Heartfelt greetings to Stones fans everywhere. We trust you are keeping safe and well, respecting the lockdown rules and keeping the virus away.
If you have encountered or are encountering health problems, then we send you our very best wishes for recovery and full fitness.
The sooner we can beat this thing, the sooner we can get back to doing some of the things we love doing and, hey-ho, maybe getting to watch the Stones in action again before too long.
It’s been a while since we updated you on club affairs. This is partly because not a huge amount of football related stuff is happening, although as ever there is a lot of work behind the scenes, piloted by Terry and volunteers from their homes, to ensure all the hatches are battened down and that we apply for as much public financial support as is available.
Despite the shut-down of the stadium and most club affairs let me try and answer a few questions about football matters.
When will football start up again at our level?
Goodness knows. We can but guestimate. It will depend on when government and the leagues deem it safe.
When that happens we’ll see if the general football-supporting public will agree with the decision by actually attending matches with crowds again.
Subject to the virus being deemed to be ‘under control’, whatever that actually means, there may be a decision to allow football at our level in, say, September or October. This is just my opinion. This may also be subject to restrictions (see below).
Will there be crowd restrictions?
There may be, again we just don’t know yet. It is conceivable there could be restrictions on a stadium-by-stadium basis, with crowds limited to say 50% of full capacity.
All around the stadium there would have to be safety measures such as distancing markers, gel dispensers, possibly a requirement to wear masks in bars and clubhouses. All rather surreal and both complicated and expensive to organise and manage.
If there were such restrictions put in place early and clearly enough, this may actually encourage more fans to go along. At our level clubs could survive by cutting costs accordingly but it would be a real strain.
How are we managing the playing squad?
Hakan was talking to players before the lockdown, which put paid to last season and left many uncertainties about the next. We gave him our backing in March and he remains our first choice for manager next season.
He deserves the opportunity to take charge of the team. Time and circumstances will tell what sort of contract deal we can agree in due course.
Most player contracts came to an end on 2nd May. Given the complex set of circumstances and the need to reduce financial risk going into the uncertain future, we have only retained five players to date: Ibby Akanbi, Ibrahim Olutade, Saidou Khan, Sam Corne and Jake Embery.
As and when we get a clearer picture of next season’s timeline, we will contact other players we would like to retain, if ultimately circumstances allow.
When Terry and I last met with Hakan, we made it clear we would be keen in principle to add local talent and players with links to the club, where it makes sense.
One or two players (including one old Stones favourite…) have said they would love to come back and play for the Stones. Nothing is definite however, given how little knowledge we have of when and in what shape football might restart.
Are we really going part-time?
No definitive decision will be taken on daytime or evening training next season till we know more. However, it is very likely we will revert to a two-evenings-a-week schedule for financial reasons, possibly adding an optional Monday morning. Time will tell.
What else is happening at the club?
For the moment, all community team activities and training have stopped. This is hugely frustrating for the hundreds of players representing the club in our youth, women’s and disability teams. These activities might conceivably restart before National League football does, along with Soccer Sixes, and this would bring life back to the Gallagher Stadium. Once again time will tell.
Our charitable arm – The Stones Community Trust – has been active, with Kay Skelton co-ordinating a wonderful group of volunteers to produce Personal Protective Equipment, which has allowed us to contribute meaningfully to combating Covid-19 and supporting our health and care services.
Our academy has continued to operate with remote learning under Jim Bodle’s leadership, although football activities are of course suspended. We are hoping to expand this activity next school year.
Although Helen Terrell has not been able to operate the club shop over past weeks, she has recommenced online ordering earlier today. As well as all the replica shirts and other articles you are used to, we are waiting on some new Stones socks, which could massively improve your quality of life! Do look out for them and buy a pair or two.
John Gooch is still creating and churning out marvellous video and social media content for us and doing a fine job. It’s not easy to keep the fans stimulated when no new competitive football is being played but John always comes up with good ideas to keep you informed and entertained.
Are you going to sell season tickets?
We still don’t think we can begin to do this until we see what shape and form next season will take. At that time, we will formulate various offers taking into account what we think is fair.
How is the pitch doing?
We are due to have a FIFA Quality Pro pitch test in July and are hopeful it will pass and move into its fifth year of high quality service. It has had a period of rest and some TLC, which hopefully will stand it in good stead.
We continue to campaign for acceptance of 3G pitches in EFL League 1 and 2 and will do so until it works, like we did before for the Conference.
What else can you tell us?
We are planning to hold a video Q&A with Terry, Bill and myself to replace the summer supporters’ meeting. This will likely be in mid-June, as long as Terry has mastered the Zoom technology by then…watch this space!
In the meantime, please remember it is an uncertain environment out there, which means that our decision-making will depend on evolving health regulations, football administrators’ decisions and financial imperatives.
As ever we will endeavour to keep you as fully informed as possible. We thank you for your understanding and enduring support.
Best wishes, COYS!