‘Without fans the game is nothing’. AISA Members’ Survey Project Restart – your views

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On 30 June we sent out a survey to all AISA members asking for their views on the Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’, the return of top-flight football after its lockdown  in March this year.

We received 121 responses and the results detailed below will be shared with the club and the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA).*

This is sort of thing that AISA does. By working with you, and the representatives of other supporters’ groups across the country, we help give a voice to football fans, whoever they follow. Many of the groups affiliated to the FSA conducted their own surveys (although question one – as you might expect – varied considerably!)

So, this is what we asked, and what 121 of you answered:

If they were all in their prime, injury free & available to play who would you want to lead our attack for the remainder of Season 2019/20?

  1. Alan Smith                                     6%
  2. Ian Wright                                     20%
  3. Thierry Henry                               74%
  4. No vote                                              1%

That’s a pretty clear win for TH14!

No one wanted matches to resume this season 2019/20 behind closed doors but two weeks in to Project Restart, what is your opinion?

  1. I was against Project Restart & still feel that way(2019/20 season should have ended/been voided)                                                                                                 34%
  2. I was against Project Restart but now accept it is the best solution              26%
  3. I was in favour of Project Restart & still feel that way                                     34%
  4. I was in favour of Project Restart but don’t agree with it now                         2%
  5. No opinion                                                                                                                   5%

Fans divided fairly evenly between wanting the season to restart or not but a significant percentage (around a quarter) have come to terms with it. It is hardly a ringing endorsement of the PL’s decision however you look at it.

If you’re a Season Ticket Holder did you receive an email communication from the club giving you the opportunity to get a match day pass to watch the rest of Arsenal’s home matches in Season 2019/20 for free?

  1. Yes, I took up the offer                              21%
  2. Yes, but I didn’t take up the offer           36%
  3. No                                                                  18%
  4. Not applicable                                             24%

AISA asked a similar question on Twitter at the weekend and of 68 responses 60% said they had never received an email.

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AISA emailed Arsenal last week (two days ahead of the Norwich game) to ask what the policy had been on this. The club still hasn’t explained their policy or why some of these invitations seem to have ended up in spam folders (unlike the usual communications from the club). Rest assured AISA will be seeking answers to both these questions at the next Arsenal Supporters’ (Fans) Forum.

What is your view on watching football on TV with the added artificial crowd noise?

  1. Like it                         23%
  2. Loathe it                    43%
  3. No opinion                34%

What’s your opinion of the introduction of additional substitutes & water breaks for the remainder of Season 2019/20?

  1. Agree with it                                                                                                                     48%
  2. Don’t agree with it (the integrity of the season has been compromised with additional subs and water breaks)                                                                              37%
  3. No opinion                                                                                                                        13%

Would you like the additional substitutes & water breaks to continue for Season 2020/21?

  1. Yes                                                                                                                                      21%
  2. No                                                                                                                                       74%
  3. No opinion                                                                                                                          6%

So while most of you are comfortable with the temporary introduction of water breaks and additional substitutions this is a fairly clear message to the PL that it shouldn’t become a permanent feature once ‘normality’ returns.

Would you support Season 2020/21 starting behind closed doors or with a phased return of supporters as permitted by Government guidelines?

  1. Yes                                                                                                                                       40%
  2. Yes, but only if TV coverage is free to air                                                                    25%
  3. No, delay the season until all fans can return together                                           32%
  4. No opinion                                                                                                                           3%

We also asked those members who support Season 2020/21 starting with a phased return for their ideas on how the Club should decide who attends.  64% of members who offered comments said season ticket holders should return first and suggested a range of ways the club could decide how they could be selected:

  • length of ‘service’;
  • those who have tested negative for Covid-19;
  • ST holders under 40 years of age;
  • by rota or a random computerised draw or lottery (maybe get a player to push the buttons to publicise it) until every fan has been accommodated;
  • apply the system used for Wembley cup matches, based on attendance or credits during previous seasons;
  • those who live locally.

Others suggestions on who should attend were gold/silver/red members; disability members and age/minority members; box holders; away scheme season ticket holders. A number of members were clear in that there shouldn’t be any away supporters until everyone is allowed to attend.

Some members noted that there will be a lot of fans who won’t want to return until the pandemic situation is fully resolved so suggested that the club ask Season Ticket holders/Members to register their interest in attending the home games.  All should have the option to opt out of the season until things return to normal, those who don’t want to go, or those who do but aren’t selected, should receive an appropriate refund/credit.

Members suggested that once inside the stadium:

  • fans sit in every other seat in alternate rows, with social distancing at entrances, bars and toilets;
  • masks/face coverings should be compulsory;
  • no food or drink should be served;
  • hand sanitizer be made available at frequent locations;
  • everyone attending must provide their contact details;
  • pre-match entertainment is offered to discourage queuing and last minute arrival;
  • ‘bubbles’ are created to allow families/households to sit together while still maintaining social distancing

Members recognised that these are difficult issues and whatever is decided is not going to please everyone. Playing games behind closed doors is clearly far from ideal and it would be great if it could be avoided.  But it isn’t sustainable that clubs wait until a vaccine is found; Project Restart has proven that it is possible.

Other comments were more critical of the return of live football to our TV screens:

‘It proves that fans are not considered important to the Premier League.’

‘All that matters to them is money from the Broadcasters.’

‘It is ridiculous that the game is over-run by the needs of TV.’

‘Without fans the game is nothing’.

‘The farce currently taking place is ample justification for a reset and no attempt be made to begin the new season until fans can return without the need for social distancing.’

AISA will share the results of our survey with the FSA and with Arsenal – we all love to watch football and we all want to see Arsenal prosper but football fans are already highly marginalised, increasingly priced out of the game, subject to last minute fixture changes at the whim of TV, and expected to put up with all of this because we have no real market choice (we are not going to change the club we support just because we don’t like the way it does things).

The current pandemic is an opportunity to think about the way football is run and the access we all have to it. It is also an opportunity for those that run football to introduce measures – by the back door – to take it further away from those of us that love the game. AISA exists to challenge The Arsenal to do better than that.

Jo Denham and Drew Gray (AISA committee)

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