CHELSEA FOOTBALL CLUB FANS FORUM
2021-22, ADDITIONAL MEETING MINUTES
Meeting held on Microsoft Teams at 11am on Thursday 12th August 2021.
AttendeesClub title/ group represented
Barrett, Neil UK supporters club
Beckwith, Gary 65 and over
Buck, Bruce Club Chairman
Dixon, Martin Member
Greig, Lesley Female
Laurence, Guy Club Chief Executive Officer
Lewis, John Access
McGeever, Tim Hospitality
Meehan, Simon Club Head of Publishing
Regan, Andy Forum chairman
Rosso, Dominic Chelsea Supporters Trust
Smith, Graham Club Head of Ticketing and Supporter Liaison
Smith, Polly LGBT
Stewart, Shaun Family
Trenter, Peter Chelsea Supporters Group
Wittich, Margaret Chelsea Supporters Club
Wolff, Brian Overseas supporters club
York, Daniel Home season ticket (“ST”)
Apologies for absence
Hayre, Amritpal Singh BAME
Kirby, Liam 16-21s
Norton, Noel UEFA away scheme
Robinson, Adam UK away scheme
(Action points are underlined.)
The Club thanked attendees for being on the call at short notice. A problem has developed relating to rail seating which it would like to discuss with representatives. At the end of last season, we decided to replace 12,000 seats with rail seating and the Club entered into a contract with the provider which started well, but it became clear over several months that the contractor wasn’t as well organised as they’d told us and they fell behind schedule. One of the problems was a supply of materials, mainly steel, exacerbated by Covid. We brought our own crews into help and for the last 3-4 weeks they have been working 3 shifts of 10 hours, so 24 hours a day, seven days a week to try and get it completed.
We made last minute adjustments for the Spurs game which we’re not proud of but we managed the situation. The contractor can’t guarantee everything will be finished for Saturday. Each seat has 8 or 9 parts without which it’s not certifiable from a safety perspective. If you look at the stadium now, it largely looks blue due to new seating but not everything is in place. We don’t think they will meet the deadline of 5pm tomorrow but we don’t know exactly what will be finished by then.
We think the South Stand (Shed End) will be completed as less than 100 seats remain to be finished. The Matthew Harding Lower centre blocks, where ST holders mostly sit, should be fine but the wings in the Matthew Harding Lower of blocks 8, 9, part of 14, 15 and 16 are most affected. Because they are in corners, the seats require bespoke sections of kit and we have to wait until each lorry arrives before knowing if we can complete those areas. They are not made in a linear fashion but are made in batches. The height of the rise depends on the depth of step in each area. We have more than enough labour on site – we have supplemented the contractor’s labour force but we can’t of course get involved in making the parts. We think they have taken on too many clubs and that there is also a shortage of steel. They got behind then ignored the realities.
The Club welcomed questions.
A representative asked how many seats would be affected. The Club responded it would affect between 2,500-3000 seats. A representative asked if each block would be affected in its entirety if part of it is incomplete. The Club responded that for 10 to 13, it is almost certain there won’t be a problem. A couple of thousand seats maximum may be affected. We are looking for views on when to communicate with those affected.
In response to a question, the Club said it intends to make a call tomorrow lunchtime as we have to tidy and clean the stadium. We may manage to finish some seats after that but it will be too late to admit those fans.
The Club was asked what the messaging would be and when given the delays. The Club responded that, to recap, it didn’t have 18 months as approval was only given towards the end of last season. We could have gone to tender earlier but wouldn’t have had approval 18 months ago due to the political climate at the time. We won’t hide behind the issue as we have a problem. We can’t put the previous seats back in and new ones are specialist pieces that bolt together.
A representative asked what the thought process was behind ripping everything up and replacing it all in one. The Club said the manufacturing process doesn’t work that way as the riser between rows is variable around the stadium – the bar is between 180 and 280 with variable sizes. We therefore need a mixture of sizes and in order to obtain economies of scale, we couldn’t ask for it to be produced piecemeal.
The Club was asked if a statement could be put out speculating that some areas may have problems. It responded that it intended to do that to some extent, but it could be the case that within a block one row may be missing an end leg, in which case that whole row would be taken out of action. Since a number of row ends were still missing at the time of the meeting the Club was not in a position to guarantee that particular blocks would be completed. Therefore the Club could not take the public approach that there is no problem, and just deal with isolated cases. The balance had to be struck as it’s not true to say that all will be fine. There would be no safety certificate for a block if it’s not complete based on a definition of what is deemed to be safe. We won’t take risks for such aspects. The Club added there are very few available seats elsewhere in the stadium to rehouse those affected.
The Club was asked whether the match could be postponed and responded it has spoken to the Premier League but not many proportionately would be affected and we are not the only club with such problems. That won’t happen.
A representative commented that timing for travel and arrangements are the key to determine timing and most fans stand in the Matthew Harding Stand anyway. The Club said that either the previous seat would need to be in place which is impossible or the new seat needs to be finished.
The Club proposes an initial statement in a couple of hours explaining the situation and, in that statement, gives a time for a final announcement. The longer we leave the final announcement, more fans can be admitted. This is the trade-off. We would be grateful if nothing is publicised on social media before then as it will sow confusion. We will name the blocks at risk in that first statement.
The Club confirmed compensation could be available. Statements would be posted on the website with those affected tomorrow also being emailed. It is difficult to guarantee contacting all those affected but most should be notified. There is a concern that emails from the Club may not be read.
In response to a question, the Club said the ticket exchange is not possible as the solution. Ticket exchange has been stopped to avoid those in the areas possibly affected trying to sell their tickets. Also, we can’t prioritise those who should be moved elsewhere and the volume of alternative tickets is minute anyway.
A representative said it’s good the Forum is being consulted and asked whether Crystal Palace may accept some of their tickets going to our fans and also if TV could be informed so they could publicise it; also what compensation would be offered? The Club said it would contact TV/ media but we can’t take back away tickets as it would compromise the integrity of the league. As regards compensation, we are planning a pro rata refund for ST holders with a full refund for member tickets. We will also refund travel. We are thinking of giving a ticket for the first Champions League group game free as well.
The Club was asked if travel would just cover UK fans or those travelling from overseas and would hotels be included? Would an upper payment limit apply? The Club said it looks at such issues on a case by case basis as there should be relatively few in that category. We have experience of processing such claims, for instance regarding changes of kick off times. The same is true of hotels as some of those booking hotels may have the opportunity of cancelling through their booking website. We will manage those as there are so many variables. We’ve caused the problem and will deal with it. Domestic London-based fans will be the vast majority affected.
In response to a request for a choice of Champions League group games or a weekend match, the Club said it will consider the former option but the latter is difficult.
The Club said we are looking at this in great detail as to what may be finished and have done so for three weeks. Our facilities team are staying at the hotel and there are 47 installers at our premises or bed & breakfasts. They are working ten hours each in rota over three shifts. Most fitters from the manufacturer are here and we speak to their chief executive every two hours. Each lorry has their cargo photographed on despatch and there are forklift trucks ready here. We aren’t sure if it’s their other clients or they underestimated the job.
The Club confirmed Crystal Palace has taken its full allocation.
A representative said the final decision should be left as long as possible.
Another commented that, as one of those potentially affected on Saturday and who was affected in the midweek match, fans should be asked to check emails in that first announcement. The representative only noticed the email on Wednesday when in the ground. The Club said it will announce the time of the next statement and that those fans will be emailed. Block 14 runs into block 15 and the issue is whether we get the end posts of block 15 to determine if that part of 14 can be open. There is an unlikely scenario that one side of 14 is open but not the other side. The block goes over a vomitory – the left hand side is likely to be completed but possibly not the other side. Those nearer the goal are more likely to be fine.
The Club was asked if it’s possible to tell those who may be affected that they can apply now for a refund and the Champions League match if they want. It responded that the intricacies of the administration would be complicated for doing that.
A representative said there will be a lot of anger about this given it’s the first full match back. The emphasis should be on sympathy for the fans and an apology with a compensation package highlighted, rather than the Club shifting blame. The Club should take this on the chin. The Club responded that this is the case but it’s fair to explain why we have come to this point. We will spell out the compensation package and provide an apology as well. We do take this on the chin.
In response to a request for representatives to see the draft first, the Club said it will send the final statement for today in advance. The representative added that the embargo would be respected.
It was requested by a representative that maximum advance warning for those travelling from overseas would be welcome. The majority of those overseas would probably want this. The Club responded that others may see the timing differently. The representative said that it’s not just financial but this may be their only chance to come over for a long period. There is more flexibility for those in the UK.
The Club was asked to ensure that sufficient stewards are in place on Saturday and responded there are more staff on the ground anyway due to covid document checks. Those who won’t have a seat for the match will not be able to get into the ground as their ticket will be invalidated. 88 turned up for the Spurs match with no test results or vaccination confirmation – they were all sent for lateral flow tests and all were negative.
Two representatives commented that they or a family member didn’t have their covid information checked for the Spurs match. The Club said it was something of a trial and there is a dedicated steward at each stand who will deal with this on Saturday. This is in conjunction with the Premier League as guidelines are not fully in place from the Government yet. The way we handled the Spurs match was according to the rules but all clubs are looking at how best to implement this.
A representative commented that most fans would probably be comfortable with the Club making final decisions tomorrow. The Club repeated it’s all a balancing decision. We can see what the constitution of affected areas is once the final seats are known.
A representative commented that 5pm tomorrow is too late. The number who may be able to attend if given a few more hours tomorrow afternoon may only change by 40 or 50. The Club said it would be several thousand affected who could have attended if we announced a final decision now. It probably doesn’t change much between now and early tomorrow. In response to a question about the number of seats and rails that could be fitted between 12 noon and 4 or 5pm tomorrow, the Club said it can’t be certain what rails and parts turn up. The representative added that it’s fairer to announce earlier tomorrow than late afternoon.
The Club asked for opinions from representatives and votes were as follows:
3 voted for 12 noon;
7 voted for 3pm;
2 voted for 5pm;
1 voted for 6pm.
The Club thanked representatives for their input. It needs a few hours to finish the draft then will be circulated to representatives before being announced more widely. Again, we request that this is not leaked as leaks have happened before.
A representative asked why construction workers were in areas without fans for the Spurs match. The Club said if an area was cordoned off for fans, as it was a single ball tournament, only construction workers were allowed to retrieve the ball there.
In response to a question about the new bag policy and having a luggage facility available, the Club said it can’t store bags for fans due to risks involved.
The Club concluded it’s sorry that this situation has arisen and, despite the manufacturer guarantee that all would be ready in time, ultimately it’s our issue.
The meeting finished at 12 noon.