A national membership scheme for UK football fans – outlined in the Football Supporters Bill – is intended to eliminate hooliganism inside football grounds by creating an army of identity cardwielding fans. Everyone wanting to watch League football will have to become a member. The Football Membership Authority – representing the Football League and Football […]
A national membership scheme for UK football fans – outlined in the Football Supporters Bill – is intended to eliminate hooliganism inside football grounds by creating an army of identity cardwielding fans. Everyone wanting to watch League football will have to become a member. The Football Membership Authority – representing the Football League and Football Association – has to implement a system in 1990, and is working with consultants Arthur Young and prospective suppliers to that end. Costing anything between UKP6m and UKP72m, depending on equipment and configuration, the system will have to deal with an estimated three million members in the first year. The Membership Authority is to have control over what information is held on members, the idea being to create a ‘hotlist’ of fans deemed to have committed football related offences and ban them from attending games by checking each card against it. Over 100 interested companies are waiting on the bench, hoping to be given a game. Inflated transfer fees The hotlist of offenders will number something under 6,000 based on last year’s arrest figures – in which 2,000 games were watched by 18m fans (actually, they’re counting the same ones over and over again, but football is dazzled by its inflated transfer fees). There are 4,600 turnstiles in operation around the country – Arthur Young reckons that computerised identity cards will mean a minimum admission time of five seconds per spectator – significant, considering an estimated 600 people a second pass into grounds at the peak time, around 2.45pm on a Saturday afternoon. As far as clubs are concerned, the system will be a tailored database of some sort where input is linked to identity. It will have to ensure that a particular card is not used more than once for each game, be robust enough to cope with the transaction rates anticipated, and function in a range of adverse operating conditions – including bad weather – without breaking down. The payoff? A mailing list of 3m or more potential customers represents an enormous marketing opportunity. Either the League clubs will pay for the system – and take the resulting commercial benefits – or a company will install the system free in return for control over the commercial spin-offs. But who pays? Cynical old Jack Dunnett, president of the Football League has observed, we have got companies lined up who say they will install the system for nothing, but no one gets anything for nothing. The fans pay one way or another. What are the technological implications? A handful of companies have tendered to provide all the team kit – any contract may be split amongst several – though a Unix system looks the most likely option. Most important team choice is for the card spot, and there are a number of contending players: magnetic stripe, bar code, watermark and Smart. Who are the players? A consortium of Aquix Holdings, Genesis Advanced Computing Ltd, Unisys and Polaroid Corp, have proposed a system costing around UKP10m. Aquix is to supply the access control devices using bank-type automatic teller machine cards, with mugshots provided by Polaroid.
By William Fellows
Unisys would provide a central Unix based computer, and Genesis the software. Each card reader and con-trol unit would be on line to a local database containing the hotlist, and membership details of home and visiting fans. Realtime back up would be provided for an estimated total system failure of 1 in 10,000 hours. Overnight batch processing via Telecom Gold would update the central processor with data from local sites, and newly compiled hotlists returned. A charge of UKP5 per card would be re imbursed through national discount schemes on travel and other goods. Advertising space would be sold on the card and a mailing list compiled from membership details on the central database sold to industry. The scheme is based primarily on experience from one club, Luton Town. Its much publicised identity card scheme was developed by Aquix, but has un-dergone three complete system changes in as many years. Even now the m
agnetic swipe readers at Luton oft-en break down, and fans are admitted on a visual inspection of cards: no readers means no method for checking validity. A system recently installed at Plymouth Argyle’s Home Park stadium by Aquix – similar to the one described above – did not work at all. Luton, with an average attendance of 9,000, a total membership of 18,000 – more than Kenilworth Road’s capacity – have seen a 30% fall in gates and revenue since installation, a figure likely to be reflected around the country. Bull HN is contesting for a place in the team with a system based on the use of its Smart card – which has an on-board processor. Cards would be checked by portable, telephone-sized readers at turnstiles, with hotlist details downloaded from club personal computers. The central processor and database would be Unix-based. Advantages of this system include its portability – more readers could be brought in for big games – and updating is done on the card itself. The main drawback is cost, Smart readers are relatively inexpensive, but the price of the card itself is high – Bull gives no indication of how or who would pay. GEC has proposed using its Smart Cards, which use an inductive nocontact communication system between card and reader. Cards are wiped over a scanner for both reading and writing – a transaction time of 0.1 second at the turnstile is claimed – much faster than other systems. Watermarked coupons Again technology costs are high: Aquix says it could produce the magnetic cards for around 50 pence each – readers for UKP35 whilst GEC Smart cards would cost UKP5, readers would at least UKP50. An intriguing last minute addition to the team list is Check Technology, manufacturing 40% of the cheque books used in this country. Check-In is based on a watermarked book of coupons, one for each game – UKP2 for the lot – issued to every member of the scheme. Each coupon would bear a digitised photo, the relevant one would be torn out of the book on entry to the ground. The main disadvantage is that books invalidated by the hotlist would somehow have to be removed from the offender to ensure that persons’ nonattendance at the next game. But it is the cheapest system on offer, at UKP6m, there’d be no electronic card readers, no computer, nothing – theoretically – to go wrong. The Data Protection Act has implications for companies wishing to buy and use the list of members, especially where it is used to recoup the cost of the system. Under the terms of the Act members will be able to exclude themselves from the list, and as Jack Dunnett observes, if everyone says they don’t want to be on it – then there is no list to sell! – but few have bothered to opt out of mailing lists that way. The government wants clubs to pull themselves together and act like businesses – certainly there is a need for improved economic and administrative structures in the game – but any business treating its customers the way football fans are treated would surely go bust: yet fans are still prepared to turn out to watch their teams. Whatever the outcome, it seems that the much maligned football fan will again be privileged to pay more to watch the same. Here we go, here we go, here we go…