On Tuesday we met with Richard Arnold, Manchester Uniteds Group Managing Director. Richard also brought to the meeting David French, Director of Venue, and Lorraine Hatton-Dow, Customer Care Manager.
We discussed many issues that have been raised through the United Discriminate campaign, and to be honest, it did seem that Richard had already taken on many of the concerns we had, and had started to deal with them. He stated that he can not talk about how things had been done in the past (under different management). All he could do is discuss how things will be done under his management, and work forwards from where we stand today. Interestingly his words were that, its easy to say the right things, but its much harder doing what you say.
“Judge me by not what I say, Judge me by what I do and achieve”.
I felt that this was somewhat of a bold statement, but i hope it was a statement of someone who actually had intentions on taking actions.
Responding to Fans
Lorraine explained that she had seen the response that I received advising me to take my family to another club, and she apologised that this response was handled in this way. Richard went on to say that he was very aware that the way in which the club reacts and deals with its fans, needs to be looked at. And he advised that he wanted the club to act in a more proactive way, by listening to fans complaints and concerns and trying their best to deal with them. He went on to say that when a club receives a complaint, this is actually an opportunity for the club to enhance the fans experience, thus helping the club progress, and get better.
Disabled Family Seating
Richard and David both made it clear that as Fathers, they also felt that it was important that a family should be able to watch the football together, regardless of disability. Lorraine stated that when she was made aware of the complaint, she had requested that something was done to help assist us in getting to watch the football as a family Unit.
We discussed how it wasnt just my family that was missing out, there were many other examples. A group of University friends got tickets to watch a match together. One of the members of the group was a wheelchair user. Whilst his friends were stood together cheering on the team in the Stretford end, the wheelchair user was “banished” as he put it to the disabled section, away from his friends. He said that he felt alone, even though he was surrounded by 76,000 people.
That night in the pub,the friends were reminiscing on the day, and going over the laughs they had enjoyed, and the wheelchair user stated that he would never return to Old Trafford, as it segregated him from the experience. All agreed that the fans experience could be made better with the introduction of accessible Flexible seating, that then could cater for this fan,and family’s like mine. Of course this isn’t always the case, and some disabled fans enjoy sitting away from there family’s, and sons and daughters can enjoy singing “all the words” without mum or dad hearing. We agreed that it was important that people have the choice. And to me, that is the important thing. Disabled fans deserve the same choices as other fans at Man United.
With choice comes tickets. Presently Manchester United have a policy where Disabled Users and Carers receive a free ticket to matches. Richard emphasised that he believed that taking a Free ticket away from fans would mean that some fans would never be able to have the match day experience again. I agreed that this was indeed a good thing that Manchester United (now the only club in the league to offer free tickets to disabled fans) have this view. But with that there should be choice.
Richard again stated that they were going to look into the possibility of offering Disabled Fans the option of getting a Season Tickets. But he wanted to do that in a way that did not have a negative impact on the amount of Disabled fans who get to see Live football at Old Trafford. He said that this will take time as there are many factors to take into account. But he promised that they were already working on this.
He also touched upon the current ticket allocation method. Presently MUDSA committee members receive a ticket to every match, Some MUDSA members are Rota members meaning they attend 1 in 3 matches. And other members are Ballot members, meaning they have to put their name in the hat for tickets. Rota members can also put their name in the ballot for matches they are not attending on the Rota, which again decreases the chances of a Ballot member getting a ticket. Richard admitted that he has had complaints that many of the same names are getting to see many matches, while others seem to get very few. He said that he would like to see a rethink of this scheme, and maybe introduce a more open and transparent Ballot scheme. Something we agree with, and hope is implemented soon.
Yellow Card Scheme
Obviously there are lots of things that will take some time to Fix, but there are also some Quick Fixes that can be implemented straight away. And on that note we are pleased to confirm that the MUDSA Yellow Card scheme has now been stopped. This scheme was put in place by MUDSA a number of years ago now. If a Disabled fan was lucky enough to receive a ticket and failed to attend a match, they would subsequently be banned from applying again. A regular member of the club of course doesn’t get banned for failing to attend a match, and it was confirmed that this policy was now not effective for the 2015/16 Season.
I handed 2 emails from two of our twitter followers who responded to our call for questions to Richard. Both of these approached United about Changing places toilet facilities. For those that do not know these are toilet facilities for disabled users with extra facilities to help the user, such as Hoists and Changing tables. Both of these individuals contacted the club to help make the match day experience a better one for everyone. I went on to explain that with some Disabled fans the toilet experience was not a pleasant one.
My son for example like many others needs to be lied down in order for us to change him. I explained that with toilet facilities currently in place at Old Trafford this would involve lying him down on the floor as there are no Changing tables. All three agreed that lying down on a toilet floor in a football stadium on a match day would not be something they would like to experience, and seemed somewhat surprised that this would happen. Richard and Davis both agreed that they would look into these facilities, and took away the information with them.
So what now? Well for me that part is simple. This campaign has got the attention of Manchester United. And that attention on Tuesday led to one of the very top men at the club, getting on a train, with two of his staff, and travelling over 200 miles to meet a fan with a twitter account. So it must be having an effect.
I am also aware that through the campaign it seems that others have also gained a voice, and there concerns and feelings have been fed to the club also. I would love nothing more than to report on the positives that are being done at my beloved club, and how they are striving to truly make their facilities and Match Day experience for Disabled fans truly the “Best in the World”. So the blog, and twitter and Facebook accounts will continue, until that day comes.
Richard advised that he wants the club to achieve those same heights. And he suggested that we meet again in a few months time, where he intends on showing us how the club is progressing. What quick fixed took place, how they’re working out and how the longer term fixes are coming along. I guess that’s when we can judge him not by “what he says, but by what he has done”.
All in all, i think you will agree, lots of positives to take from the meeting. And I felt heard finally. Lets just hope that in a few months time, it proves not to be just words and that actions are taken.
Thanks Richard, David and Lorraine for making the 200 mile trip. That was the start of the Journey though, there is a long way to go yet.