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Club News

An update from the CEO

Steve Kavanagh's latest column...

17 December 2021

I’m writing to you off the back of the news of the postponement to Saturday’s game against Preston North End following a very sudden and swift outbreak of COVID-19 within the club.

As the week progressed it became very clear that not only would we not have anywhere near enough players to field a team, but more importantly that it was imperative the training ground, Academy building and certain offices at The Den would have to close immediately to help stop any further spread.

Thankfully, as noted in our statement yesterday, from those who have returned positive results, only a small percentage are experiencing any symptoms at all and of those who are they are mild. I’m not an epidemiologist by any stretch, but our experience of the new variant is that it is clearly highly transmissible, but the health effects are less than we’ve seen previously, and our hope of course is that proves to be the case for the wider community.

Staff at The Den had been busy implementing the necessary strategic and logistical plans to carry out the COVID checks legally enforced upon us as part of the government’s ‘Plan B’ response. The postponement means we won’t be able to test those until the Boxing Day visit of Swansea City and given the challenges they have presented to the club I’d politely ask supporters to please work with us to help ensure checks are swift and efficient.

Clearly they have provided the club with a range of different issues, not just logistically but also financially, though as we have said throughout we will only ever enforce what we are mandated to do. Ultimately our main aim is to ensure that fans can continue to attend matches without any restrictions on capacity and if such measures ensure that continues to be the case then so be it as far as I’m concerned.

We want matchdays at The Den to be as safe and secure as possible so if you are not vaccinated and/or can’t present COVID certification please do take a lateral flow test as the alternative to help in those endeavours. Clearly the spread of this strain is a risk not just to Christmas and beyond but also to the economy and it is therefore incumbent on every one of us to do what we can to ensure our own safety and that of family, friends, fellow fans and more.

Our latest release containing all the updated information around entry requirements is available to read by clicking here.

Prior to the new regulations being put into place we were already encouraging all attending – even if fully vaccinated - to undertake lateral flow tests to help minimise any spread of the virus on matchdays. Nothing has changed in that regard and if anything the latest case numbers just serve to reinforce the importance of that. It should be standard practice.

We all know what football without supporters was like and so let’s work together to prevent that happening again.

Continuing to play games and have crowds in attendance is vitally important to the financial health and indeed the future of clubs up and down the country. Many stadiums, including The Den, are also hospitality venues and crucial revenue streams have already been decimated in the past week or so.

It is imperative that the industry receives some support and if there are any additional restrictions put into place later down the line then the government should remember the important role football has played throughout the pandemic in so many ways and not risk the very existence of many community assets.

We have recently published our annual accounts for the year to June 2021. Losses in those accounts are at an all-time high, as you would have expected having played so many games without crowds in that period and indeed the cost of different COVID-related measures that were required. The club are saddled with nearly £8m worth of new debt directly attributable to the pandemic which must be repaid over the next three years. You don’t need to be an accountant to understand the lasting cash impact on the club.

As chief executive, I’d personally like to thank John Berylson for his immeasurable support of the club especially during the past 18 months. Without him I’m genuinely not sure where we would be today, and I know supporters will also join me in sharing their gratitude for his ongoing commitments.

Moving away from discussing COVID, which I’m very relieved to do, the other huge talking point of recent weeks has been the publication of Tracey Crouch MP’s fan-led review of football governance.

I met with Tracey as part of the EFL’s strategic review into the findings of her report and am broadly supportive of its findings, though I would add that a few points need additional depth or clarity.

Some of the report’s key recommendations, such as enhanced financial regulation and adherence to governance, have always been hugely important and if those areas can be enhanced and properly enforced than that is a huge positive for the game. The redistribution of wealth is also imperative but this all must work together in order to be properly effective. It is abundantly clear that one without the other will not work.

Criticism of the report, most notably from individuals at Premier League clubs, has sadly only served to reinforce the purpose of the report in the first place as well as much of its content.

There are plenty of recommendations around the involvement of supporters within club structures and the suggestion of a ‘golden share’. The report presents a series of really good ideas around the involvement of fans and as a club we are absolutely committed to maximising engagement in this area in every possible way. We have already commenced our own review into what we do now and where we can improve, and we will be looking at how we incorporate the recommendations made along the way.

In my last column I spoke extensively about the purchase of land in West Kingsdown for a new high-end training complex and I’m pleased to say that the process is progressing as well as we could have hoped.

We have since hosted another engagement meeting with local residents and also appointed expert advisors in other key areas, including planning and highways. Our aim is to submit a formal planning application in the spring and we will keep supporters informed of notable updates as and when they occur.

Crucially, the Community Trust has already commenced work within the areas local to the site. A dedicated officer is in the process of being appointed to oversee the different projects and initiatives that will be implemented, and we’re pleased that such efforts have already started in a handful of schools. We’re looking to expand this alongside engaging local football clubs as well as Brands Hatch and London Golf Club, who are situated nearby, and of course the wider community.

As has been the case in Lewisham and Southwark for many years, our aim is to become a real community asset for the people of West Kingsdown and that is a target which has our absolute focus and commitment.

I would like to take this opportunity to publicly congratulate Shona Groves for winning Supporter Liaison Officer of the Year at the FSA Awards recently. Shona is naturally a very modest person and she’ll have no doubt been a bit embarrassed by the attention she has since received, but the award is something she is truly deserving of. The majority of Shona’s time as our Supporter Liaison Officer has been throughout the pandemic when successful fan engagement has often been so complex and challenging but nothing has ever deterred her, and I know so many of you will have benefitted from her passion, dedication and expertise.

Shona is part of a tremendous workforce behind-the-scenes at The Den and as a collective they continue to jump over the many different hurdles put in their way, whether it’s new COVID regulations or general day-to-day issues. I couldn’t be any prouder to represent them and I’d like to thank all staff for their immense efforts over the course of the past 12 months.

I’d also like to express our gratitude to each and every one of you for your wonderful support. We missed you terribly last season and football has only felt normal and exciting again since you came back. Long may it continue.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Look after yourselves and others and be safe.

Steve


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