Fan power: Hull City, Bolton and Everton among clubs to see supporters making their voices heard in the board room
Events at Hull, Bolton and Everton show if supporters work together they can push through changes at their clubs – write Jack Pitt-Brooke and Martin Hardy
For the second consecutive Saturday, there were thousands of leaflets and thousands of amber badges at the KC Stadium. This was Hull City’s home game against Aston Villa, which they drew 0-0, but there was something at stake even more important than another three Premier League points.
The fans of Hull City were protesting, again, against the proposed change of name away from Hull City AFC to Hull Tigers. Quite understandably, they see their name as an integral part of their identity and not something that can be changed at the whim of an owner, regardless of how good Assem Allam has been for the club so far.
Ever since Mr Allam announced his desire to change the club’s name for marketing purposes, Hull fans have been in uproar. A campaigning group – No To Hull Tigers – soon formed, made out of existing fanzines and supporter groups. “We want to make our objections known to the club, and to persuade fans how important it is,” said spokesman Andy Dalton.
So the Saturday before last, as Hull played West Ham United, they handed out 10,000 leaflets to City fans and 3,000 “No To Hull Tigers” badges. The same happened again last weekend. And, when 19 minutes and four seconds of the game had been played (the club were founded in 1904), the leaflets were held up and the fans sung “City Till We Die” to make their point.
The club clearly know how the fans feel, and there will be meetings with club officials in the next few weeks. Engagement was what the fans wanted all along.
If the Hull fans are successful – and they are “cautiously optimistic” that they will be able to retain their name – it would be the latest success of football supporters grouping together to achieve their aims. The modern fan is often accused of passivity, of allowing him or herself to be numbered, filmed and monetised. But there are increasing examples of the opposite, as seen at English clubs this summer.
At Everton, the fans have recently won a campaign against a new badge and chosen a far superior motif for next season. In May, the club chose a new badge, removing both wreaths and the famous motto, – Nil Satis Nisi Optimum – and changing the character of the central tower. It was instantly unpopular, with 22,000 Evertonians signing a petition against it.
Rather than riding out the opposition, Everton reacted, handing control back to the fans. “We want to put this right,” said chief executive Robert Elstone. The club set up a panel to design three new crests – all including the motto – on which the fans voted last month.
There were 13,229 respondents and 78 per cent of them chose the first of three options. “I was impressed straightaway when I saw it,” said Everton’s manager Roberto Martinez at the unveiling. It will be in action from next month. “It captures what we were looking for: to have a modern touch and to be a global badge without taking away all the key icons of the football club. It has been terrific work from the club as it was important to come up with something which pleases everyone.”
That was the second big success of the summer, after Bolton Wanderers fans stopped their club from taking shirt sponsorship from pay-day lenders QuickQuid. There were just eight days between the announcement of the deal and its scrapping, after 4,500 people signed a petition against it. Local energy company FibrLec is now on the shirts instead.
Julie Hilling, MP for Bolton West, led the campaign and was at a protest outside Bolton town hall. “I’m very proud of Bolton fans for their opposition to having a pay-day lender sponsoring our club and very proud of Bolton Wanderers for listening to their fans and the wider community,” Hilling told The Independent. “Having a pay-day loan company as the shirt sponsor legitimises pay-day lenders.”
There are many bigger battles left, not least over prices and safe standing, but it feels as if supporters are just starting to drag things back their way.
“The number of recent cases where fans are making their voices heard suggests a trend is emerging,” said Kevin Miles, the chief executive of the Football Supporters’ Federation. “Some of the concessions won may have been on secondary matters – it’s more difficult when the issue at stake runs directly counter to the immediate economic interests of owners – but the willingness of supporters to get organised is a definite positive, and each little victory builds confidence.
“There are growing indications of a new realisation among supporters that they have the ability to change things, and that we have huge common interests regardless of which team we support.”
Making a stand: Fans fighting back
Everton supporters won a campaign against a new badge after the club removed both wreaths and the motto, ‘Nil Satis Nisi Optimum’, which means ‘nothing but the best is good enough’.
Bolton cancelled a two-year sponsorship deal with payday lenders QuickQuid after a 4,500-strong petition called for the club to find a different backer.
Although Cardiff fans lost the battle to keep playing in blue, the club let season-ticket holders decide the colour of their shorts after complaints about the initial new design having a different shade of red to their shirt.
Brentford were forced to let their own fans have an additional stand at Griffin Park for a friendly with Celtic following threats of a boycott.
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