services Manager, David O’Connor and Director, Alastair Kennedy.
For those of you who were unable to attend, a brief summary of proceedings is reproduced below. If you would like to add any comments or have any suggestions based on the topics raised please contact David O’Connor at: email@example.com
1. Opening Statements
David O’Connor, Stadium & Services Manager:
“Good evening and welcome to the Ross County Football Club Supporters Meeting. The turnout has been far greater than we expected so thank you to each and every one of you for taking the time to come along.
“This is about you tonight. It is about the fans and giving you the opportunity to ask questions to the Chairman, the Director of Operations and myself. The close season is a very busy time behind the scenes at the Club and there is a lot going on that we will try and cover in tonight’s agenda.”
2. Club Update
Roy MacGregor, Chairman:
“I said at the last meeting in February that, with what had been going on behind the scenes at the Club, I was more confident than I had been for the last two years that we would manage to secure our Premier League status.
“That feeling for instilling what I would call the Culture, the Values and what Ross County is as a Club had started with the arrival of the new Manager, Jim McIntyre, in September though there might have been a lag before we started seeing an outpouring of it on the park.
“The journey the Club has been on in the 2014/15 season has been difficult but let us not forget that the Club would not be where it is today without the input of Derek and George Adams.
“But that part of the journey is over. Jim has come in and has made a real effort to understand what this Club and the people in this area stand for and we saw a spirit on the park that I don’t think we had seen since our First Division days and our memorable unbeaten run.
“So there is a lesson there about finding ourselves and you (the supporters) have played a big part of that because the Club had perhaps lost a bit of what we are about. In our journey to the Premier League we had lost sight of what the fan was, what the fan stood for, and in relation to our club motto – More Than a Football Club – how we reach out to this community.
“This season is about rediscovering ourselves and making sure we connect and we communicate and find a way of dealing with the things you are interested in and making sure that the things that happen at the Club from Monday to Friday and on a Saturday afternoon are important to the community that we live in. A lot of our time in the close season will be spent on that. It is about being More Than a Football Club.
“If we go back twenty years to when our journey to the Premier League really began we had grass banks around the pitch and roughly 250 people watching but to achieve the vision of allowing youngsters in this area to dream of being a full-time footballer in this area with this football club we had to increase the fan base.
“For the first six years we reached out to the community and at one point had 13 Community Officers working from Shetland to Oban to Elgin that not only helped young boys and girls play football but it also reached out to a fan base. We cultivated that and, for comparison, last year we had 1,800 season ticket holders (400 more than Inverness Caledonian Thistle) and when we went to the Scottish Cup Final we took 6,000 more supporters.
“So that part of our journey worked. Then we had to make sure that when we attracted young talent here that we could turn them into footballers and that is where the Academy was born. Twelve years ago it was the first of its kind in Scotland and though we couldn’t afford it we committed to it, managed to get grants and we created a first class facility. We had Don Cowie and Gary Mackay-Steven at the Academy from nine years old and in the six years after it opened we managed to get the Club climbing the leagues and moving from part-time to full-time. In fact Steven Ferguson was our first full-time professional at the Club and he is now running the Youth & Community here.
“So that was all part of our journey and during it we thought, ‘Let’s just see where we can get to with the football club.’ Luckily enough we managed to progress through the leagues and I am delighted to say that for the fourth year running we will be a Premier League club.
“When I travel to away games now I always go into the centre circle about 2pm and look around at the stadiums we now play in and it’s just a personal remembrance and reminder of where we have come from with the help of smart, hard-working people, good players and managers and dedicated fans.
“What we are going to try and do now is reinvent ourselves and bring the Club and the supporters back closer together. We will try and understand what the fans are all about and what they want and reach out to them again and be more responsive. Many of the initiatives that David O’Connor and Peter Swanson are going to outline have come from previous meetings like this where we have taken on board suggestions and acted to try and make the stadium a better place to come for the fans. You can’t guarantee the football on the park every week but you can guarantee the match day experience for the supporters.
“Finally, on the football front we were in a dire position in February. We had given the manager the means in September to try and get out of the situation we were in. We took in players who were not match fit and it was difficult between then and Christmas to get any consistency. But we took in a few more players at Christmas time and eventually we found a bit of spirit that reminded me of our unbeaten run in the First Division and things turned around.
“We will now look to make careful additions to the squad in the close season. You will see by the signings we have made that we are looking to move on from the policy of the last three years where we erred on the side of caution and maybe weren’t sure if we were a Premier League side. Now as we approach our fourth season in the top flight we are looking at giving players two and three year contracts and investing in younger players and also in the off-field side of things with Sports Scientists etc.
“We have 13 players signed so we have about eight to go and the manager is looking for the right type of player with the right spirit and culture to take the Club on.
3. Match day Experience
a) Season Tickets
“This week we sent out information on renewing season tickets. 2,000 letters have gone out. We looked hard at whether we could bring the price of a season ticket down but it is really difficult because if we reduce the prices by too much it will directly effect the product on the park on a Saturday. However, we have made a couple of changes that we think will be beneficial:
“Under 12s can already get in for free with an accompanying adult with a ticket but we have also introduced an U12s season ticket for £25 including a free strip so they are actually getting into the games for free anyway.
“We previously had a 12-16 and 16-18 years old season ticket but the latter was about double the price of the former so we thought that was wrong. These have both been replaced by the 12-18 years of age ticket which is £80 and more affordable for older teens.
“We have also introduced an over 75s season ticket which is half the price of an OAP season ticket.
“We are also working hard on trying to introduce safe standing in the Jail End for the 2016/17 season so that would see the reintroduction of the Standing season ticket so we are looking at many ways to make coming to football more cost-effective.
“As far as the tickets themselves go we have done away with the paper books and they will be replaced with credit-style cards which can be swiped at the turnstile. They will come loaded up with discounts for the club shop and things like travel to away games. It will also be a loyalty card.
“Supporters can also buy a ‘Monarch Card’ that can be loaded up with extras such as fan Q&A sessions with the manager, extra discounts in the club shop and things like half time teas and coffees at the Hamilton Suite. All the information about this is on the literature we sent out this week but more information is available should anyone want it.”
b) Safe standing and the Singing Section
“We know this in an emotive issue and we would like to say that though it cant happen this season there is hopefully nothing that will stop this happening eventually.
“I don’t think you can separate the Singing Section and the return of safe standing in the Jail End. But I know there are conflicting views on this happening. Many want to see this happen, while there are also long-standing season ticket holders in the Jail End who are opposed to it so we are aware of both opinions and sympathetic to both.
“If we are going to relocate the Singing Section to the Jail End we need to have safe standing. If we are going to have safe standing we need to remove seats. If we do this we need to look at the stadium’s Safety Certificate. We have raised the topic with the Local Authority who do not have any issue with standing at the Global Energy Stadium but we need to continue discussions with other partners, particularly Police Scotland.
“Essentially it is a Local Authority decision. Discussions have started about creating a standing area in the Jail End but it will not happen overnight. We know that might not be the answer some of you want to hear but I want you all to know that we have started on the road to making it happen and in the meantime our priority is to provide a safe environment for supporters coming to Ross County Football Club.
“To clarify: contrary to some reports there will not be unreserved seating in the Jail End this season.”
c) Stadium speakers & sound system
“There is no excuse for the poor quality of this, particularly in the East Stand. The only reason is that the stadium has been gradually expanded and added on to over the years and maybe the sound system has not been taken into account and upgraded as we have gone.
“But I can announce that all the wiring has been updated in the speaker system. We have also turned the speakers toward the stands rather than pointing out on to the pitch! We have also replaced the speakers that don’t work. It might not be perfect but we are working on it but please let us know if it is still not up to scratch.”
“On the hospitality side I’d just like to point out that between the Victoria Suite, the Hamilton Lounge, the Ross Suite and the board room we will be catering for in the region of 600 people every match day this season. It is a huge operation.
“If anyone would like to sample our hospitality offering but is not coming with a big group please speak to the Club. Individual spaces can be booked or for smaller groups of friends and we don’t want anyone to think that any experience at this Club is not available to them.
“I’d also like to announce that the country’s newest distillery, Glen Wyvis Distillery, will be our new corporate spirits sponsor this season replacing Dalmore who were fantastic for the last three years.
4. Supporter’s Facilities on match days
a) WIFI within the stadium
“We know we have to improve this and come into line with other clubs in the Premier League. Thanks to the Chairman we have put the installation of WIFI in the stadium out to tender to two companies who will be visiting next week. But we are also dealing with a greater issue of the speed of internet access available outside the stadium and in Dingwall. We hope to have something in place by the start of the season.”
b) Sports bar
“Next Monday we will begin stripping out the current reception and shop area of the stadium. Where the shop is now we will be creating a Sports Bar which will have the capacity for around 200 people. We want to add to the bars we already have upstairs and improve the experience before and after matches for supporters. We would like fans to mingle and interact here at the ground and feel they can come earlier and stay after matches and meet up with friends and fellow supporters.”
c) New Club Shop
“Where the reception is and beyond to the left will be cleared out to make way for a walk-through shop with the new reception at the bottom end. The shop needed improving. It was dark and it stocked the same old products so we will be developing that going forward. It will be manned every day now too.
d) Main office relocation
“While these works are ongoing the main office will be relocated to the ground floor of the ‘pod’, which is the blue unit in the north east corner of the ground.”
5. Supporters Groups
“As an example of how active our Supporters Groups are I got an email today on behalf of the Central Staggies who have grown from five friends traveling to away games in the Central belt to 15 plus members now. They were asking how they could affiliate themselves with other supporters groups and integrate themselves with the Club.
“That is a good question we will look to address. From Dingwall, to the well-established Black Isle Supporters Club who do so much good work on arranging the buses to away games, and those further afield in Ullapool and beyond, we want to make ourselves accessible and help them to develop and get some more structure into the network of groups. We have been looking to clubs like Aberdeen who have about 70 supporters groups right across the country to see how they do it and though we may not end up with that number of groups we can certainly look to expand.”
6. Away Travel
“The last two away games of the season we had three buses going from the Club and nearly 500 fans went to Motherwell which was tremendous. We would like to thank the Black Isle Supporters Club for all their work in helping arrange the buses.
“Last season Weldex sponsored the away buses, subsidising the cost to fans and we are delighted they will do the same this season.”
7. Social Media & Press
“Communication is key to the Club. Last summer we started on a journey with a new website, Twitter and Facebook and we have taken a quantum leap toward where the Club wants to go. But there is more that needs to be done in getting information out in real time, such as during matches to fans who aren’t able to make it to games. But I’m also taking about the communications within the ground such as the WIFI.
“Last summer Mags Matheson joined the Club as a graduate with a remit to improve our online and social media presence. We have also just added Andrew Ross as a consultant to work with Mags. Andrew is a journalist and editor of 20 years standing who has recently been working on the match day programme and also contributes to a number of national newspapers and magazines. Andrew is contracted to work with Mags and David and develop our media department, which at other Clubs is perhaps far larger than our own.
“Andrew and Mags will be working with management team, squad, staff and people like myself and David O’Connor to make sure that we are communicating everything that is going on at the Club directly to our supporters in a timely fashion.
a) Ross County TV & Podcast
“In addition to Mags and Andrew we hope to make another addition to the media team as we look to launch Ross County TV. It will be an internet channel and might also appear on the Showcases TV channel. We will be looking to introduce five small five or ten minute segments every week about the people who work here and the stuff that goes on behind the scenes as well as the standard interviews with footballers and management.
“Ross County TV will also be paired with a new Podcast/internet radio station which will broadcast twice a week. We already have a team working on that including a cameraman and producer. These are all more ways of touching base with supporters.”
a) The Lottery
“It should be a huge part of our commercial income but it has dwindled every year recently. We are looking to get more agents selling tickets and try and revitalize it a bit. I would ask anyone who wants to work as an agent or has any ideas about how we can improve it or target new businesses to please get in touch.
“In general our commercial drive in the coming season needs to be stronger because out costs are higher.”
b) Advertising boards
“As part of this commercial push we have decided to sell advertising around the car park outside the stadium. These will be smaller boards and more affordable to smaller businesses who maybe cannot afford to take advertising inside the ground.”
c) New kit
“The new kit will be launched and available to pre-order on or around June 15. The manufacturer will remain the same as will the kit sponsor. The away kit will be white.”
9. Q&A Session
Q: “Could a partial season ticket for ten games be introduced for people who cannot come to every home game?”
A: “That is a very good point and something we will look at straight away.” (Roy MacGregor)
Q: “Could you provide some more information about pre-season?”
A: “The team is going to Hungary from the July 12-19 flying from Edinburgh on Jet2. The training centre is 7 miles outside Budapest.” (RM)
Q: “There is a range of skills and willingness in community that the Club could use more. Can I just request the Club makes more of this resource?
A: “We would be delighted to hear from anyone who thinks they can help the Club. Just contact David O’Connor.” (RM)
Q: “Could the SPFL work with fans to help reduce away ticket prices?
A: “It happened a couple of times last season and they tend to be reciprocal arrangements between clubs.” (RM)
Q: “It is impossible to hear the result of the 50/50 draw some days. Can we have the result put on a board and displayed at half time?”
A: “We have a small board already but we will get a bigger board and a pole in place for the coming season.” (DO’C)
Q: “Has there been any research into whether fans actually want safe standing returned to the Jail End?”
A: “We have done lots of consultation and received lots of opinions from fans. We will keep talking to fans who have season tickets in the Jail End and those that would like to stand in the Jail End as part of the process we have begun but we are experiencing a strong feeling from the majority of fans who speak to us about the reintroduction of standing. We will commit to doing a SurveyMonkey on the matter.” (DO’C)
Q: “Does the Club have any control over songs sung by our fans at away grounds?”
A: “We certainly operate a zero tolerance policy for foul and offensive language at our own ground and when our fans travel we hope they apply the same standards. When we get complaints we deal with them straight away.” (DO’C)
Q: “I have also seen aggressive behavior toward a boy with a drum in our own stadium.”
A: “Threats of violence are unacceptable and we will look into any allegations of this. I think this takes us back to the issue of where to locate the Singing Section and the drum. We are looking for balance and making sure if someone wants to sit and watch the game they are not seated behind the Singing Section. We will also be looking at the stewarding at the stadium. Some of you may have noticed that apart from the Celtic, Aberdeen and Caley games the football has been Police-free last season and hopefully it will be the same this season.” (DO’C)
Q: “Would the Club consider moving the Singing Section up to the back of the East Stand Extension to stop obstructing the view of those who sit behind it?”
A: “When the Singing Section started we never knew if it would take off or not but it has grown and grown over the season. If there is a way of moving it back we will look at it though.” (DO’C)
Q: “Is there any reason why the Singing Section cannot go into the Jail End this season and those that want to be in it just buying season tickets in there instead of the East Stand Extension?”
A: “Yes, of course it’s an option and people can choose to sit where they want. But of course we as a Club would have to manage the situation if people who have season tickets in there too object to it.” (DO’C)
Q: “The Jail End is a very emotive issue but I think it’s fair to say that it’s not been the same since the seats went in. Does the Club acknowledge that the Jail End lifts the whole ground and that its enthusiasm can lift the whole grounds?
A: “Absolutely. It’s a good point and I think we have all noticed the gaps in it since the seats went in.” (DO’C)
Q: “Would the Club consider volunteer stewards who are local and known to fans?”
A: “These are all things the Club will look into in order to improve the match day experience.” (DO’C)
Q: “With the Club shop being relocated will the turnstiles next to it be closed?”
A: “Yes. They will only be used for bigger matches and the two turnstiles to the south of the ground that are rarely used just now will be put into operation.” (DO’C)
Q: “The new Monarch Card promises priority over tickets for high-demand matches. Will they get priority over normal season ticket holders’ seats for cup matches etc?”
A: “No, it is more for away matches and cup matches.” (DO’C)
Q: “Are there plans to put together a more competitive Development Squad this season?”
A: “We were all glad to see Stuart Kettlewell come back to the Club to work with the Development Squad but there were actually only eight players in that category last season and the manager made up the team with First Team players coming back from injury or needing game time. We plan to increase the number of Development Squad players to 12 this season and we are looking to get a balance of the best of the local talent and a few from other areas. The 12 will comprise 9 local lads of which five were in the U17s, three are 18 and there are a handful of more experienced players.
“It is an uphill struggle in this part of the world to develop players. It is a big ask to get a parent to take their child from Wick, Skye or Oban three times a week. In Youth Development we are an ‘A’ grade club in most things but a ‘C’ grade club overall because we will not put an under 12 team into the Scottish League. We don’t think it is right or responsible to ask a P7 pupil to travel to Dingwall and stay over on a Saturday night in order to travel to an away game in Stranraer on Sunday and maybe not get back to Wick, for example, until 1am on Monday morning when they have school a few hours later. Because we opted out we miss about £60k in funding but we think it’s the right decision. (RM)
Q: “Could Development Games be played on Tuesday evenings instead of 2pm in the afternoon?”
A: “The Highland clubs have dispensation to play games earlier due to the travel involved so we can’t do much about that. What we could be better at is letting people know that these games are actually on and publishing match reports and score updates via social media. That is something we will be working harder on this season.” (RM)
Q: “Has last year’s Development player of the year, Stephen Miller, been kept on a the Club?”
A: “Yes he has been retained in the U20 squad. Kyle MacLeod has been awarded a Senior contract and joins the First Team squad.” (RM)
Q: “Has the scouting network been put in place yet?”
A: “Yes. We now have a youth scout in Central Scotland and a Head Scout based in Manchester and an Assistant Scout based in Scunthorpe. We do believe there are players playing at Conference and League One and Two level that could play in the Scottish Premier League. We also believe with games being televised it is a good shop window for them to display their talents and progress their careers. There are less players in Scotland to choose from than there once were unfortunately.” (RM)
Q: “Can fans still buy shares in Ross County Football Club?”
A: “Yes. Shares cost £1 and you can buy as little as one share. We would be delighted to welcome new shareholders.” (RM)
Q: “Why was Richie Brittain released?”
A: “It was a football and not a personal decision. We all had a tear in our eye seeing Richie’s farewell at Kilmarnock because he has been such a good ambassador for this Club but at 32 I think the manager had to decide did Richie fit his criteria enough to merit a new long-term contract. He could have stayed and played 15 games or so this season but that would be a disservice to Richie who is still capable and still wants to play regular First Team football. So at the moment the Club is helping Richie on the next stage of his career behind the scenes and depending where he plays his football next season he may appear back at the Club in another capacity because you don’t let people like that go.
“You have to remember that the board of directors are fans too and we leave the football decisions to the manager. We trust him to do what is right and Jim is very much his own man. But he is a football man and a winner and very definite in what he wants to do and what players he wants to bring to the Club.” (RM)
“There have been many comments about the good atmosphere at away games this season. We are working hard at the Club to bring a flavour of that to the home game match day experience this season. But it will also require all of your help. If you and your fellow supporters can help create the atmosphere at home that our traveling fans create at other grounds it is like a 12th man for the team and will make a huge difference.
“We respect the views of supporters that object to Singing Sections and drums in the ground but I hope they also understand what a difference it makes to the football team and also what a really fun environment the stadium could be if we are all getting behind the team in such vocal fashion. Maybe we also need to have themed days at home games as well as away? Things like this will make a huge difference.”
“I know from speaking to the manager and the players that the away support last season was a huge factor in their performances and the enthusiasm and spirit that the players showed. If we can recreate that type of atmosphere at home then that would make a huge difference to the Club. From what we have heard tonight there seems to be a strong opinion that the Jail End is the best step forward in achieving that so we as a Club will have to look at how we can cater for that.
“There may be an option in the future to just remove some sections of seating but we will have to consult with the relevant authorities and try and come up with the solution that is best for the Club.”