By Alan Myers
Listening and reading the comments following Saturdays Debacle at the Emirates Stadium, one shout in particular stood out for me, not an unfamiliar demand but no less futile and ultimately damaging for football supporters.
“Everton should give us fans our money back,” proclaimed a number of irate, indeed angry souls, faced with a depressingly tiresome late night coach journey back to Merseyside. Whilst I fully sympathise with those supporters, and know only too well how hard they work for the one hundred plus pounds cost of such a journey and how freely they give that up to watch their beloved Blues, I believe such an action would be to their and the game’s detriment, I’ll explain why later.
Before I come to that however, I’d like to talk all things engagement and Communications.
When I re-joined my boyhood club back in 2013 as Director of Communications, I did so because I wanted to make a difference, not just with Everton but in the way football clubs engage and communicate with and to its supporters. You see, after over 27 years in football I’ve seen things from many aspects, as a fan of course, as a football club employee, a director, and from a media perspective, so I believe I am reasonably well placed to make a judgement.
When I reflect on my hugely enjoyable and exciting, albeit brief spell (seven months) back at the inextinguishable Goodison Park, I believe a couple of anecdotes in particular best demonstrate my point.
The first happened within the first seven days of my arrival, sat in my new office, the team and Roberto Martinez were away in America on a pre-season tour which I missed as I joined post departure. I was handed a letter from a very upset, over-fifty newly-become grandad. “I cannot believe I am unable, in August, to buy my first grandson’s first Everton kit, I have waited so long for this moment and now I’m told there is none, a shambles Everton,” the opening line read.
I looked at the letter, paused a moment and thought: “You’re right, it’s a shambles!” Rather than try and come up with some excuse, legitimate or otherwise, I thought “No! – this is the opportunity for me to really connect with this person as Everton!”
I looked for the address of the man. It happened to be in Aigbuth, so on my way home I took a detour and arrived at the house around 5 o’clock. On my arrival I knocked on the door, I had brought nothing, no sympathetic thank you or makeweight to appease the situation, I was armed only with the truth and an apology but most of all a listening ear to hear what I and we could do as a club to put this situation right.
The gentleman’s wife answered the door and after I explained who I was she told me her husband wasn’t home from work but I was more than welcome to wait for him. This I did, sat in the back kitchen waiting for the man who worked locally to arrive.
After a short time, he arrived home he came through to the kitchen. I stood up and offered out my hand and announced myself: “Alan Myers, Everton Football Club,” I said. He answered: “I know who you are.” He had an extremely shocked look on his face. “I wasn’t really having a go,” he said apologetically, as he tried to justify actually writing in to complain.
I quickly stopped him in his tracks and reassured him he was right to complain, right to question the poor service and right to stand up for himself as an Evertonian and to the club he loved.
He made a cup of tea, and we both sat down only to discover we had a mutual Everton hero in big Bob Latchford. We were about the same age and shared a lot of memories about the club and the games we had seen. We sat there for over an hour and a half.
Eventually we got back onto his grandsons kit (or lack of kit, as was the case). I told him I could not wave a magic wand there were no kits until September we hadn’t ordered enough. He said: “It doesn’t seem as bad now because you’ve explained it to me.” But that was the first time I saw that the very thing which gave us the problem was the very same thing which gave us both understanding. It was the essence of the football club, our mutual love for Everton and the realisation that all either of us wanted was to be happy as club and supporter, we just needed to communicate and engage to understand that.
His new grandson eventually got his new first Everton strip and he sent me a photograph of him proudly wearing it and of grandad proudly watching on! But imagine the alternative scenario, imagine I had pushed back his letter and told someone to write back to him and tell him they will be in in September. Imagine what we would’ve both missed out on?
I know I couldn’t go to every person‘s house that had a complaint about Everton, but to just go to one or just a few would allow people to understand that we listened and cared as I know the club staff do!
Fast forward three months and I experienced another moment where the essence of the club came to the fore once again, this time it involved one of the most familiar faces.
After a long drawnout and exhausting campaign to fix the club crest redesign fiasco, I decided to reveal the three alternatives which we would present to the supporters after the consultation period. At 10 o’clock the night before we were originally due to unveil them, a mixture of my impatience and my desire to not keep the fans waiting a minute longer than was necessary, forced me to do the big reveal.
In an atmosphere similar to the recent Leeds United crest furore (which brought it all back), the fans vented their anger at what they felt were not suitable alternatives to hold the name of Everton Football Club. After revealing the new designs at 10pm that evening, I sat on my settee at home until five in the morning answering angry supporters who wanted to express their disappointment. I was shattered both mentally and physically as I only wanted to please the supporters.
The next day I sleepwalked into Finch Farm and sat on my own, a seemingly beaten man in the corner of the canteen, shackled with the huge laminate boards which displayed the designs. Just as I began to think there was no hope, a voice enquired in a deep Scottish accent: “What’s wrong wi’ you pal?” I looked up to see the towering sight of Duncan Ferguson, the usually quiet, private and reserved Duncan Ferguson.
I explained my conundrum to the big man and he got us both a cup of tea and sat down at my table. “Let’s have a look then,” he demanded.
I opened up the case and took out the three boards. “I like that one,” he said without even being asked. A light went on in my head. A massive opportunity appeared in front of me!
“Would you do me a favour Dunc?” I asked. “Would you have a picture taken with the crest?”
He agreed, and with that proud but slightly scary look on his face (the one he saved for when he was running in front of the Kop), he posed for the picture, smack bang in the middle of the canteen. Within ten minutes social media was alive with “if Dunc says it’s ok then it’s good for me” shouts.
Once again, the essence of the club had brought us a solution to the problem. “What is the essence?” I hear you shout. Well it’s the fact that everything we do, everything we desire from our football club is a shared value; A club and supporter bond which, whilst sometimes lost, is always there, somewhere in us all.
What brings us our heartache is usually what gets us through it. That’s real engagement, that’s real communication, and it brings me back to my initial claim that getting a refund for a bad result is not the answer. That makes us something different, it makes us customers. We’re not – we never want to be and never will be customers.
We are a club, a member of that club and a part of a family that we all get and feel. It’s a shared essence and a mutual understanding.
We don’t buy a loaf of bread which we can take back if it tastes wrong, we accept bad days, we suffer losses and we come through those times as one and enjoy the rewards.
We cannot as fans, allow commercialism and consumer rights to bear that feeling of despair when we lose at Arsenal, it’s part of who we are. We need our club to be with us on the journey. Engage, communicate and let the fans know you have their backs!