On Thursday 25 October 2012, in response to a request from the Shields Gazette, we released the following comment to the newspaper:
“When Mike Amos first discussed the Secret Shopper campaign, a number of clubs raised concerns about the lack of clarity. The outcome the campaign desired, to improve the experience for supporters, is certainly one that we support, however, how to get to there was not set out.
Clubs were told they would be named and shamed and we requested, rightly in our opinion, for clubs to have full access and awareness of what we hoped would be a transparent and robust process.
We requested to know what governance guidelines would be in place, how the Secret Shopper reports would be checked for consistency and accuracy, and specifically what measures would be taken with the football clubs and individuals to ensure fairness and for improvements to be made.
We were told that there would be full engagement with clubs prior to anything appearing in public and that there would be no set out process.
The one thing we wanted to avoid was for anyone involved in grassroots football, regardless of their football club, to be publicly referenced in an inappropriate manner. Those involved in football at this level give up a lot of their free time, almost universally on a volunteer basis, and should be treated with respect and fairness.
The first we knew of Look North cameras being present at the Billingham Synthonia match was the morning after when Northern League Chairman Mike Amos made reference to it in his blog on the league’s official website.
The first we knew that we were the only club to be featured, and that only individuals from Hebburn Town were to be shown, was when we watched the feature on Wednesday.
Neither prior nor since have we received any communication from the league, or from anyone associated with the league, relating to the Secret Shopper campaign. This has been despite us attempting to arrange meetings to discuss the campaign further.
We are saddened that only one club has been highlighted in public, and the identification of individuals at Hebburn Town. If a campaign is required to eradicate swearing from football then that is because it is a widespread problem and not one person should be set out as an example.”
At no stage have we, Hebburn Town Football Club, expressed opposition to the intended result of any campaign, and indeed, as a football club we supported the FA’s Respect campaign when it was introduced to all Northern League member clubs before the start of the current season.
We are absolutely positive, regardless of any comments that say otherwise, that we have received zero feedback relating to the Northern League’s ‘Secret Shopper’ campaign since the start of the season. We will be seeking urgent discussions with the Northern League to discuss recent events, especially in view of comments carried on the league’s official website.
No-one from the Northern League has ever asked us, as a football club, what discussions have taken place internally over any period of time with regards to any issues or opinions that have been expressed either formally or informally. We will be seeking to clarify public comments that suggest otherwise.
We will also be seeking to discuss information presented in the Wednesday 24 October 2012 edition of Look North when only one Northern League club out of 46 was featured.
We will be conducting this in what we feel is the correct manner, through formal discussions in private. If there is any requirement to release further information publicly then we will do so as is deemed appropriate.
As a football club we recognise that improvements are still required in terms of achieving the aims of the FA’s Respect campaign and we will be actively seeking to do this.
We will be proactive where we can be and, hopefully with assistance from relevant parties, we will be reactive when we have to be, but in a timely manner. To assist with this, we will actively be seeking feedback which supporters can provide at any time by contacting us on email at email@example.com.
This will allow us to receive feedback in relation to both conduct and the supporter experience at our football matches. Other than being identified on Look North, and the absence of any feedback being received in relation to any ‘Secret Shopper’ reports, we feel that introducing our own mechanism for supporters to contact us to be the correct way to proceed. We also believe this to be a highly progressive step in the Northern League and will allow us to continuously improve, which should be the aim of every football club.
All players and officials are aware that they are ambassadors for both Hebburn Town Football Club and for the town. We recognise our social, community and footballing responsibilities and for that we absolutely understand that language which causes offence to anyone should be controlled. We wish to apologise to anyone who has been offended by any language at any of our games, whether this has been from anyone at Hebburn Town Football Club or any other party within the football ground that we are playing at.
Hebburn Town Football Club