The chair of the Red & White Army Supporters Trust (RAWA) Andrew Hird gave his report to the 50-or-60-odd members assembled over Zoom on Thursday evening, which included me as the Roker Report co-opted rep.
Andrew said that it had been encouraging that the club have engaged in Structured Dialogue with fan groups since taking over earlier in the year, including Steve Davison and the staff providing detailed, thoughtful and prepared presentations on what has been happening at the club.
It’s not all been rosy, as we’re all aware there have been a number of customer service issues - purchasing tickets, club shops, etc - that have concerned many fans over the last few months. The club hierarchy, Andrew commented, had engaged and made promises that these things are going to be put right. RAWA will hold them to account on this matter.
RAWA’s remit includes supporting local good causes, and Andrew highlighted covid-19 drive-through food bank last winter, which went really well with a ton of food donated by the fans.
Vice-Chair Dave Rose reminded members of the couple who arrived at the drive-through collection with a van full of children’s toys. This is the kind of generosity that makes Sunderland fans so special. The Trust’s links with the Foundation of Light and Sunderland Foodbank initiative continues, with 500kg of food donated by supporters at the recent matchday collection.
During the pandemic, the Sunderland Together campaign raised excess of £200,000 with the virtual ticket initiative for the Papa John’s Trophy final, the idea having originally been posted on a message board by fan Peter Richardson. Football cub was involved in this fundraising, matching the money raised by supporters.
The board gave their thanks to everyone who has volunteered and contributed, especially during these times of adversity.
Jamie Bogle gave his report to the assembled members. The Trust had £6,800 income over the first year, and gave small donations to Salvation Army and the Foundation of Light, expenditure plus fees for online services, web design and hosting, and subscription processing fees. Direct Debits cost less.
Full details will appear in the minutes of the meeting.
Election of the Board
Paul Nelson explained the process. The whole board stepped down as this section of the meeting started, and then next year a third of the board steps down again, so over three year period we can have a whole new board.
This allows members to put themselves forward, and is in line with FSA best practice. As no positions were contested, a confirmation vote was held, and the Trust’s board was reelected with 100% support of the voting membership.
The first motion, importantly, called on RAWA to work with SAFC to make the club as inclusive as possible - to embed Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion in the club and the Trust, including educational work with Foundation of Light, and mentioned that SAFC should be welcoming for everyone.
Secretary Paul Nelson proposed this motion, Dave Rose seconded.
Paul also mentioned the issue of financial inclusivity being an important issue too, with ticketing matters and the charitable activities of the club at the centre of this. Dave stated that we shouldn’t dodge these issues as a trust.
A point was made by Dave Allan from the floor that the motion could mention each of the protected characteristics under the Equalities Act by name, and that RAWA should look at having reserved seats for women, black and ethnic minority members, on the board. Dave Rose responded to the point around protected characteristics, informing the meeting that RAWA had given the Premier League’s Equality Diversity & Inclusion Standards to the club at the last Dialogue meeting - and that these will hold club to a high standard. A senior manager at the club will be taking responsibility for their implementation. It was recognised that RAWA membership needs to be more diverse before the board can become more diverse.
There was a short but interesting discussion of the issue of the men’s first team choosing not to take a knee before matches, other than Fred Alves and one or two others on occasions. It was noted that outside the Premier League that it is the individuals’ choice, and I interjected that the club still need to provide clarity and consistency on why different squads have made different decisions, and the impression that the men’s senior squad are giving to fans and to the outside world. Paul rightly called for a nuanced conversation amongst and between fans to continue on this matter.
The second motion was proposed by Andrew Hird, seconded by Jamie Bogle, regarding motion for the club to pursue an initiative towards creating an area for safe standing at the Stadium of Light. Standing areas may well soon be implemented by a number of clubs in the Championship and Premier League, and Sunderland were urged to explore this possibility to give more options to fans who want to sit and those who want to stand.
The third motion was linked to the Fan Led Review of Football being undertaken by Tracy Crouch and the issue of the European Super League. RAWA supports the idea of an independent regulator of football and the concept of a “Golden Share”. Supporters need to lobby MPs and the Government to make sure legislation is passed. Dave outlined the 6 points of FSA in response to the ESL. I spoke about the need to keep MPs’ feet to the fire on this as it goes through the commons. One member raised the issue of fans being referred to as customers, as this shows the way we're often viewed by owners.
Earlier in the meeting, Dave described Project Big Picture, proposed by the EFL’s Rick Parry, Manchester United and Liverpool in October 2020 as pure greed. Dave spoke about the influence of the Trust in working with other supporters through the FSA, nationally, and never before have we shown the power of solidarity between football fans to fight the power grab, proposed under the guise of “saving football” with a grant of £250m plus 25% of future TV revenue, but would have given the self-appointed “Big 6” voting rights to run football from then onwards. Sunderland’s then CEO Jim Rodwell welcomed the proposals, demonstrating the power that an owner’s hired hand has over the future of the game.
The fourth motion was to create a new Supporters Group for Sunderland AFC Ladies. Ian Todd proposed, Jane Hughes seconded, that RAWA helps to initiate a Supporters Organisation for the Women’s team. This could be aided and supported by RAWA and use the same branding but with a view to being separately constituted and with its own elected Board. It was recognised that there are a number of challenges to get to that stage but a commitment to begin this process would be welcomed and a natural progression for the supporters of the Lasses.
All four motions were carried with over 90% approval.
A huge range of issues were raised and they will be collated and taken to the club either immediately or at the next Structured Dialogue meeting, including (and this is not an exhaustive list):
- The need for clarity on the structure of the ownership structure and share distribution - and Dave Rose confirmed that this will be asked and these kinds of questions are why RAWA exists
- The issue of other clubs selling away tickets late
- Stewards being abused at the match
- Staffing numbers at the club in general
- Covid passports and social distanced seating, and mask-wearing for all.
- The supporter engagement department consisting of one wonderful person - Chris Waters
- General lack of having a point of contact for enquiries and ticketing, ticket office issues
- Inconsistency in the allocation of loyalty points
- Promotion of Lionesses game, and general marketing and comms issues
When asked for some positives - I raised the response the club have given to the issues of accessing Eppleton CW experienced by some fans.
The group discussed plans for RAWA to meet in person in the future. 300 people have previously attended face-to-face events, and the board are looking to reintroduce social elements and Q&As with more interesting personalities in the future.
The need to renew the flag display in the Roker End at the Stadium of Light was briefly mentioned by Dave Rose as the meeting drew to a conclusion, and he informed the group that RAWA will be putting a document together around that matter with a view to getting the club to help store flags better and the need to raise funds for the purchase new flags in the near future.
You can join Red & White Army and have your say on these matters on their website.