I’d like to start firstly by wishing everyone associated with the club a very Happy New Year.
I appreciate times remain incredibly tough, which I’ll address a bit later, but on the whole I’m very hopeful that 2021 is a far less challenging and more fruitful year than the one which preceded it. Let’s face it - that shouldn’t be too difficult given the devastating impact the virus has had in society, on the economy, with everyone’s finances and throughout football.
As part of an ongoing commitment to enhancing our engagement with the fan base, and a desire for even greater openness to supporters about our activities and operations as a club, we’re planning on releasing far more regular updates from the Board, of which this is the first. I hope what is detailed below and in similar releases in the months ahead will serve to be incredibly useful and insightful for supporters and help to ensure you feel informed and very much a part of your club.
I would like to thank everyone for their patience and understanding in regard to refunds, which staff are working incredibly hard to process as quickly as possible. I fully appreciate that it has taken far longer than anyone could have expected or hoped, and it has been a monumental logistical challenge. There were just over 4,000 separate refund requests and our aim is to have all of those completed by the end of February.
As mentioned previously, we are having to contact all those who have requested a refund by phone and this itself isn’t proving as straightforward as we may have imagined so please do bear this in mind if receiving a call from a less familiar number. It’s also worth logging into your ticketing account to ensure your contact details are correct so that we are able to get hold of everyone remaining as quickly and efficiently as possible. The last year has really shown the need for up-to-date phone numbers and emails to allow us to contact you quickly and effectively as matters can change suddenly and with little warning.
After the high of having some fans back inside The Den towards the back end of 2020 it was of course a huge blow to be put into Tier 3, and then Tier 4, and now into another lockdown. Hosting those two matches with 2,000 supporters ended up with the club losing a considerable amount of money, which was expected after the sizeable investments into various COVID-related protocols and other logistical initiatives. But it was about so much more than finance; it was a huge emotional relief after months of hard work and we’re pleased to now have the necessary processes in place moving forward.
Realistically the return of supporters to football stadia looks a long way away again, which is a painful reality, but we of course understand that the current situation regarding the spread of COVID-19 throughout society is incredibly concerning. We’ve had our own outbreak within the squad and have since furthered our own protocols far beyond League standards and requirements in order to provide us with the best possible chance of preventing similar in the future.
The pandemic continues to have a tremendously damaging effect on our finances and we remain immensely grateful for the emotional and monetary backing of the chairman, John Berylson. As we know, John’s support is enormous each and every year but it has never been more important than in the past 10 months or so and he has truly gone well above and beyond to support the club and all connected with it.
Just like back in the first lockdown there is certainly a feeling of all being in this together and needing to all do what we can as individuals – as part of a collective effort – to get through it and come out the other side. That is far easier said than done of course and as a club we are very conscious and concerned about the impact the latest developments will be having on the physical and mental health of our supporters. If there is anything we can do as a club – absolutely anything – then please do get in touch with Shona Groves, your supporter liaison officer, on email@example.com. We are all here for you.
Other than on matchdays The Den is very much a dormant venue at the moment and as such we have offered the stadium as a potential location for vaccinations. As has been outlined by government, the vaccination programme is a huge national effort and we want to play our part in assisting the local community at a time of great need. Football clubs have always shown they have an important role in their communities and willingly embrace that responsibility, so I struggle to understand why Government were not asking and putting logistics in place months ago. Now, though, let’s look forward and be ready to do our bit as and when asked.
Everyone who has watched some of our recent home games will have noted that the pitch is in a fairly poor state, which is a result of being unable to go ahead with planned renovations back in the summer. We’re not the only club with such problems as I’m sure you’ve all seen. The short turnaround from one season to the next, and the attributed uncertainty around when 2020/21 would begin, left us with no option but to postpone a major rebuild of the drainage system and the pitch itself. This work can take up to 13 weeks to complete and we will do so at the earliest opportunity.
In December the club announced it had started the process of launching a new strategy around anti-discrimination and work continues in earnest. We are setting up a steering committee to focus on the club’s efforts and initiatives in the area, which will include wider consultation with supporters – something which I have asked that The FA also do on a national scale. I’m not sure if that will happen but we can only control what we do and we are pushing forward with our own plans and agendas.
Elsewhere, we are of course a week or so into the January transfer window and all relevant staff are working incredibly hard to boost the squad with some new additions. This window is always that bit tougher than the summer one to recruit in, and it is complicated further by the impact of COVID on the finances of clubs and the need for having more players in squads than usually necessary due to fixture congestion, along with the risk of outbreaks and suddenly having personnel unavailable. A further complexity is the new salary cap rules in League One which makes prizing top players away from their clubs more difficult mid-season. That being said, we’re very conscious of the need to strengthen in some key areas and we’ll cover all bases to ensure that is what happens in the weeks ahead.
We will shortly be contacting all fans on our database by email with a link to a survey, which is a very important move by the club to help staff better understand the current thoughts and feelings of fans. The results will help to shape what we do moving forward, particularly in terms of our communication, and so we will be very grateful to everyone for taking a couple of minutes to complete the questions when they land in your inboxes. Thank you in advance for your assistance.
Despite not currently being allowed to be at games your support is every bit as important as ever and we’re indebted to each and every one of you for such backing and loyalty. Hopefully we can all be together again soon.
In the meantime, please be safe and stay tuned for further updates from the club in the weeks and months ahead.