I’d like to start by thanking everyone who attended the Fans’ Forum at The Den earlier this week. It was brilliant to see so many familiar faces and, more broadly, to have a group of fans at the stadium once more after all this time.
The Forums are very important events from the club’s point of view because it allows us to act upon any concerns, queries or issues raised, and it’s also great for Gary to be able to chat to supporters and understand their hopes and expectations for the season ahead. This club is at its best when everyone is united and such evenings are important in achieving that.
Intensive work is ongoing behind-the-scenes here at The Den to prepare the stadium for your long-awaited return to matches next Tuesday. It’s something that the staff, management and players are incredibly excited about, and I trust you are all also looking forward to the home fixtures against Portsmouth, Blackburn and Fulham within the next couple of weeks.
I know this is an important concern and question at the moment and so to be absolutely clear, we will not be requesting any form of COVID vaccination passport and/or proof of negative test as a condition of entry to The Den at this time.
What I do politely ask, though, is that everyone takes their own personal responsibility – as the government is requesting – and not attend matches should you have any symptoms of coronavirus or if you’re meant to be isolating due to having been in contact with somebody who has.
The wearing of masks will not be mandatory, though it is encouraged, and many staff will be wearing them - especially in indoor areas. I’d again just ask that we are all respectful to one another as we all have our own individual rights and reasoning in relation to this.
What I need to add is that the above, specifically in reference to vaccine passports and/or proof of negative tests, is that we’re at the behest of the government, local authorities and footballing bodies, and if they mandate the need for such entry requirements then we would have to adhere to those regulations.
However, we will not be introducing any measures beyond what we are mandated to do as it wouldn’t be fair or right to do so. I am hopeful that if everyone continues getting their vaccines – which I’m very supportive of – then this will become less of a concern or talking point over time.
As I mentioned in my previous column and again at the Fans’ Forum, I’m not afraid to say that as a club we are expecting to experience some teething problems in relation to your return to matches. It’s been so long without full stadia that there is simply bound to be issues in different areas. This is certainly not me being negative or defeatist – it’s about being honest, realistic and up front with everyone.
Ideally, we would have held some test events in the form of pre-season friendlies to highlight and remove any problems encountered. However, we’ve not been able to do so because of the installation of the new pitch and the need to give it as much time as was required for it to be ready for the first competitive fixture.
All I would again ask is for some patience, understanding and cooperation as we work hard to ensure things are as perfect as they can be. Your feedback will be important so please don’t hesitate to get in touch. All constructive comments will be welcomed.
We announced earlier today that both the hospitality areas and concourse food and drink outlets are all going cashless for 2021/22 beyond. This is aimed at assisting with speed of service and streamlining our own internal procedures. I appreciate that it won’t be ideal for everyone and I’d like to add that the Lions Store, Ticket Office and programme selling units will all continue taking cash. Eventually, and in line with many other large stadia in the country, we will be entirely cashless but it’s not right to make that move now and we feel a more staggered approach is the sensible option both for the club and the supporters.
We’ve now had a few games go on sale on the new online ticketing system, which I know hasn’t been without some difficulties for fans and also for staff. While the system was implemented last year, it’s only now that we’ve been able to sell match tickets and so it is all very new for everyone involved. There are certain elements to the new system which are different from the old one, both from the buying and selling ends, and there will be a period of transition and learning on each side.
We need to work with the system over the next few games, by which time everyone will have a better understanding of its full capabilities, and after that point we will take some time to review how we all best utilise the platform.
What I would like to stress is that our Ticket Office staff have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic, often in very testing circumstances, and so many detailed plans and procedures have simply ended up in the bin during ever-changing situations. I thank everyone for your patience and understanding, and I’m especially grateful to staff for their hard work and diligence during some very tough times.
Elsewhere, you may have seen some other information we’ve released this week about streaming on iFollow, which has now reverted back to what we were familiar with in pre-pandemic times. A full round-up of what is different to last season can be viewed here.
I’m delighted to say that your chairman, John Berylson, is finally allowed to fly over to watch matches again and he’ll be here at The Den for the games against Portsmouth and Blackburn next week. Unfortunately for obvious reasons he won’t be able to walk around the ground to say hello to everyone as he normally would do, which he is apologetic for, but John is going to address the crowd on the pitch before kick-off against Blackburn so please do take to your seats a little earlier.
As I know all of you have, John too has missed being able to watch matches in person immensely and I’m so relieved he can now do so again after all this time. I think it’s important to say that what John continues to do for this club is exceptional and sets him apart from so many owners at other clubs. Frankly, he puts many of them to shame with the way he supports us both financially and emotionally, and it was again clear during the Fans’ Forum just how appreciative we all are of his continued support.
I have this week been elected as an Alternate Championship Board Director. What this means is that I’ll only attend Board meetings should any of the three newly-elected Championship Directors not be able to do so for whatever reason. My view is that it was important for me, and us as a club, to show support for those new Directors who have put themselves forward to help drive positive change after recent challenging periods.
It’s fair to say it has been a difficult few years within the EFL, specifically in relation to profitability and sustainability rules and how they’ve been adhered to (or not, in some cases). I’ve been vocal on many occasions about the need for rules to be followed and applied, and generally for better financial controls, because ultimately nobody – myself included – wants to see any other club go out of business. Here at Millwall we’ve been frustrated by some goings on elsewhere and what we want to do is help ensure fairness throughout The Championship.
I welcome the appointment of the three new League Directors and truly believe that they will help to drive improvement in the division across a range of different matters. If and when needed I will be there to help them.
All that is left for me to say, on behalf of everyone at Millwall, is that we cannot wait to see you at Loftus Road on Saturday and back at The Den next week. It has been a long and painful road without you and I for one cannot wait to hear that infamous roar once again. It is going to be spine tingling.
Thank you, as always, for your immense support.
See you all soon,