Sunday 3rd October saw the very first Chelsea Fans Forum, attended by no other than four senior members of Chelsea FC – Peter Kenyon, Simon Greenberg, Simon Arthur and David Newby. Whilst Peter Kenyon is widely known, Simon Arthur, Simon Greenberg and David Newby are not. Their respective titles are Group Operations Director, Group Communications Director and Marketing Manager. Seated around the same table were 12 representatives from a broad section of Chelsea Fans, all chosen randomly by the Electoral Reform Society who organised and hosted the event. CFCnet felt privileged to attend and participate in what was an excellent two hour meeting.
I don´t want to go overboard with praise but, if the first meeting was anything to go by, then the Fans Forum will be an invaluable link between the fans and the Club. A few supporters remarked to me on the website that the Forum could well be a PR ´stunt´ but, having attended the meeting, I can assure you that if one thing came over loud and clear, it was that the club really mean business in forging a true link between the Club and the Fans. This is a huge departure from the days of Bates, who looked upon the fans as a ´cash cow´ and whilst I don´t want to take anything away from his achievements, his attitude was always dictatorial, confrontational and often rude. I remember in late 1993 he took five of us (then the Editorial Committee of the Chelsea Independent fanzine) to see the partly built Matthew Harding Stand. Upon pointing out to him a slight ´defect´ he rudely replied, ´if you don´t have a solution you are part of the problem´. He really was a crabby b*****d at times.
There couldn´t be a bigger contrast between the old Bates regime and the new, post-Abramovich era. Whilst the jury will be out for some time as to whether the Fans Forum is effective or simply window-dressing, the first meeting bodes well for the future. Expertly chaired by Andy Regan of the Electoral Reform Society, all four members of Chelsea FC sat and listened to what we had to say on a wide range of issues. Moreover, apart from ´team affairs´ not one subject was off the agenda allowing a frank and honest discussion across many areas of concern. Perhaps the most encouraging sign was that the four members of Chelsea FC present genuinely wanted to wok with us to take the Club forward. There was no ´we`re the club and you´re the fans´ attitude, but rather a genuine attempt to really move forward together. I can´t emphasis enough what a breath of fresh air this is after decades of Bates and electric fences (to name but one of his `fans friendly` ideas).
A simple example of the level of cooperation was the DJ situation, cited by many fans as the number one problem in trying to create a pre-match atmosphere. We mentioned this to the Club and, following the meeting, Simon Arthur went straight upstairs and had a word with the DJ. Whilst the pre-match build-up was still a dogs dinner, at least the music was stopped three minutes before kick-off allowing chants to build up (the Premier League music theme, played whilst players shook hands, could not be dropped for contractual reasons). For the Club to take suggestions like this on board, and so quickly, is very positive. Indeed, what struck me most during the meeting was how professional, affable and cooperative all the members of Chelsea FC were. Whilst Kenyon has his detractors, he came across as a thoroughly decent chap who was only too willing to listen to us, the fans. One of the staffers at our friends ‘blueandwhitearmy.net’ recently spent two hours with Kenyon on the train to ‘Boro and he said the same thing.
If I had one slight reservation, it would be that it remains to be seen whether the Club will actively change anything fundamental as a result of the Forum. Changing the DJ is one thing, but changing the ticketing arrangements is another, as are other structural issues like moving the away fans from the side of the pitch (that will not happen by the way and the reason will be in tomorrow’s minutes).
To write out a whole transcript of the meeting would take me days. What I will do is put the meeting minutes up on the site as soon as we receive them from the Electoral Reform Society – we´ve been given permission by the Club to do so. Whilst reading them, do remember that some of the items will have been brought up by other Chelsea fans present at the forum, and not us at CFCnet. However, we were able to put forward all the issues readers had emailed us about. We hope to have a copy of the minutes up by Wednesday lunchtime or a few hours after.