Supporters Need To Be Heard in ‘Behind Closed Doors’ Debate

Supporters have mixed views on how the League of Ireland should proceed in 2020 but are supportive of measures to help their clubs through the Covid-19 pandemic, a new survey by the Irish Supporters Network (ISN) has found.

Asked if they support ‘Behind Closed Doors’ for the League, 52.7% of participants said they were in favour with 47.3% against the idea. Feedback from individual supporters on this specific question included statements of support for their club’s long-term viability as well as a desire for supporters’ well being, both physical and mental, to be acknowledged and recognised in discussions.

Asked how supporters should be kept involved if Closed Games do proceed, a third (33.5%) of respondents stated a preference for a Fully Paid streaming service where everyone pays a fee followed by a service that would be available free to certain groups within the supporter base i.e. season ticket holders or club members (31.1%). A total of 27.3% stated a preference for the option: If it’s not safe for supporters, it’s not safe for anyone else. Just 8.7% of people stated a preference for a lottery-type system that would allow some fans to attend in small numbers while socially distancing inside the ground.

Asked if they would support measures to not allow away fans in grounds until social distancing measures are lifted, 65% of people were in favour, with 35% against.

An overwhelming majority of respondents were in favour of supporters being involved with the ongoing planning and discussions being held regularly at a national level – 81.5% saying fans should be involved, with 18.5% saying otherwise.

Demonstrating their understanding of how precarious finances are for many clubs at the moment, a majority of participants (58.7%) stated a preference for some level of consideration for their 2021 season ticket renewal as the top remedy in the event of Closed Games going ahead. Second was an exclusive club event for season ticket holders (21.3%), 17.6% said they would be satisfied with a voucher or other non-monetary compensation while 16.4% of respondents believe an option for a partial refund is needed.

Finally, when asked if their club had engaged with supporters on this topic, 63.8% said No with 36.2% saying Yes. Again, feedback included sympathy that clubs are also working in unchartered territory at present alongside a desire to be included and acknowledged.

The findings of the survey reflect the ongoing discussion and debate seen right across the league at the moment – confusion, uncertainty, anxiety for the future. Supporters are key stakeholders in the League of Ireland and our clubs, literally, would not survive without the financial and volunteering contributions made right throughout the year and not just at grounds on match night.

ISN is fully supportive of efforts to try and find the safest way back to playing football but we would like to see discussion and planning around a pathway for supporters to return to grounds in due course alongside the other considerations being worked through by clubs, the PFAI and the FAI at present. If League of Ireland fixtures become something supporters are excluded from – for whatever reason – without any consultation, the ‘loss of habit’ could have a permanent and devastating effect. And that’s something no one wants to see.

The full survey results can be downloaded Behind Closed Door findings.

ISN wishes to highlight and acknowledge the support of our fellow supporters’ organisations – CRISC and YBIG Mandate – in sharing the survey. All three groups have continued to work together to improve the experiences of all supporters in Irish football since being included on FAI Council for the first time last summer.

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Background:  The Irish Supporters Network (ISN) first came together in 2013 as a way for League of Ireland supporters and supporter-owned clubs to cooperate. Founded as a federal cooperative in 2016, it advocates for community ownership and supporter involvement in Irish football. Since May 2019, it has worked closely with CRISC and YBIG Mandate on topics that affect all supporters in Irish Football.