A lot has happened on and off the pitch in 2016 - so here's a round-up of some of our work from 2016...
We started the year by looking at the draconian coach travel restrictions still faced by football fans. FSF caseworker Amanda Jacks outlined how football fans running commercial coaches have to inform police before travelling, can’t eat and drink when and where they please and have their arrival times dictated to them. No other followers of any other sport or leisure activity face such restrictions.
"I think they are draconian, intrusive and appear to achieve little more than extra work for the already under pressure police and aggravation for supporters," Amanda said.
January also saw a step-forward in supporter engagement with the publication of the Government’s Expert Working Group recommendations. The report said that the supporters’ voice must be listened to by the football authorities and clubs, leading to the beginning of structured dialogue.
February was a huge month for ticket prices – with Liverpool fans staging a walkout at Anfield over price hikes planned for the 2016/17 season. Thousands walked out in the 77th minute, chosen to highlight the eye-watering £77 in the club’s new ticket price structure.
At the time, FSF national council member Roy Bentham said: “It's imperative that the Liverpool supporters win this battle for affordable football. The ramifications for other fans around the country will be massive.”
The club would eventually back down and re-examined its pricing for 2016/17.
Elsewhere, an FSF-led campaign on FA Cup final tickets enjoyed a big win – with the FA agreeing to give an additional 7,000 final tickets to the competing finalists. More tickets in the hands of real fans.
The long-running Twenty’s Plenty campaign continued to keep the pressure up on the Premier League clubs in March – with fans lobbying their club chairmen and CEOs directly.
A major breakthrough then came with the announcement of a £30 cap on away ticket prices. FSF chief exec Kevin Miles said: "The FSF is delighted with the announcement of a £30 cap - the FSF has campaigned around the issue of ticket prices along with supporter groups around the country and we're very pleased the voice of fans has been listened to.
"A maximum price of £30 for away tickets will save a lot of fans a lot of money, and for many will make the difference between attending away games or not.”
"A city and its people were exonerated," said FSF and Spirit of Shankly’s Roy Bentham as the long-awaited Hillsborough inquest verdict was delivered. More than 27 years after the disaster a packed coroner’s court in Warrington heard that the 96 football fans died as a result of the tragedy were unlawfully killed.
The inquest jury also said that supporter behaviour did not contribute to the disaster, but there was lack of communication, coordination and command and control by police.
"Since the disaster I’d wrestled with my conscience over where the blame lies and why we ordinary working class people had been tarnished,” Roy said. “Here I was witnessing total vindication."
In May our Fans’ Embassy expertise was put to good use in Basel as Liverpool played Sevilla in the Europa League final – with tens of thousands of Reds turning up in the Swiss city. Together with Spirit of Shankly and the Liverpool Supporters’ Committee we produced a special edition of the Away Goals fanzine to help Liverpool fans find their way around the city.
Despite winning promotion to the Premier League, the relationship between Hull City and its supporters deteriorated further with the unveiling of its new ticket price scheme. Gone was the traditional season ticket, concessions for young and old, and in came a new subscription-style membership scheme. City fans made their feelings known with a red card protest at the KC Stadium, not to mention the countless empty seats seen this season.
June saw the launch of our joint report with the Sports Ground Safety Authority, the first of its kind, arguing for greater inclusion of supporter representatives in safety planning.
We’ve always known that listening to supporters is integral to match-day safety – and this report argues that supporter representatives should be included on local authority safety advisory groups (SAGs).
Across the channel, the Euro 2016 tournament in France threw some immense challenges at our Free Lions Fans’ Embassy team. England fans were subject to numerous pre-planned attacks ahead of their group stage game against Russia, then again during and after the fixture at the Stade Velodrome.
"That these attacks were allowed to happen at all raises crucial questions about the role of the French police,” we said at the time. “We need the French authorities to ensure that England fans are able to enjoy Euro 2016 in the carnival mood at which we excel, safe from aggression and encouraged to party."
More good news for the Twenty’s Plenty campaign arrived in July as Reading FC introduced a £20 cap on away tickets at the Madejski Stadium for the 2016/17 season – with the Championship now having more expensive away tickets than the Premier League on average, the Berkshire club urged others to follow their lead.
Celtic unveiled their new safe standing section in July too, with the rail seating section packed out at Celtic Park for a friendly against Hamburg. Demand for the safe standing section has been high - the 2,975 spaces selling out immediately to season ticket holders during the renewals process. Safe standing campaigner Jon Darch said: “It's a huge investment in spectator safety, in passion, colour, noise and atmosphere.”
Blackburn Rovers has become a “toxic brand” under the ownership of the Venky’s, said a coalition of Rovers’ fans in August. As the relationship between club and fans reached a nadir at the start of the new season, and Rovers Trust called on the current regime to sell the club as soon as possible. Supporters held demonstrations, took anti-Venky’s banners into the stands at Ewood and launch a PR campaign against the owners in their native India.
The role of sponsors also came under the spotlight in August as Virgin Media became partners with the FSF and enabled the introduction of Twenty’s Plenty at St Mary’s Stadium, in their role as Southampton sponsors. The broadband company will be subsidising all away tickets on the south coast this year, meaning no adult ticket will cost more than £20. It will save a lot of travelling fans a lot of money!
Controversial plans to shake-up the English Football League, known as the “Whole Game Solution” were taken to its 72 clubs in September. These included reforming the size of the divisions, moving FA Cup rounds to midweek and the introduction of a winter break.
We polled our members on the proposals and many of them proved to be deeply unpopular with match-going fans – 60% of fans did not support a change to the size of the EFL’s divisions. most fans were absolutely (37%) or broadly (24%) opposed to the idea of a winter break. The Whole Game Solution would later be abandoned by the EFL.
Bristol City fans launched a challenge to West Midlands Police over "unjustified" use of dispersal powers following their away game in Birmingham. A useful test case for supporters on new dispersal being used by police forces, we’ll be keeping a keen eye on it.
Brighton and Hove Albion threw their support behind safe standing in October, pledging to investigate the viability of rail seating at the Amex. The club will be consulting its supporters about where and how it should be implemented ahead of any changes to legislation allowing the return of standing areas. Alan Wares, from The Albion Roar radio show and podcast said: "I'm really proud that Albion are taking the lead on this.
"I'm hoping other football clubs follow Brighton’s lead and engage their own fans in similar discussions."
A new Premier League rule was announced in November, to come into force next season, which says host clubs must provide some pitchside accommodation for visiting away fans. Of the current 20 Premier League clubs, only Sunderland would have to alter their ground configuration to comply with the new rule. Similarly, Championship leaders Newcastle United would also be in breach of the rule with their current away section should they gain promotion.
“We’re pleased to see this step taken,” said FSF chief exec Kevin Miles. "Placing away fans up in the gods may appear to give home teams a competitive advantage, but often in reality this kills the atmosphere for everyone on matchday, this is why we've been lobbying for such a rule to be introduced.”
There was more good news on disorder and policing – with football-arrests remaining at historically low levels. The arrest statistics released by the Home Office, covering the period from July 2015 to July 2016, show that 1,895 football related arrests were made - a 20% decrease since the 2011-12 season. Although arrests were up marginally, the number of active football banning orders (2,085) fell by 4%. However, 542 new football banning orders were issued this year - a 12% increase on the previous season.
The annual FSF Awards were a huge success once again, this year being held in partnership with Virgin Media.
200,000 votes were cast in this year’s Awards – the most we’ve had yet. Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho was named Men’s Player of the Year at ceremony. Coutinho topped the fans’ vote, holding off stiff competition from 2014 winner Sergio Agüero. Dele Alli, Riyad Mahrez, Mesut Özil and Dimitri Payet made up the rest of the shortlist.
Accepting the award on his behalf, Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp said: "Being the supporters’ player of the year is one of the biggest honours a player can get. It’s a really nice prize and I’m happy for him."
In total, 13 categories were decided on the night, including two debut awards - the Fans for Diversity award and the Women's Player of the year award. There were two debut awards this year – the Fans for Diversity Awar (won by the Bangla Bantams) and Women’s Player of the Year (picked up by Arsenal ‘keeper Sari Van Veenendaal).
Sky Sport's Martin Tyler once again picked up commentator of the year, while his Monday Night Football colleague Jamie Carragher won Pundit of the Year for the second time.