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Roker Report Meets... The FSF

The Football Supporters Federation - FSF for short - is an organisation which represents football fans in England and Wales. Michael Brunskill is a Sunderland supporter who works for the FSF as their Director of Communications, and he very kindly sat down with @GRokerReport to talk about what the FSF are up to, their relationship with our club and more.

Hi Michael! It seems the Liverpool protest worked, to an extent, as their owners backed down and agreed to re-think their ticket pricing. Do you foresee more of these fan movements occurring in the coming months?

Yes – there’ll be a weekend of action on the 19th and 20th March with a focus on Twenty’s Plenty for Away tickets. The idea being that every set of fans experiences high away prices so it’s easier to motivate people to get involved across all twenty clubs whereas the appetite among home fans for ticket price campaign varies greatly, depending on how much they’re paying…

I’m a Sunderland fan so I know it’s derby weekend which makes it tricky for SAFC/NUFC fans – we might have other things on our mind! - but it was important to schedule it ahead of the next Premier League shareholder meeting.

What do you view as the biggest problem when it comes to the strained relationship between football fans and the clubs, particularly in the Premier League?

Ticket prices is obviously the big issue at the moment and, fundamentally, that’s caused by the clubs.

The clubs set the Premier League rules – if fourteen of them vote for something it becomes a rule. I actually think the Premier League itself would like to see the cost of away tickets reduced. Not for any moral reason particularly, but for a financial one.

The Premier League is tasked with driving the TV deal forever upwards and they know that’s easier if the stands are full. So there’s a financial imperative there, whereas club accountants might only look at year on year profits – how much can we squeeze out of these fans? – and forget the bigger, long term picture. At present it’s only a handful of clubs blocking a reduction in away prices. Hopefully that resistance crumbles at the next Premier League/club meeting at the end of March.

There are other issues where the Premier League is less in line with the view of fans though, whereas clubs "get it" more. An example of that might be safe standing which many Premier League clubs including Sunderland back in principle, often because they know that persistent standing is happening in their stadiums anyway, so why not manage it in a properly designed area?

Sunderland announced last week that the average price of a season card will decrease ahead of next season. Do you feel that £375 is a fair amount to pay to watch your team in the Premier League?

I can only speak for myself but personally speaking I think it is a fair price for top-flight football, so long as there are also good deals on offer for kids, OAPS, and young adults. £375 equates to less than £20 per game which is reasonable to me.

However, there is a sting in the tail for away fans, particularly those paying Cat A prices which are £39. That means for certain games away fans are paying more than twice as much as those in the home end.

You might think, well why should I care? Well I’m a Sunderland fan and I know we care when we pay £40+ at St James’ Park. That’s why the Premier League needs to cap away prices and why the FSF has chosen to speak up for the away fan who is often an afterthought.

From your experience, how receptive are Sunderland to the things that the FSF put to them?

Yeah, I’d say Sunderland are receptive to the FSF – we’ve worked with them on a few different things in the past few seasons with good results. The club backed our Safe Standing Campaign a few years ago which was good. Then there was the whole controversy around the "bubble match" that Northumbria Police tried to implement – the club sided with the FSF and fans. That developed into A Derby To Be Proud Of which aimed to highlight positive fan behaviour and move away from the whole concept of bubble games. Again, Sunderland (and Newcastle) helped out supplying players – Kevin Ball and Steve Howey - for an event we ran and gave supportive statements.

In December Sunderland’s Supporters Liaison Officer (SLO) Chris Waters also won our SLO of the Year Award which was very well deserved and we’ve been along to see the Fan Zone and Nathan Shippey Sensory Room which is brilliant.

Sunderland fans travel well wherever we play, selling out our allocation for almost every Premier League game. Do you think that other Premier League clubs take advantage of the support Sunderland fans give their team with regards to how much they charge?

I don’t know across the league – I don’t get to as many away games as I used to and couldn’t be sure of the Cat A/B/C breakdown that we’ve been allocated recently. Sadly, given our performances in recent years, you’d expect us to be Cat C for all the games, except the derby, wouldn’t you?

I remember that one a few years back away at West Ham United for the last game of the season, a dead rubber under Bruce and it was Cat A. That was a bit odd, although West Ham explained away their extortionate price by arguing that they always did Cat A for the last game.

Err, so that’s OK?

If an overall cap on ticket pricing doesn't happen soon, what impact do you think that will have on the next generation of football supporters?

The fear would have to be that away numbers particularly drop. There’s a social and cultural thing about following your club away that doesn’t exist in every country. Stretch the elastic too far and it might snap – especially among younger generations who get used to watching games on their mobile or tablet.

What things are the FSF doing to help football supporters with regards to ticket pricing, and, generally speaking, do you feel your proposals are being dealt with or largely dismissed?

From a top-flight perspective we’ll see at the end of March – the clubs will be meeting again to vote on an away price cap and/or enhanced Away Supporters Initiative.

Safe standing in English football grounds has been something discussed for many years without anything massive really occurring. Do you feel that we'll ever see the day that supporters can watch their team from (albeit safer) terraces again?

Yes – Celtic should have a safe standing area in place from next season and the Sports Minister has said she’ll "reassess" the evidence in light of that. I think a lot of Premier League clubs will start looking at Celtic as well and asking why they can’t have rail seats as it makes managing certain stands a lot easier. How many years it will take, I’m not sure, but that is the direction its heading.

How can our readers and other Sunderland supporters get involved with the FSF?

Join the FSF! It’s free and only takes a minute - www.fsf.org.uk/join.

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Thanks again to Michael for speaking with Roker Report - you can follow the FSF on Twitter here.