WHAT WAS YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THE 2012/2013 SEASON? THE POSITIVES, THE NEGATIVES, AND AN OVERALL “RATING” OUT OF 10…?
It was a bit of a roller-coaster – a great start, then a poor run, then a good run, then a poor run again. It was nice to finish on a high note, both with the 3-0 win at Swansea and the U18 Final. From season 08/09 onwards we enjoyed perhaps the best spell in the Club’s history. There was always going to be some form of transition, but that’s inevitable if you want to run the Club sensibly and I think we went through that a bit last season.
I’d give the campaign a 7 – taking into account the various successes at Academy level and all things considered a 12th place finish wasn’t too bad. Overall I think we’re in good shape and I really do believe our fans can have confidence in the way the Club is run and is building for the future.
WHO WAS YOUR FULHAM PLAYER OF THE SEASON?
I’d give it to Brede, but there’s really not much to choose between perhaps 5 or 6 candidates. However, his contribution over the past few seasons has been absolutely immense so that tips it in his favour for me.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE EVER FULHAM MOMENT?
Probably the Juventus game. It was Roy of the Rovers stuff and such a fabulous atmosphere. I was out on Stevenage Road, lugging the giant centre circle banner back into storage when Juve scored. I’d also just belted my head off a railing and was wet through after stepping in front of a pitch sprinkler. I remember thinking it was going to be a bloody awful evening, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I was in the Press Room when Bobby equalised, the Control Room when Zolly bagged the third and right down the front of the Hammy End, by the photographers, when Clint chipped in that winner. My favourite moment, however, was the 2nd goal. I happened to be heading along the Riverside walkway, en route to meeting a fan at half-time and had the perfect view of Gera sweeping the goal in and a brilliant perspective of the raw emotion of the crowd. It was some night.
WHO IS THE BEST FULHAM PLAYER YOU HAVE SEEN SINCE WE HAVE BEEN IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE, AND WHY?
I’d say Duffer is probably my favourite. He’s a great player with a terrific attitude and he plays the position very shrewdly. My wife is Irish and I lived there for a spell, so I do feel a natural affinity for the boys in the green. I also enjoy his penchant for hunched shoulders and huffing and puffing. In that respect he’s a similar player to me, but sadly that’s where the comparison ends I’m afraid.
IF YOU HAD ONE SENTENCE TO DESCRIBE YOUR POSITION AT THE CLUB, WHAT WOULD THAT BE?
We’re (my team) a liaison and point of first contact for our fans, representing their views and providing information and assistance.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR POSITION?
Matchdays and getting out and about, meeting fans. As a football club we spend all week (or summer) building towards the next 90 minutes and it’s great to be a part of that, especially when it’s going well.
HOW HAS YOUR JOB CHANGED FROM WHEN YOU STARTED AT FULHAM?
The biggest change is that I now work matchdays. When I arrived it was more of a 9 – 5 job. Meeting people at games is a great way to build relationships, gather ideas, suggestions, or to help with problems, so for me it’s been a positive process.
Adapting to the changing nature of communications has been a big development. Even 5 or 6 years ago more people used to pick up a phone, whereas now we’ll handle larger volumes of email and more recently social media interaction. As long as we adapt to best suit our fans and their own busy lifestyles, then there’s no right or wrong way to keep in touch to people.
HOW MUCH OF AN HONOUR WAS IT TO RECEIVE YOUR WELL-DESERVED 'VISITFOOTBALL UNSUNG HERO AWARD' IN RECOGNITION OF YOUR WORK AT FULHAM WITH THE SUPPORTERS?
It was a surprise, more than anything else, but naturally I was delighted to receive it. I tend to view it more as a reflection of the Club than a personal achievement. Everything we do in here is very much a team effort and anything I’ve managed to do personally comes as a consequence of our values and the way the Club operates.
SO TOMORROW MORNING, THE CHAIRMAN STROLLS UP TO YOU AND SAYS "TOMMY MY FRIEND, I HAVE DECIDED THAT AS A REWARD FOR YOU BEING AN “UNSUNG HERO”, WE WILL HAVE ANOTHER STATUE AT THE COTTAGE. YOU CHOOSE THE SUBJECT". WHO WOULD IT BE, AND WHY?
If anyone deserves a statue then it’s our Chairman, so I’d probably suggest he commissions one of himself.
ARE THERE ANY UPCOMING CHANGES TO THE CLUB FOR THE NEW SEASON THAT YOU ARE OVERSEEING AND CAN MENTION TO US?
I’m looking at our Club Charter at the moment, in particular some developments for appeals processes and our away travel. We’re also not far off resubmitting our Kick It Out Equality Standard bid and we should be ready to do that before the season starts.
We’re keen to increase the number of post-match ‘mini forums’ next season at the Cottage. The idea is to meet informally with different types of fan, from senior citizens to first time Season Ticket Holders etc, and get their unique perspective and ideas. We’re very much open to suggestions on this front and I’d encourage anyone to contact me directly if they have any thoughts, or would like to take part.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTRODUCED TO MAKE THE CRAVEN COTTAGE EXPERIENCE BETTER FOR THE FANS?
That’s a good question. My instinct is to be quite protective of our atmosphere, as we have a unique ground and a special environment, enjoyed by the vast majority of visitors. Where possible I think initiatives that drive atmosphere should be organic and guided by our fans. They tend to be the ones that work the best.
In terms of the overall experience, although we are a little constrained by space, we can continue to refine our concourses, particularly the toilets and looking at signage and other ways to maximise the best overall use of space.
Personally I’d love to see uplighting use to pick out the features on the front of the Haynes Stand facade, as is commonly done with other monuments and old buildings. That would make for a spectacular arrival down Stevenage Road, or the alphabet streets, for night games.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PRE-MATCH RITUALS?
None at all, I’m afraid. Beyond trying to be there on time!!
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME TO RELAX? GOLF?
Golf, the way I play it, is not a relaxing experience. I enjoy running and I’ve always found that a good way to clear your head and order your thoughts. I also enjoy cycling and dabble a bit in social dancing, although I’m about as good at that as I am at golf.
In terms of other sports, I enjoy watching tennis and baseball, although it’s hard to find time to do the latter once the football season gets going. You’ll find me at the theatre from time to time, and pretending to know a bit about art and music.
JUST HOW HARD DO YOU LOBBY EVERY YEAR FOR A PRE-SEASON FRIENDLY AGAINST DUNDEE UTD?! AND IF IT HAPPENED, WHO WOULD YOU WANT TO WIN...?
There was a vague chance we might have met in the Europa League a few season back, but the draw took Dundee United over to Russia. We actually have good relations with United, having sent a few players on loan up there in recent times.
If the teams were to meet then I’d definitely enjoy it. I’m often asked if I’m a Fulham fan, and I am in as much as I want the team to do well and win games. As staff we do need to recognize that there is a fundamental difference between our role and that of a paying fan. We are all pulling in the same direction but the emotions, by necessity sometimes, are a little different. I need to be able to do my job regardless of the outcome of the game, or any disappointment, so you do need to be able to stay a little more detached in that regard, if you can.
Getting back to the question, I honestly wouldn’t mind who won that game, as long as it was a good one.
GIVEN HOW CLOSE THE TWO CLUBS ARE, WHAT MADE YOU SUPPORT DUNDEE UTD RATHER THAN DUNDEE?
By the time I got round to finding a team to support I was living near Glasgow, so my choice wasn’t really influenced by the local rivalry. At a young age I was taken to Hamilton Accies (the nearest stadium to my house) and they happened to be playing Dundee United. I think it was the colour of the kits that first appealed to me and after that I was hooked.
WHAT WOULD BE THE REACTION OF THE TWO SETS OF SUPPORTERS IF DUNDEE UTD AND DUNDEE ENDED UP SHARING A GROUND?
I imagine it would be fairly mixed, although personally I wouldn’t have a problem with it. The grounds are so close that fans already share a lot of the same pubs and matchday rituals. It’s a friendly rivalry and the supporter base for both teams is fairly even. I’m not sure if this hold true, but going back a few years it was statistically the safest derby match in the UK. Neither club is flush with cash, so financially a groundshare would appear to make sense as well. In my opinion the capacity of both stadiums is also too big and when occupancy levels are low it has a negative impact on the atmosphere.
DO YOU THINK JOHNNY RUSSELL AND GARY MACKAY-STEVEN COULD EVER BECOME CONSISTENT (ENGLISH) PREMIER LEAGUE PLAYERS? NOT FULHAM RELATED, I KNOW, BUT WITH BEING A DUNDEE UNITED FAN, IT WOULD BE INTERESTING TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK.
Johnny Russell recently signed for Derby and I think that’s probably the right move at the right time. If he gets a run in the side then I imagine he has the potential to develop further. GMS was on the books at Liverpool, so they obviously saw that potential in him at a young age. I really don’t get to many United games these days, so I haven’t seen all that much of either player first-hand. However, it’s great to see Scottish players in the SPL so I hope that both can make it. I’m told by friends that Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Gauld are the next ones to look out for.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH BILLY MCKINLAY? DID YOU TALK MUCH ABOUT HIS TIME AT DUNDEE UTD?
I thought I’d try to be professional when I first joined, so I deliberately didn’t tell Billy I was a fan. However, somebody else mentioned it to him and he was good enough to come into our office and share a few stories. I don’t see all that much of Billy day-to-day but he keeps in touch with how United are doing, so we talk about their progress from time to time.
WHAT IS THE ODDEST REQUEST YOU HAVE HAD TO DEAL WITH FROM A FAN AT FULHAM?
Somebody once sent a rubber glove in and asked us to get the players to sign it. I never did get to the bottom of why. Players are so used to signing things that most didn’t bat an eyelid. Angry letters from gamblers demanding compensation when our results go against them are always an amusing read. Much like the bookmakers, we don’t pay out!
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE COST OF THE CLUB'S MERCHANDISE?
I’m by no means a retail expert but I think it’s probably within an acceptable range by market standards. In general terms Adidas gear is little more expensive (and I would argue better made) than some other manufacturers, so inevitably there will be variations across different ranges. I’m a big fan of the new training gear. I think even I might look the part playing in that!
IF FULHAM WERE AN ANIMAL, WHAT ANIMAL WOULD IT BE (BADGER IS NOT AN ANSWER)?
I suppose it would need to be something traditional, quintessentially English, stoic, friendly, faithful and with a bit of drive and energy; Perhaps an English Mastiff – a white one, of course.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ALL ALONE AT CRAVEN COTTAGE? WHAT DID YOU DO?
There is 24 hour security at the stadium, so you are never truly alone at Craven Cottage. I have found myself there late in the evenings, after games or events. There is a wonderful, otherworldly ambience in empty football grounds after dark, especially the Cottage. It’s a special place.
IN MEMORY OF FINNSTER01, HAVE YOU EVER TAKEN USED THE RESTROOMS IN CRAVEN COTTAGE?
Have I ever used the toilets?!! Err, yes – once or twice. I hope that’s alright!
I should say it was wonderful the way the FoF board rallied around after Finnster passed. Some people talk disparagingly about online forums, but those simple messages and acts of kindness demonstrated how it can provide the very best elements of a community and long may that continue.
WHY CAN'T I HAVE THE BOTTLE TOP WHEN I BUY A BOTTLE OF COKE INSIDE THE GROUND?!? YOU KNOW IT’S GOING TO KICKED OVER WHEN EVERYONE JUMPS UP! IS IT REALLY BECAUSE PEOPLE MAY SLIP ON A BOTTLE WITH A TOP ON BUT ONE WITHOUT A TOP WILL JUST SQUASH?
You can. We looked at this with our Safety Officer when he arrived last year and you can now keep the top on a 500ml plastic bottle. You are right about the trip hazard, although a walkway is equally hazardous with a spilt drink on it, so for me it’s a question of objectively balancing the potential risks. It’s a rule I’m pleased we were able to change.
THANKS FOR HELPING ORGANIZE THE FOF TOUR OF MOTSPUR PARK LAST SEASON, JUST HOW MUCH THERAPY DID YOU NEED AFTER OUR VISIT?
None at all. I did a bit of tour guiding whilst I was at university in Edinburgh Castle and it’s something I like to do. It’s also nice to put faces to names and its interesting doing the research.
ASIDE FROM US, WHAT IS THE STRANGEST GROUP YOU HAVE EVER SHOWN AROUND MOTSPUR PARK?
I showed a film director round a while back. He was here to shoot a promotional video encouraging health checks in what you might term a ‘sensitive area’. That was slightly different from the everyday.
APART FROM THE EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL, WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE EUROPEAN TRIP WITH THE CLUB?
To be honest, the Final wasn’t my favourite. I very much enjoyed it but the weeks leading up to the game and the days in Hamburg were probably the busiest I’ve had here. By the time the match came around I was really quite exhausted and I didn’t get a lot of time to take it all in.
I was proud to be involved in it though, and to see so many Fulham fans there. There was a moment right at the end, where the ball slipped out for a goal kick and instinctively our supporters, knowing the game was up, began to clap the effort of the players. That is one that stays with me.
Bundling in the matches, the towns, the stadiums and the personal memories, I’d put Sofia and Split pretty near the top of my list. I was off getting married, so I missed to trip to Vilnius, but it’s one a lot of staff reminisce about.
WHAT IS THE CLUB'S STANCE ON PERSISTENT STANDING IN SEATED AREAS?
The Club is against it, but like any rule you need to use some discretion and common sense when applying it. If large groups of fans choose to stand then it’s potentially more dangerous and arguably unfair to make arbitrary ejections, which could lead to wider disorder. Personally I’d like to see the front areas of every away end reserved for the use of families and older fans, in part because it would help to alleviate this problem. It’s never really a big problem at the Cottage, except occasionally in the Putney End.
ARE AWAY FANS AND HOME FANS TREATED EQUALLY?
Historically no but increasingly more so; The Premier League has done a lot of good work in this area and our stadium is now professionally audited throughout the season. This allows us to benchmark our home and away matchday experience and the feedback/scores for our home and visiting areas is pretty consistent. It also gives us an insight into which other clubs do things well, which is very useful in terms of planning and making changes.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO STOP AWAY FANS GETTING INTO THE HAMMERSMITH END AND WHY DO THE STEWARDS DO NOTHING TO EJECT THEM?
The rationale is similar to the issue of persistent standing. Ejecting fans should be seen as a last resort and stewards will often monitor fans rather than risking wider disorder. The real reason you should throw a fan out is because their behaviour or actions are dangerous or anti-social – not on account of the team they support.
An away fan in the wrong part of the ground has the potential to be a big problem, of course, but personally I don’t agree with ejecting a fan who respects their environment and is simply watching the game. Our stewards will often move fans to the Putney End - if space allows it and they are comfortable with their general behaviour. Our Control Room can also monitor areas in detail using CCTV, so often there is more going on to ensure crowd safety than you may think.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF MAN UTD STEWARDS?
I don’t see them every week, but like most clubs I’m sure there are more good ones than bad ones. I know they press the persistent standing rule more vigorously than some clubs, which is their prerogative. It’s important to remember that stewards conduct operations at ground level, but they don’t make policy decisions – that comes higher up the chain. There’s no excuse for rudeness or lack of respect and that has to be a two-way street between staff and fans.
DO YOU EVER FEEL FRUSTRATED IN HAVING TO SEND OUT A 'STANDARD LETTER OF RESPONSE' WHEN CERTAIN ISSUES CROP UP AND WANT TO REPLY WITH YOUR OWN POINT OF VIEW AND TELL IT HOW IT IS?
I’m not a fan of standard letters. I don’t like receiving them and I don’t like sending them. Across the department we always try to pen individual responses to letters and emails – that’s one of our golden rules. However, if a lot of people contact you on the same issue at the same time, then standard replies of some description are required, simply to allow you to respond and relay information in an acceptable amount of time.
ARE THE CLUB AWARE OF THE MASSIVE VOID AT THE BACK OF THE HAMMERSMITH END WHICH AFFECT THE PROJECTION OF THE FANS ACTUAL LOUDNESS?
We are. We had a company in to assess it a while back but it was awkward to find a solution we were comfortable with, so at the moment it is unlikely to change. It might be something we look at once some other work has been completed – at the moment we are focusing on upgrades to the concourse areas and the toilets which should make a difference.
WHY DO YOU THINK WE FIND IT SO DIFFICULT TO WIN AWAY?
Winning away matches isn’t easy. Last season we managed 4 away victories, a mark that was bettered by only 10 teams in the division, and we finished 12th.
If you take 4 as a mark and look back over the past 5 seasons (roughly the period I’ve been at the Club), then that holds up as an average. Each season 10 teams (with a high of 12) fail to better 4 away victories.
I’m afraid I don’t know the answer, but our documented “away problems” are exaggerated somewhat by the fact we experienced a tough few years on the road after joining the league. Although not spectacular, more recently our away form has been steadier and over time it’s a gradually improving trend. Hopefully that will continue.
IS THE GENERALLY POOR FOLLOWING AT AWAY GAMES A CONCERN FOR THE CLUB? IF SO, ARE THERE PLANS TO TRY AND INCREASE THE TRAVELLING FANBASE?
I never like hearing our away contingent described as poor, as I think it’s very unfair on the ones who are actually there. We may not have the most, but we most definitely have some of the best travelling fans in the league. Of course we would like to see more fans travelling and have been encouraged by the lift in attendances in recent years. I feel part of the answer lies in league-wide negotiations with train companies, on APEX fares and refunds, so I hope that’s something the league can develop.
Our supporter base has grown quickly over a short span of time, so I also feel it will improve naturally as some of our younger fans begin to get to an age where they can travel independently.
WHAT'S THE MOOD AROUND THE CLUB FOR THE NON-PLAYERS, AFTER WE LOSE A GAME? IS IT DESPAIR THAT WE LOST OR MORE DETERMINATION THAT WE'LL WIN THE NEXT?
Game-by-game I think most people dust themselves down and very quickly get focussed on the next fixture. It’s tougher when we go through a protracted period of poor form, but (touch wood) there haven’t been too many of those in my time here. And there’s always a spring in your step coming in after a big win.
WILL ANY OF THE CHICKENS GET RENAMED, RETIRED, TRANSFERRED OR EATEN WHEN THEIR PLAYER EQUIVALENT IS NO LONGER AT THE CLUB?
You make a good point. There may well need to be a rebranding exercise sooner rather than later!
I believe the hens lay eggs for about 3 years. There has already been talk of a retirement home for them after they leave. Personally I’d like to see them in the lounges on matchdays, alongside the other legends. The stories they could tell.
DO YOUR EVER LOOK IN ON THE FRIENDS OF FULHAM WEBSITE?
Yes, most days if I’m in the office.
WITH THE OLD OFFICIAL FORUM AND FANS PAGE BEING MADE REDUNDANT HOW IMPORTANT ARE THE INDEPENDENT SITES TO THE CLUB IN GAUGING ISSUES THAT BECOME A HOT TOPIC?
They are for me, as they are an excellent sounding board and gauge of current moods and topics. Social media is increasingly useful and used on that front as well.
HAVE THERE BEEN ANY INSTANCES WHERE FEEDBACK FROM THE INDEPENDENT SITES LED TO CHANGES BEING CONSIDERED OR MADE?
The most common examples are individual cases (ticket or retail problems say), where we can identify the supporter and step in and put things right. I’ll often send links to threads on a specific theme (catering as an example) to the relevant manager, so it’s fair to assume the feedback is digested and helps to shape their thinking.
HOW MANY FULHAM EMPLOYEES AND MEMBERS OF MANAGEMENT FOLLOW THE POSTINGS ON FRIENDS OF FULHAM TO GET THE PULSE OF THE FANS? WHICH ONES, IN PARTICULAR, IF YOU KNOW?
I couldn’t put a figure on it but lots of staff members view the boards, either through professional interest or simply to keep up with news. Sarah Brookes, our Communications and Digital Media Director, is one who keeps an active eye on developments, as does Michael Benedetto and other members of the Comms and Marketing team. There are quite a few people who supported the Club before they came to work here, so they very much have a foot in both camps as well.
IS IT TRUE THAT MIKE BENEDETTO'S NICKNAME AT FULHAM IS “THE DOUCHE”?
I’m happy to confirm that it isn’t!
He’s more commonly known as Michael round here than Mike – he’s very serious at work! I suspect the Douche reference stems from the fact he is occasionally (well, every day, actually) pulled up for using Americanisms in an English workplace. He did it yesterday with ‘tomato’. He never learns…
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR THE 2013/14 SEASON?
I hope for a strong showing in the Premier League and to see open and attractive football. It would be great to get to Wembley and we’re certainly capable of doing that.