Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Much ado about 3G


There's on-field and off-field at a football club. We have all been very occupied with off-field matters over the past few months. Fortunately Jay and the players have had an excellent start to the season on the field. 

As I write this we are in a strong position close to the top, with a couple of games in hand and able to put in first-class performances on our day. We would have signed up for that at the start of the season. In fact those of us who thought play-offs were a reasonable target sometimes forget that that implies there will be a few defeats as well as the run of victories in style. We can't always play attractive, entertaining, winning football. Even Barcelona have off-days.

We now need to consolidate and make sure we don't have too many of these off-days. If injuries are not too unkind to us we will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. We don't have FA Cup, Trophy and Youth Cups to distract us anymore. While this might be a good thing in the longer term as we can concentrate on the league; I am disappointed we didn't get further in these competitions. The FA competitions are the glamour end of non-league (and of course there's the prize money) and who wouldn't trade a league win or two for the chance to do what Brackley FC have just done by knocking out Gillingham in the first round...? I have a sneaky feeling next season is going to be ours for a majestic cup run. Just remember you read it here first...

Off the field we have been concentrating on making sure match-days are safe, entertaining, friendly and with a good variety of food and drink outlets. We hope we are getting this pretty much right most of the time. No doubt you will continue to tell us if we don't! We're also planning to increase the range of merchandise you will be able to purchase and we are improving the on-line shop to make it easier and quicker to order on-line.

I am surprised that I have managed to get to the fifth paragraph of this blog without mentioning 3G. Do not fear, it is still my number one obsession. Over the past 12 months more and more people in football are coming round to the idea that 3G is not the devil but has a huge and positive role to play in football at every level. In the top divisions in Wales and Ireland it is allowed. In Scotland there are 11 clubs playing on 3G in the Scottish League. There are two 3G clubs in The Scottish Championship - Falkirk and Hamilton. Hamilton are currently runaway leaders of The Championship and are a case in point: several years ago they were promoted to SPFL and chose to rip up their 3G pitch. Their community and academy programmes suffered considerably in the following years and it took relegation and a decision to put 3G back in to their stadium to rebuild the fortunes of the club. It is hard to imagine they will choose to rip 3G up this time if they achieve promotion and much more realistic to imagine The SPFL taking the sensible decision to allow 3G in their league.

Closer to home let me update you on latest 3G news:
  • Our open letter in September to Greg Dyke at The FA received nearly 20,000 hits on the Maidstone United website and we received countless messages of support for our proposals from clubs and individuals around the country. In his reply Greg even admitted agreeing with us on 3G. In fact we still haven't heard one single, sensible, objective argument against 3G being allowed at all levels of the English game since we set up 3G4US (now 50 clubs strong) two years ago.
  • All this makes it all the more surprising that The FA has not subsequently addressed the issues we raised with any serious attention. In Greg Dyke's reply to us he said he had put a senior executive on the case. However the executive in question confessed to me when I spoke to him that he was not qualified to address the 'political' points raised in our letter. We wrote back to Greg Dyke to take issue with this anomaly. We have had no reply. I can only leave you to imagine how we feel this matter has been handled...
  • We have written to The Football Conference to request that they reconsider their refusal to allow 3G in their competition. We have added some new arguments resulting from consultations we have had with barristers, who specialise in sport and competition law. We are raising all these issues again with The Conference in a few days time. We remain confident that common sense will prevail and that The Conference will find a way of opening their doors to 3G. 

The other issue we raised with The FA was academies. There is still precious little sensible support for clubs like ours running academies to be protected when the big clubs come sniffing around. The system is really designed to protect and enrich the bigger clubs at the expense of the smaller ones. As a direct result we find our top young academy players are being scouted down and hassled by agents on a regular basis, which is disruptive for them and for us, although we acknowledge it can ultimately be in the player's interest.  Well when we have resolved the 3G problems, we will turn our attentions to urging The FA to organise a general debate on this issue. 

Well all that remains here is for me to hope that we come out of the next couple of weeks of very tough matches with a few points and some high octane performances to warm us all up in the chill.

Take good care.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Taking stock and thinking about the future

Terry Casey
If someone had told me that we would be in the promotion places of the Ryman Premier at the start of October I would have been obviously delighted but also relieved that we were not struggling as we did the last time we were in this league.

I remember watching numerous Ryman Premier matches wondering when we would field a team that deserved to be playing at that level. It seemed to me that almost every game we played we struggled to dominate or even compete on some occasions.

This season so far, apart from Margate, we have played well enough to justify our position and fully deserve to be where we are in the league. This constitutes real progress on the pitch and Jay and his squad supported by Bill should be congratulated on their achievements.

Because of our position it is inevitable that we are now gazing upward to the possibility of promotion to the Conference South. From what I have watched there is no doubt in my mind that we have the playing squad, the infrastructure and the leadership that could challenge for promotion. Oliver, Bill and I are already looking at the requirements for entry into the Conference South.

The most high profile and obvious battle we face is getting the Conference to agree to playing on our 3G surface. The arguments for clubs at our level playing on 3G have been eloquently put by Oliver and I feel confident that the work he is doing will eventually win the argument and common sense will prevail.

One of the reasons put by the Conference opposing 3G is that it would create problems for Conference teams gaining promotion to the Football League. Our response is that Conference South clubs like Boreham Wood (average home attendance 208) and Hayes and Yeading (average crowd 180) must be more concerned about survival than getting promotion to the Football league.

Promotion to the Football League would also come at enormous costs for clubs as there is a requirement for a minimum capacity of 5,000 and 500 under cover seats. If Maidstone United achieve promotion to the Conference South we have enough covered seats (the requirement is 250 we have more than 400) but we must increase our minimum capacity to 3,000 with the potential to raise the minimum capacity to 4,000 for further upward progression.

To achieve these increases in capacity we have asked our advisors to look at developing the Loucas End into a three tiered stand that could increase standing and seated capacity. To achieve this ambition will require further substantial amounts of money and whilst it is on our wish list we are not going to abandon our business principals and start trading beyond our means.

We can honestly look into these possibilities because we are the biggest non-league club outside of the Conference and we have a greater following than any club currently in the Conference South or North. We can genuinely consider thoughts of expansion and development as we have the potential to go a lot further up the pyramid. 

We will continue to strive to change the face of non-league football with our 3G campaign and we will continue to look to ways that we can maximise the potential of the football club.

If our fantastic support from local businesses and individuals continues then there are no limits to what we can achieve. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Speaking up for our national game

Last week the new chairman of the Football Association, Greg Dyke, happened to mention our club in his first major speech since taking office. 

He called for views on the national game, so on behalf of the club I penned a personal letter, hoping its contents might strike a chord with those who believe that non-league clubs can contribute in a small but meaningful way to improving football in this country. 

Here it is:

Dear Mr Dyke,

I read your recent inaugural FA speech with great interest as by coincidence you mentioned our club Maidstone United while quoting from Martin Tyler. 

In fact, although we are leagues apart, we do have a link with Manchester United through England player Chris Smalling, who played for our club in 2008/09 until he left to play for Fulham, who subsequently transferred him a few months later to Manchester United, reputedly for £10 million. He has now matured into a talented international player and as you so rightly say, we could do with a few more like him. I’ll talk about Chris later.

In your speech you asked for ideas with regard to improving the numbers of talented Englishmen coming through to help the England team, which has struggled in the years since 1966 and 1970.

I can only agree with your assessment of the basic problems. We would all like the England team to perform well. Yes the Premier League is too influential in running football in England for its own good rather than for the good of the game as a whole and the England team in particular. Until more balance is restored the England team will not be able to win major competitions.

More and more English football fans, such as me, are going off the Premier League with its masses of foreign footballers, player tantrums and obscene amounts of money and returning to the simple pleasures of Football League and non-league football. 

The joys of non-league football
When I used to watch pro football in the early seventies there were England players and other British international players to admire in most first division fixtures. That was part of the thrill of attending and following your team. The fact that today’s talented Premier League players are mostly foreign does not detract from their skills but certainly does detract from the overall interest and pleasure of watching them. So although the Premier League may be enjoying unparalleled success internationally it can now be regarded as against the interests of English football as a whole.

Although I only represent a humble Ryman (Isthmian) League Club, ambitious as we may be, I would like to tell you of one or two of our ideas, which may help increase the medium-term production of good young footballers in England. 

Despite being almost bankrupt in 2010 our club was fortunate to have an injection of funds and a new business plan, predicated on the 3G business model for community football. We took the risky step of believing that our town’s local community would relish the prospect of playing, as well as watching, football on our pitch and that a successful community club could be reborn. 

We designed and built the first English stadium to be purpose-built with a 3G synthetic pitch. Through the 3G pitch our club lives virtually round the clock. There are students, football academy players, youth teams and soccer schools all over the pitch for many hours a week. They can all learn skills and enjoy playing and practicing football in the stimulating amphitheatre of their local stadium.

A thousand people play on the pitch per week, enjoying our clubhouse facilities, becoming hooked on the club and developing a link which goes far beyond simply coming along to first team matches. We run a clubhouse events centre and an academy (but more on that later). We have a sport and social facility which works for the widest possible range of people in the local community. We know from what we are told by our customers – that the facility has changed people’s lives.

We rarely get postponements now because 3G looks and plays as well in darkest December as it does in sunny August, while our grass and mud pitch rivals are staring at frozen wastelands which lie idle for weeks on end through a harsh winter. The impact on revenues is huge:  we estimate that the 3G pitch creates direct and indirect revenue of around £150k to £200k per annum; and on employment: we now have eight full-time and 20 part-time staff. When you think that 3G pitches cost about £350k to install and the maintenance is far easier and cheaper than for mud and grass then you can see why it is so interesting, particularly for clubs whose total annual revenue may only be £500k.

Action on the Gallagher Stadium 3G pitch
More importantly, in answer to your concern about finding new England players, 3G ‘football turf’ is a perfect playing surface, proven to be safe, playing just like a top quality natural grass pitch and ideal for learning and practicing skillful football, as played by most of our national rivals. Skillful players thrive on the pitch because it runs true, as true as Wembley, another top quality pitch, which also has plenty of plastic fibres in it. 

Old school typical English-style physical players, who thrive on the mud and bumps of so many pitches below Premier League level, are quickly found out and bypassed. The more young players, who can be trained and coached from an early age on 3G surfaces, the more likely it is that another Chris Smalling or two may emerge in our lifetimes.

Now we know that the FA is in favour of 3G pitches and provides, through the Football Foundation, considerable funds for community pitches. However we believe that football clubs at our level should be encouraged by the FA to build 3G pitch stadia for the reasons outlined above. I remind you that if we had not decided to put down a 3G surface, the business would simply not have been viable and we would not have been able to rescue the club, let alone develop our 70 student strong football academy, which is already receiving plaudits for the work it is doing only 12 months since opening. 

 “But we do support 3G,” I hear you say. “Yes,” I reply, “but not enough.”

Although we took the risk of putting in 3G other clubs don’t. One major reason is that leagues from the Conference upwards do not currently allow 3G pitches in their league competitions. We understand that The FA is unable and/or unwilling to push the cause of 3G to them because of the Premier League’s influence in your committees.

Faced with this strange barrier to what could be a hugely positive business option for many football clubs we decided to set up 3G4US, a group of 50 football clubs from Football League, Scottish League and non-league, who are all in favour of 3G pitches. Many of these clubs would like to put down facilities similar to ours, which could potentially enable them to develop a sustainable business model as it did for us, significantly increase their in-house coaching  set-ups and add to the probability of unearthing top quality young players. 

However I repeat: from Football Conference upwards 3G is not currently an allowed surface. The Football League don’t want to take any action because they might upset the Premier League, who are against 3G, and the Football Conference don’t want to take action because they don’t want to upset the Football League. And the FA can’t show an example by giving the green light to clubs to play on 3G in the FA Cup because the PREMIER LEAGUE WON’T ALLOW IT! It’s madness, and a metaphor for how football is being run in this country.

Why do I use emotive words like ‘madness’? I am sure I hardly need to remind you that 3G is already an approved FIFA and UEFA surface and internationals are frequently played on it. England have already played in Russia on it. Our Premier League clubs sometimes play Champions League matches on it. The Football League had a vote on it only a year ago and a majority of League 2 Chairmen were in favour of allowing 3G. And yet the FA cannot get 3G allowed even in the lowly Conference or show an example by allowing it in every round of the FA Cup? 

To sum up: the FA cannot get the Football Conference, our 5th and 6th Divisions, to allow 3G pitches, the promotion of which can only be to the benefit of helping to coach a new generation of talented English footballers, while 3G is freely used for World Cup matches and Internationals. How can you improve levels of football skills at grassroots and Football League level and hope to increase the number of young genius footballers being produced if you allow this sort of anomaly? The Premier League tail is wagging the FA dog. 

A final word on the subject before I go off and take my tranquilizers: rugby.

Rugby has a lot of ideas which football could do well to examine carefully. I’m not just talking about subjects like players respecting referees, or on-field sanctions, although these are wholly relevant subjects for the rulers of the national game. No I refer to rugby’s approach to 3G.

I should declare an interest here: in addition to Maidstone United I am also involved as a Director in a French first division (just) rugby club, Brive. I am in a fairly unique position of being able to compare from the inside the practices of football and rugby in a number of areas.

With no fanfare and little publicity but to their immense credit the English Premier League of rugby decided recently to allow 3G rugby pitches in their competition. They had the support of the RFU. They took a view that the many advantages of 3G, similar to those in football, were simply too overwhelming to ignore. And this despite the fact that evidence of no additional injury risk on 3G pitches is less extensive for rugby than it now is for football. They were very forward thinking and visionary.

I can only urge you, if you have not already done so, to speak to Ed Griffiths, CEO of Saracens RFC, in order to hear his positive feedback after the first few months of operation of their new 3G turf stadium. The 3G project has revolutionised his club. It has helped regenerate facilities in the local area and make the club home-from-home to thousands of local people. Of course youth training, practicing and coaching is virtually non-stop on their pitch. Ed thinks it is a no-brainer and cannot understand why football authorities cannot embrace 3G and show leadership. 

Indeed would it not be interesting to set up an FA Special Commission comprising a handful of rugby and football experts and opinion leaders, in order to exchange these sorts of ideas and brainstorm ways in which these two fine sports might help each other to thrive?

Well you might reasonably be hoping I had run out of paper by now but I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you. I want to talk about the second issue I mentioned: football academies.

As I said Maidstone United took the decision to set up an academy because we wanted to create a sports education project which could benefit from our facilities, which we knew would be available at off-peak times, thanks to the durability of 3G synthetic pitches today. 

Maidstone United Football Academy 2013/14
Another reason was to provide an elite coaching facility for local and Kent-based youngsters, who could develop their skills and aim to play in our senior teams in due course. It was to complement our existing community youth coaching structure in order to enable young people linked with the club to go all the way through our youth teams and academy right into the first team and beyond. And it is the ‘beyond’ that is the problem. 

From our research into this thorny subject we have concluded that there seems to be no FA regulation enabling fair compensation to be paid to non-league clubs, who see their young players leaving to join bigger clubs. This can be called poaching, tapping-up, whatever; it happens at all clubs and we are helpless to prevent it. 

These young players may spend years in our youth teams or academy. They are not on contract either because we simply cannot afford to take such a financial risk or because we genuinely believe it is in the student’s interest to stay in full time education.  And yet there is simply no compensation payable.

Do you think this is fair or encourages clubs to spend significant moneys to set up academies as we did, at our cost? Do you not think more academies staffed with better coaches are one of the ways forward in assisting you to achieve your objective of more young, talented English players coming through? Surely it is at our level, Conference level and even Football League level that academies could potentially be full of English-qualified young players looking to hone their skills. This is where the next generation of exceptional players can emerge and be taken on in due course by Premier League clubs. With encouragement and fair compensation please. 

And that brings me back to Chris Smalling. When Fulham came in and signed up Chris, who was not on contract while playing for us because he wanted to play for England Schoolboys, we had no rights to any compensation. We received a small ‘gift’ from Fulham because we begged like starving dogs. 

Surely this is not right. Smaller clubs need proper encouragement and compensation for their efforts, which can help breed a new generation of English players. With no compensation you will get fewer clubs bothering to set up first-class academies and youth coaching structures with top coaches and consequently fewer players coming through, fact. It’s not fair to clubs and not in the FA’s interest.

In conclusion we understand that there are many issues to solve in improving the quality of the England team and giving us all a bit of relief from those awful evenings we have all endured when England are knocked out of a major competition. 

We are simply and humbly offering up one or two ideas that, whatever else, cannot do any harm and might just do more good than you can imagine. If the FA were to wrest more control from the Premier League by allowing 3G stadium pitches further up the league pyramid and in the FA Cup, and establish clear rules for sensible compensation for clubs nurturing talented young players in their academies, now and not in ten years’ time, there may well be benefits for the England team down the road. 

Thank you for letting me use the excuse of our namecheck in your speech to put these ideas to you.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Message from Terry Casey following Saturday's match

The events on Saturday were very disappointing for all genuine supporters of Maidstone United. 

We have been in discussions throughout the weekend and met today to look at photographic evidence, in an attempt to find out how the problems began, and how we propose to deal with any possible future difficulties.

It would appear from the CCTV footage and photos that there was provocation from the beginning of the match from a very small number of supporters from both sides.

It’s important that lessons are learned. Since opening last July, we put in place arrangements to provide comfort and security for all. Given what happened we must make sure that we are better prepared in the future.  

Some of those of preparations and actions will be behind the scenes in the run-up to games, others will be more visible. For example, we intend to increase the numbers of trained professional safety stewards and will consider arranging a police presence for at least some of the games. 

We have photographic evidence of some individuals who embarrassed the club in Calais and we have reason to believe they may have been involved on Saturday. This small group of people are not supporters of Maidstone United. We will identify them and ban them from the ground.

May I make it crystal clear that any person entering the stadium who is responsible for anti-social or violent behaviour will be removed, banned and may even be prosecuted.

Saturday’s isolated incidents almost spoiled the enjoyment of more than two thousand people, so they must be stamped out immediately.

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Stones Family

If there was one theme that kept coming back to me after the Friday night fun and games it was this one: thanks to the passion of the fans and their loyalty to the Black and Amber, there is a special atmosphere in the club at present; everybody involved in the club - officials, volunteers, supporters, players, more than 5000 followers on both Twitter and Facebook, etc. - are now part of a club which, without being too touchy-feely, is like an extended family: The Stones Family.

We should not underestimate the value of this close-knit club atmosphere that others aspire to: for example Leicester Tigers rugby recently launched a campaign to create the Tigers Family in order to promote the same values. It's all about not just supporting the team but doing it the right way: supporting each other. I think we are a step ahead of the game and we should all feel proud of this. It means we can go out of our way to make the club a welcoming place to new fans and encourage those who feel that this sort of family-friendly atmosphere is one they want to be part of. 

So let's make this season another remarkable one. The atmosphere in the Gallagher should be passionate but respectful at all times, of everybody - ladies, kids, match officials, even when they make awful mistakes, and away supporters, even when they're out to wind us up. 

A great opportunity for this will be in Calais. We will be 200 ambassadors for the club to make the trip so let's enjoy it to the full and try and ensure that the home club is left with a desire to see us go back for a rematch and to strengthen ties between our two clubs.

Turning back to last Friday I was delighted to see all the fans and also our main business partners get a big kick (unintended pun) out of the occasion. I also want to thank again all those friends who make this sort of event possible including amongst others Mike Cogger and the burger boys, the team kit-men and the Andy the physio (who was kept busy I can tell you...).

We had intended to do a Q and A session in the Spitfire after the game but when Terry and I saw that everybody was having a lively time already we decided to drop the idea. We will always be available to talk frankly and openly about the club and as far as I know we have no secrets! There is a lot of talk about supporter-owned clubs at present and how it's a good model for non-league; well whether that's true or not depends on the circumstances but in any event Maidstone United is supporter-owned I can assure you!

In the next few weeks lots is happening: the club dinner on 4th July, works progressing around the ground, the 3G pressure on the Football Conference growing as Sutton United continue to press for permission to use 3G in 2014, Jay's squad taking shape and the pre-season including a cracking match on July 13th versus Charlton, which will mark 12 months since the Gallagher Stadium opened.

Finally we have launched our membership scheme, the Fan Club, which is a fund-raising, loyalty scheme as operated by many other clubs. After one fantastic season we still need to raise revenues and your support of this will be much appreciated. It will also, amongst other things, give you priority when that crunch all-ticket match happens at some stage this season....it is certainly not designed to interfere with the Independent Supporters Club, which can certainly merit being a coordinated voice for supporters' ideas and suggestions for the club. 

That's all for now; have to keep resting my sore old calf muscle and prepare for the club dinner.

Oliver Ash

Monday, 10 June 2013

Building for the future

Maidstone United co-owner Terry Casey
During the close season Oliver, Bill and I have been working hard to make some significant improvements to the stadium. 

We had a limited amount of money that we could spend but we wanted to show that we are listening to our supporters and also demonstrating that we are not going to become complacent about the extraordinary support that we have had in our first season back in the town.

We are also working closely with Jay and, as you can see with the signings we have made, we are not going into the Ryman Premier to simply make up the numbers. As a football club we have the support that cannot be equalled until we look at the attendances in the Conference so we must be looking at involvement in the play-offs at the very least by the end of the 2013/2014 season.

In terms of the building works we have had the usual immense support of our business partners, notably Gallagher Group and Britelite, which have enabled the club to make so many improvements to the ground. We have also had the support of the BTSH committee who have made a substantial contribution to the developments.

Our first requirement was to spend money to satisfy some Ryman league requirements. Next on the list is the addition of another terrace at The Loucas End (town end) which will be installed towards the end of July. All the measures undertaken should increase the capacity to about 2,500 but this is subject to verification.

We need to clear some areas around the pitch and also to add some catering facilities at the Henry Reeves & Co Stand (Springfield end). At the beginning of July we will be laying a tarmac hard standing area on the river side of that terrace which will mean that we can put the six a side goals away during match days and also stand a permanent catering van on the site.

There has been a shortage of toilet facilities and we are installing a toilet block (the same as we already have at the town end) which we be sited between the fire escape steps and the storage building. Fortunately we have installed drainage in that area so there will be a minimum amount of disruption.

We are also creating a further hard standing area in between the changing rooms and the main stand. We have been overwhelmed by the numbers of children who want to have their birthday celebrations at the stadium and this area will accommodate those children and families.

We are also installing a building at the south end to serve as our second bar as we have reached capacity in the Spitfire Lounge and we are aware that many supporters are going elsewhere to have a drink. Our partner and supplier, Shepherd Neame, has recognised the need for further bar facilities and have been highly supportive in the installation of the building.

Finally, we are also installing another building again at the south end that will serve as a club shop. This will not be a permanent shop but will be an improvement on what we have used in the past.

Despite the generosity of the Gallagher Group, Britelite, Shepherd Neame and the BTSH association, these improvements will cost the football club more than £50,000 and whilst I appreciate they will not go far enough for some of our supporters we have to draw a line in the spending somewhere.

We have had the most wonderful season and we are re-investing in the infrastructure and the future of Maidstone United. I know that by continuing to improve the facilities is an investment in the future of the club but we are also aware that we must continue to serve up football that entertains and excites and is successful or the facilities will not be needed.

Thanks for all of your support.

Terry Casey

Friday, 26 April 2013

An amazing end to an amazing season

Terry Casey, Bill Williams and Oliver Ash
This has been such a memorable season in the history of our club. So much has happened and so much is still happening.

You have to pinch yourself to remember that 12 months ago the Gallagher Stadium was still a construction site and yet today we have a fabulous football, academic and social facility, successful teams, generous business partners and thousands of supporters, both old and new, all of equal and great merit!

When you read about the difficulties of other non-league clubs like Ebbsfleet, Horsham or Sittingbourne, to name but a few, you realise that whatever happens this weekend, we are fortunate to be in a good place right now.

However, there are always issues and problems arising and teething problems to be addressed – remember this is our first season. Since our homecoming we have always set out to be as open and transparent with our supporters as possible – this is your club. So we wanted to discuss a few of these issues here and now:

As a result of your club attracting such wonderful support for home games, the requirement to offer tickets to away fans and the limited official capacity of the Gallagher Stadium we are obliged to make special arrangements for ticketing at the play-offs, should we find ourselves in them of course.

We are trying to provide as fair a system as possible in order that the most loyal supporters are able to buy tickets but no system is foolproof and no doubt this will be imperfect. It is impossible to satisfy everybody.

For the future we are endeavouring to improve the ticketing system and to increase capacity, which will reduce the number of unsatisfied fans for future high demand games.

The Gallagher Stadium
Our first season home has enabled us to take stock of where the stadium needs improvement and expansion and where we want to improve the comfort of the matchday experience for supporters. However, despite the huge attendances at the Gallagher Stadium, we will not be in a position to undertake major works to increase comfort or capacity during the summer. The reasons for this are various:
  • time is simply too short now in terms of planning delays and design work  to do any major improvements this close season; remember that the close season – particularly where play-offs are involved - is a very short window indeed
  • as you know the Gallagher Stadium cost nearly £3 million to build, roughly twice the originally budgeted sum. As a result cash flow is very tight; the entire first year surplus revenues have been spent on the stadium in advance…we do not wish to further burden the balance sheet of the club with debt at this stage. It is a difficult balance to manage because obviously we don’t want to lose disgruntled supporters either
  • running the Maidstone United business as a whole has been much more expensive than we budgeted so although attendances have been higher than forecast there are extra associated costs.

At present we are engaged in discussions with Maidstone council and our consultants Prime Construction to design a long-term development plan for the stadium. The aim of this is to plan for expansion in several phases, to be triggered as and when both attendances and/or promotion require it and finance is available. In order to put ourselves in a position whereby we can expand the stadium in due course, we want to try and ensure the whole business is sustainably profitable and owner debt is reduced. We will therefore not overspend either on first team budgets.

Having said all that, we have discussed some urgent needs for next season and come up with a few improvements which we are planning to implement. These should include more toilets and drinks and food outlets near the Henry Reeves & Co Stand and possibly another covered terrace at the Loucas End giving a further 100 or so capacity and a bit more roof cover. We will confirm these measures in due course. 

Membership of Maidstone United Football Club
Since last summer we have been planning a launch of a membership scheme at the club: the Maidstone United Fan Club

Many professional football clubs operate membership schemes for their supporters. We were uncertain of exactly when we would launch our scheme because it depended on having sufficient numbers to be feasible.  Now, given the pressure on capacity of the stadium on certain match days, it seems to us the time is right.

The purpose of this scheme is to enable fans to confirm their loyalty to their club while benefitting from special gifts and services. One of the principal benefits is PRIORITY FOR TICKET PURCHASES for games deemed to be high demand games. In situations like the current play-off match preparations, members of the Fan Club will be given priority (together with Season ticket holders) in purchasing tickets.

It won’t matter if you live far away because you will be able to buy tickets through your membership. Our scheme will be launched during the close season and we hope you will subscribe in large numbers, thus contributing to your club and becoming AN INTEGRAL PART OF MUFC.

A further innovation for next season will be e-ticketing. 

All being well this will enable you to purchase tickets in advance for games at the Gallagher Stadium. This will be an advantage for those who wish to be sure to get into busy games and also to reduce queuing because a turnstile will be dedicated to e-tickets. 

You will be able to print off tickets at home and these will be scanned at the turnstile. As in most electronic ticket systems there will be a small extra charge for the system provider.

This system is being designed and will be tested over the coming weeks. We hope it will become another positive and useful service at your club.

We are constantly looking to innovate and use new ideas to improve the way the club is run for you, the supporters. All constructive ideas are welcome and are listened to. 

We really appreciate the fantastic support the club has received in its first season back home and we hope you will come back in even greater numbers next season and join the club.

Before then there is the little matter of the end of the season…we wish all your fingernails the very best and to see lots of you at the Supporters’ End of Season Party.

Oliver Ash