WHUISA Open Letter to the OSB

WHUISA issue this open letter in response to finalised meeting minutes, produced by West Ham United, on behalf of the Official Supporters Board (OSB):

Dear Mr Chairman,

I am writing to you in direct response to a set of meeting minutes published by West Ham United on February 20th, 2019, on behalf of the club’s Official Supporters Board (OSB).

There is a section of the minutes, produced by the club and approved by all attendees, entitled “Independent Supporters Groups” which contains a number of inaccuracies and also mischaracterises WHUISA. I address them here in the order in which they are reflected in the minutes:

 

Membership of the OSB

The minutes refer to claims that WHUISA has been refused a place on the OSB.

No such claim has ever been made us, and we can confirm that we declined to participate in the process whereby proposed candidates obtained nominations from five other season ticket holders or members before putting themselves forward for selection.

As made in clear in our statement issued in October 2018, we declined to apply to join the OSB on the basis that it is not a democratically elected body, does not provide enough transparency for supporters and the fact that all minutes are taken and issued by the club rather than the OSB itself.

As an example, we would not be able to produce reports for our paying members regarding the content of any meeting, as West Ham United have insisted upon signing off on any minutes of the discussions. This is not independence.

We also acknowledge that members of the OSB have approached WHUISA on many occasions by phone, email and in person to request WHUISA consider joining.

In late 2018, WHUISA committee members met yourself and the vice-chair of the OSB, at your invitation. It was agreed that the meeting would not be advertised at the time, with WHUISA attending to determine if there was additional information which might change the position of the WHUISA committee, on behalf of our members. Unfortunately, you went on to a West Ham United based podcast prior to this, giving details of the meeting and apparently showed communications of the setup of this meeting to hosts of the podcast, in breach of the agreed terms.

WHUISA took the position after the meeting to keep its position of not joining the OSB.

Given our position as an independent representative body for supporters, it would be incompatible for our organisation to participate in a process whereby the members of the OSB could not credibly claim to be independent from the club.

We should therefore be grateful if you could remove the section of your minutes referring to WHUISA being denied access to the OSB.

 

The Disabled Supporters Board

WHUISA are unsure if the comments accredited to Cathy Bayford with regards to “taking credit” on “social media” relate to WHUISA and an attempt to claim credit for the work of the Disabled Supporters Board.

There is nothing within WHUISA’s social media output, online presence or public statements that makes such a claim, and we are fully supportive of the work being done by Cathy and her colleagues.

We should therefore be grateful if you could either update the minutes to reference the specific group that Cathy Bayford is concerned with, or make clear that the group in question is not WHUISA.

 

Communication with supporters

The minutes also refer to the OSB as being the only formal conduit between West Ham United and supporters.

We note that it is a Premier League requirement that all clubs must engage with supporter groups, and, with the exception of West Ham United, each of them does this by meeting with their Independent Supporters Association or Trust.

When setting up the OSB, the club approached both the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) and Supporters Direct (SD) for guidance on how to establish dialogue with fans. Both organisations told the club to speak to WHUISA in accordance with standard Premier League practice. The club chose to ignore this advice.

We note that the members of the OSB were selected by a panel consisting of the Chair of the Supporters Club, the Head of the Premier League’s Quality Assurance scheme, and former player Carlton Cole.

No member of the OSB has been elected on to the body by supporters, and at the time of writing there is no way for a member to be removed by the supporters they purport to represent.

By contrast, the WHUISA committee has been elected from our membership, and each individual must stand for re-election every year.

 

Attendance at Premier League meetings

We note your comment that you wish to attend Premier League meetings on behalf of West Ham United supporters.

While the club may wish to send delegates from the OSB to Premier League meetings, it is the FSF who determine the groups which represent their member clubs at the relevant meetings.

At present the FSF do not recognize the OSB as an association or trust that represents West Ham United fans nationally.

As WHUISA are one of only two independent, democratic and formally recognised FSF affiliate for West Ham United, and we will continue to attend all meetings, representing our membership with the Premier League, as we have always done. We will also continue to attend forums with similarly constituted supporter groups at Premier League level. We note that the OSB will not be able to do this, as you are unique in being a body who are not independent of the club.

The FSF have confirmed to WHUISA that while members of the OSB would not be able to attend the formal structured dialogue meetings with the Premier League, they would be welcome at FSF Premier League supporter network meetings and for them to contact info@fsf.org.uk for more information in this regard. 

The Met Police Independent Advisory Group (IAG) is not run by the Metropolitan Police, but by the FSF affiliated London based associations and trusts. The IAG is run by a Chair, voted in by supporter representatives. Requests to join the IAG must be made through the Chair of the IAG and not via individual police officers, as suggested in the OSB minutes.

All supporter representatives at the IAG are from Independent Associations and Trusts from all London clubs. The IAG is entirely independent of club officials, who may only attend by invite or if their request to attend is approved by the Chair after consultation with IAG members.

We should therefore be grateful if you could update the section of your minutes referring to attendance at Premier League meetings to reflect your unaffiliated status with the FSF. The current version would appear to suggest that you believe you can simply attend meetings without a mandate to do so.

 

Summary

It is WHUISA’s opinion that the club’s ongoing refusals to constructively engage with us, or anyone else who contacts the club, in favour of its own chosen construct is not a healthy position for the fanbase, or the club itself.

We stand ready to engage in dialogue with the club on a whole range of issues at any time, however they refuse to engage with us constructively, rather inviting us to go via the OSB. We do not consider it an appropriate representation of our membership to do this. 

While the FSF are aware of some clubs being unwilling to engage with supporter organisations it is, to the best of their knowledge unprecedented, that a club demands that issues a democratic organisation wish to raise with them are channelled instead via individual supporters comprising the OSB who ultimately have no mandate from the wider fan base.  

As an example, within the minutes produced by West Ham United, there are only two lines in relation to stewarding. WHUISA has contacted the stadium owners and West Ham United numerous times in relation to safety and security issues (many raised as part of our Match Day Service) with several important questions remaining unanswered. This is a material point for supporters, large numbers of whom have contacted us with concerns after their match day experience has been negatively impacted by stewarding both outside and within the stadium.

If security and safety issues only take up two lines of a set of meeting minutes, there is a legitimate concern that issues raised are not being addressed properly or given the due care and attention they deserve.

We would like to acknowledge that, like ourselves, the members of the OSB are volunteers who are giving up their time in service of supporters. The group deserves credit for being able to canvass opinion in relation to catering and being able to provide that information to West Ham United, to hand to an external company (Delaware North) for consideration. We absolutely agree that positives like sensible food and drink pricing, as well as meal deals should be encouraged.

However, there are broader issues which need to be addressed such as (for example), safeguarding concerns around security checks on minors, director remuneration and shareholder loans which we think are unlikely to be raised in an environment where OSB members are not truly independent of the club.

We also consider it to be wholly unsatisfactory that there is no democratic process to elect or replace those members.

WHUISA will continue to remain independent of West Ham United, being a “critical friend” for the football club we all love, and an advocate for our members.

We wish to note that the content of the OSB meeting was not disclosed in any way to WHUISA until the minutes of this meeting were read on the evening of 20/02/19.

Should you wish for WHUISA to attend the next meeting of the OSB to advise on the inaccuracies in your minutes, we would be happy to do so.

Yours sincerely

 

John Ratomski

Chair – West Ham United Independent Supporters Association