Football clubs have become an easy target for criticism during the COVID-19 crisis.
Whilst many column inches have been written about clubs furloughing non-playing staff and players turning down pay cuts, not much has been written about the good clubs are doing within their community.
We sat down with Arsenal’s Supporters Liaison Officer Mark Brindle to discuss what the club are doing for Islington and beyond during the pandemic.
Q) Hi Mark, thank you for taking the time to take part in this, hope the families well. How has your daily working life changed?
No problem, the family is all well thankfully and hope that all The Gooners out there are staying well and safe as well.
Highbury House is shut which means I am currently working from home.
Unfortunately the working from home regime has meant that personally I have not been able to get as ‘hands on’ with our community programme being run out of the hub, but I have been trying to keep in touch personally with as many supporters as possible both individually and through various blogs and podcasts etc.
The club are in regular contact with us all; including daily calls on Microsoft Teams which have been very re-assuring for all.
One thing I am not particularly missing is the daily commute that takes nearly 2 hrs each way on a good day, although I am missing my colleagues at Highbury House and being in and around the stadium on a daily basis.
Q) With all of Highbury House closed down how have you found the communications between staff at the club?
Really good. We have daily calls where all our team get together and there are regular newsletters from the club 3 or 4 times a week plus we have a Monday conference with Vinai, Raul and Mikel.
This is really great as no questions are off the agenda and the executive team have been very clear and concise with there answers. Obviously we all read the same rumours that everyone does on social media and what I would say is that fans should take most if not all of them with a pinch of salt.
Q) How have you found your role of Supporters Liaison Officer (SLO) changing over the last month?
In a ‘normal’ season a lot of the work I do revolves around match days and planning for them be it home or away.
The suspension of the season has reduced the day to day tasks but it has enabled me to get on with some longer term projects revolving around not only match day but also looking to further develop our international and domestic supporters clubs and working with Box office on a few plans with regard to ticketing.
Alongside the longer term plans I now have more time to connect with supporters both individually and collectively.
Q) You are a regular face on the away day coaches. These are often used by senior fans who you see every other week. How are you staying in touch with them?
Basically calling them and trying to help with any issues. We have a great bunch of fans who travel to every away game on the coaches,
I don’t think they will mind me saying that many of them are of a senior nature (including myself) but they are there every single game and therefore I think there is a large chance that they will be missing their trips a great deal and I hope by staying in contact the club are helping if only in a small way.
Q) How have the club redeployed staff to help with The Arsenal Foundation and Arsenal in the Community?
The Community Team have been magnificent in this crisis and the Foundation have been massively supporting their efforts.
We have all been tasked with helping as much as we can and my main focus has been to use the contact base within supporters organisations to help solve any individual problems. Yesterday I was dealing with a request for a cab driver to help one of our regulars on the away coaches get to her workplace where she helps produce hand-sanitiser.
The club will be rolling out more initiatives in the coming weeks and the plan is for other departments to get further involved to help.
Q) Football clubs have had a lot of bad press during the COVID-19 crisis. A lot of what clubs are doing to help their local communities has not been reported. What have Arsenal been doing for Islington residents?
I do think that football clubs are something of an easy target. Discussing the matter with my opposite numbers at various clubs it is clear that all clubs are making a huge effort to help their local communities and further afield as well.
At the Arsenal we have lots of initiatives going on which include:
- 100k for local charities
- 50k to Islington Givings Crisis Fund
- Club Cars to help frontline NHS staff
- Staff volunteers to drive NHS staff
- Local School and pupil referral unit support
- Digital resources for primary schools
- BTEC tutors giving classes remotely
- Regular contact for vulnerable youngsters
- Remote coaching for life in Jordan and Indonesia
I think most people would have read about the more headline grabbing delivery of meals to the community over the last few days as well and I know that yesterday some of the community guys were running bottles of water up to the Whittington Hospital for the NHS workers up there, a small gesture in the big scheme of things but one that was welcomed.
Q) Theres always been a strong link with Whittington Hospital and Arsenal. What is the club doing to help the NHS?
I’m getting in a habit of answering one question in advance here!
Q) You have been the driving force in the very successful Food bank days at home games, how are they doing? And is the club assisting there too right now?
Firstly let me say that it is very much a team effort with regard to Foodbanks but it is an initiative I really love.
Sadly we were due to have another drive for the Easter holiday at a game so that had to be cancelled. However once we are back we will be working with Islington Foodbank once again and hopefully making it even bigger and better.
You guys have been great in promoting and supporting the Foodbank idea and my impression is that it was gaining momentum with more supporters hearing about it, etc and if we keep spreading the word it can only get stronger.
If we can get just half of the crowd to bring one item to the designated match then we would have 30,000 items to distribute, it’s a target but not an impossible one I believe.
Q) It sounds like Arsenal and Islington Council are working well together to support the community. Is it frustrating that this good work takes second place to the negative headlines in the media?
It can be, but hopefully if we keep getting the word out through people like yourselves then we can counteract what the mis-informed have to say.
Maybe I am a bit naïve but I truly think that Gooners around the world know that when it comes down to it our club will always support its local community in every way it can.
The club is a lot bigger these days but the core principles set down way back in the mists of time in the Woolwich days still hold true. I think at this time the old motto of ‘victory through harmony’ is even more appropriate than ever, if we work together (and we will) through this worrying time then we can come back even stronger in the months and years to come.
Q) Is there anything else positive that the club is doing that you can share with us?
There will be more to come in the next few weeks.
Please stay safe and well and I look forward to the day when we are all back at the Emirates and cheering the lads on once again. Come to think of it maybe we should have a big party to celebrate when the time comes!