So, it’s that time of the year when you see the tweets, the article in the matchday programme or maybe hear at half time about the chance to become a member of the Everton Fans' Forum.
A year ago, I read the same thing and, quite instinctively, decided to have a go. I didn’t have a clue what I was letting myself in for but I did know that I had ideas.
Ideas about the proposed new stadium, about the Everton retail experience, about what I thought the Club could do to improve the matchday experience and quite a few others. So I put a few of these ideas down on paper and then filled in the online form. It actually only took me about 30 minutes - 30 minutes to jot down my thoughts, type them and click send.
It was actually the second time I had applied. The first time, a couple of years earlier, my application went down the sentimental route. I grew up within earshot of Goodison, went to Gwladys Street School and now work near Finch Farm, blah blah... A true Blue through and through, blah blah... A real Evertonian, blah blah.
Too much sentiment and not enough ideas. The Fans' Forum is about ideas. Ideas that sometimes work and often don’t. The key thing is that the ones that don’t work, you only find out that they don’t work because of the conversations you have with key staff at the Club. More of that later…
So a year ago I filled in the form. In my application I talked about how I want the next generation of Evertonians to experience a quality, value-for-money experience every time they go the match, go to the Everton shop, or browse on the website. I talked about ensuring that any move away from Goodison did not dilute what it meant to be an Everton fan and I wanted to make sure that the Fans' Forum was at the heart of many of the major decisions made by the Club moving forward.
I clicked send and life carried on. Then, out of the blue, a phone call. I had been long-listed! I was asked to attend an interview which was part of the shortlisting process. I have been for plenty of interviews in my career in education. This one was as tough as many of those – two interrogators and several more note-takers. It was serious. The grilling was soon over and a few days later another phone call. I was in the final shortlist of 12 candidates.
A few weeks later and I was one of six successfully-elected candidates. Ten months later, so much has happened and the Fans' Forum is evolving. So why should you apply to be a member of the Forum?
For me the main reason to apply is because you want to bring your ideas to the table. The Club does acknowledge that it needs input from the Forum. The Forum is made up of a group of like-minded, passionate Everton fans. Every single thing we discuss is about the Club and our desire to improve standards in as many aspects of the Club’s work as possible.
As I said, I work in education. The Forum does offer the Club support but also provides great challenge, just as any group of school governors would to a school. The monthly Fans' Forum meetings with representatives from the Club involve appropriate amounts of both. We will show our support for initiatives – credit where credit is due.
For example, in August the Club asked the Fans’ Forum’s opinion on prices for possible home fixtures in the League Cup. The £15 ticket price for adults that was announced following the victory at Reading was well received by many fans.
However, we do also challenge the Club’s staff, and its partners, on many issues – the problems with vouchers selling out in the Club shops, the problems of buying Everton kits outside of the city, the quality and choice of food at games, ticketing problems, the lack of choice in women’s and kids’ clothing and other retail issues, as well as the many issues raised by non-forum members on Twitter – we go through them all.
Sometimes we don’t like the answers given but at least the rationale is explained and we can understand the detail better. Yet on other occasions the Club does listen, takes note and acts.
Several project groups have been set up and that is where the large majority of the work of the Fans’ Forum has taken place this year and I really do believe our work will have an impact. There are project groups on Branding, Matchday Experience, Supporters’ Clubs, Fans’ Events and Away Fan Initiatives. More groups are planned for the future.
Each group, attended by four to five members of the Fans’ Forum, works with the Club in each area. In the last six months there have been new developments in the Fan Zone, the Matchday Hub, the branding in and out of Goodison, Quiz nights for Season Ticket Holders, the new ‘Blues on Tour’ plans as well as plans for future events for fans that have all come to fruition thanks to these project groups.
To be honest we need to be more vocal about these initiatives because they will make a difference to fans. The Everton Fans' Forum recognises that it needs to have a greater profile and this is something we are working on right now in our new Communications Project group.
I appreciate that there is some scepticism about the Fans’ Forum. Some people simply don’t understand it. This week I read someone say it was just a ‘tick box’ exercise by the Club. This could not be further from the truth.
We do work with the Club but we are very much our own group. To imply otherwise is to insult the huge amount of unpaid time that many members commit. We meet monthly but add to that the various project group meetings and it then becomes a massive commitment in terms of time. We all have lives, families and friends away from the Club so I would say to anyone thinking about applying that they need to take that into consideration.
Since August, the Forum has been organising the forthcoming selection and election of new members. It takes a lot of time and effort but it has to be that way because we want to have the right people on the Forum who can make the best possible contribution to its work.
All this time and effort - is it worth it? In my opinion, yes! I get to talk all things ‘Everton’ with fellow Evertonians and we all have one common goal. That is to have a dialogue with the Club to ensure that supporters get a better experience every time they log in to the website, shop online, buy tickets, attend a game or simply follow the Blues from wherever they are.
Ten months as a member of the Fans’ Forum has taught me that we still have a long way to go before we can really claim to be a successful Forum but I definitely believe that we are well on our way to becoming the fully effective body that we need to be.
That is why we need your ideas, your input, as we move forward. So my advice to you is to give it a go – in a year or so you could be looking back and be able to say that you were responsible for something that has made being an Evertonian even better than it is now.
To apply to be a member of the Fans' Forum, click here.