Thursday, 5 November 2015

The joys of the cup, 3G in the Football League and five years on...

Once again, thanks to the skills and professionalism of our squad and management, we find ourselves in the first round of the FA Cup and looking forward to a real treat of a match on Sunday against Yeovil. 

I am gutted to miss a home game in the FA Cup First Round for the second year running, particularly as it looks like we will set a new capacity record thanks to the huge demand for tickets. 

We are obviously delighted with the interest generated but disappointed for those unable to get tickets. There is no perfect system for satisfying everybody when demand outweighs supply. We do however recommend joining our Fan Club as it is relatively cheap and guarantees you a ticket and also helps club funds.

At times like this our newer supporters in particular might be forgiven for thinking this is just what it's like every year. But you'd be wrong. This is an exceptional run of success for the club and we should all savour every moment of it. 

To get to the proper rounds of the FA Cup is always the icing on the non-league cake. It allows the players and managers to test themselves against seriously talented professional teams; it gets the club into the limelight for brief but unforgettable moments; it raises the profile of the club and enables us to attract more supporters, more business partners and more customers, all of which is positive for the long-term health of the club. 

Also it's a huge amount of fun mixing it with the 'big boys'. This is what most non-league clubs dream of. So let's share the dream and enjoy every minute and never, ever, take any of this for granted. 

And while we do that, let's remember that our squad has managed to get us to third in the league and pressing for a play-off place. This is as notable as the FA Cup run and will hopefully keep our whole season as alive and kicking as the previous Gallagher Stadium seasons have been. There is a long way to go of course but there is a growing confidence that we can compete in this league and have a chance to reach the play-offs in April. Let's see how we go.

The FA Cup also raises the profile of our 3G pitch, which is no bad thing, even though we are aware our pitch does sometimes look tired, what with all the use it gets  and can appear shiny and patchy, particularly under the lights and on TV. After Graham Westley's comments last season on the dangers of 3G, while his club Stevenage were advertising it in their programme as perfect for youth training, it will be interesting to hear what the Yeovil manager has to say.

Recent weeks have seen England play on 3G again, without any serious adverse comment. Furthermore we have heard on the grapevine that the Football League are once again revisiting the 3G issue, under pressure from The FA. The time may indeed not be far away when a club from National League comes knocking on the Football League door with a 3G pitch. The FA realise that there is no simple way for National League to manage 3G clubs seeking promotion while the Football League door is shut. So they will be as keen as we are for the Football League to allow in 3G. 

On that topic I noticed today that Kidderminster Harriers, in serious fiancial difficulty, were taken over. Their new owner stated he was looking at a new business model to grow the club as a community facility not dependant on match day revenues…well my friends at 3G4US may have some advice for him.

You will possibly be aware of the race against time to get the new east staircase open and fit for purpose this Sunday. The completion of these works will give us over 3000 capacity in normal circumstances and just under 3,000 when we segregate. It all depends on how we segregate too. The numbers change all the time depending on where we might put dividers and how many rows of seats or metres of terracing we wish to block off. That depends on whom we are playing… in any event these numbers will be quite satisfactory for us and the league. 

We are also embarking on a new master planning exercise for the stadium design to revisit where we plan to be in future years as and when we continue to climb up the pyramid. The focus now is achieving the minimum capacity requirements (4,000 for The National League and 5,000 for League Two) in a logical and economical way, so as to give us the best possible chance of financing them sensibly. The precise urgency of this exercise may depend on how the team is doing!

You can all be rightly proud of the club's facilities, which are among the newest and best in the league. On top of that please let's make sure all of us, staff and supporters alike, continue to welcome all fellow and opposition supporters to the stadium with the same friendliness we usually do. That is what we stand for.

As Christmas pokes its nose round the door, can I respectfully ask you to consider buying presents through our shop? Look out for special opening times in the run up to Christmas. We try and produce new and attractive merchandise, Helen and her volunteer staff are the friendliest in the business and every penny contributes to your club's financial stabilty. So it's for a great cause! Thank you.

Lastly we held a club Premium Partner wine-tasting event last week, thanks to Shepherd Neame, which was successful. Our Premium partners such as Shepherd Neame, Britelite, Gullands and Gallagher Group, as well as many others, contribute hugely to our resources. 

On 19 November, in the evening, we host our twice-yearly Supporters' Get-Together in the Spitfire Lounge. The theme is 'Five years on, looking back and looking forwards'. You will have a chance to meet fellow supporters for a drink or two, chat to Jay Saunders and some of the players and ask questions, hear from Terry and Bill about the latest club news and possibly view the premiere of the latest Stones TV production thanks to Fred Atkins and John Gooch. In fact you might soon be seeing much more of John's work because he is returning shortly to bring you - once again - highlights from most of our matches. 

Yours in sport,

Oliver Ash