With just 4 weeks to go until the scheduled start of the football season, supporters will usually be planning their attendance at forthcoming fixtures, having bought their new kits and reflecting on the team's potential given the incomings and outgoings during the close season.
In recent weeks we have been able to provide you with updates on how Dave's squad is coming together. But what else has been progressing behind the scenes and how are we expecting the start of the season to unfold?
Unfortunately we are unlikely to have all the answers to your questions – not least because we still do not have all the answers ourselves. The practicalities around safely returning to competitive fixtures continue to evolve, so please be patient.
However, as the countdown to the season progresses, we will update as matters develop and clarity is received - keeping you informed and helping you manage your expectations of what lies ahead.
In the meantime, don't forget that the fixtures are being announced this coming Tuesday, 8th September at 1:00PM.
Return from furlough
A significant milestone has been reached this week, as most of our staff have now returned from furlough arrangements and the players have resumed full time training, interspersed with friendly fixtures.
Match Day Planning
Perhaps the area of greatest uncertainty for us all remains around match day arrangements.
In accordance with a National League directive, the Club is implementing a number of protocols which have firstly allowed the players to return to training and will then allow us to hold matches behind closed doors in our stadium (which is referred to as the Stage 3 Protocol).
This has involved appointing a Club Covid Officer and Medical Officer as well as undertaking risk assessments and planning for the safe arrival and departure of all players and coaching staff (home and away), officials and essential Club representatives (such as media and football administration).
Our next key stage protocol is Stage 5, which allows for the safe return of spectators to competitive sport. You will be aware that pilot testing of fixed spectator numbers is currently taking place across a number of sports. Following these pilots, it is envisaged that further guidance will emerge over the exact protocols that each club will have to implement to allow spectators to safely return within their revised capacity constraints.
In terms of our own safe working capacity, we are currently working through this process with various certified contractors and in accordance with National League guidance and briefings we have had over the last couple of weeks. This will allow us to agree an acceptable capacity with the Local Authority. The calculation is not a straight-forward percentage of our usual ground capacity, nor a fixed number which is given to us – it is driven by a number of factors around our ground's unique configuration. As soon as we have agreed our safe working capacity, we will share this information with you as it will drive our match day logistics and ticketing arrangements.
When crowds are allowed back into matches, additional Covid related measures are likely to be implemented which may include temperature testing, face masks, cleaning and other ‘track and trace' measures that have recently become part of our day to day lives. The exact details of what is required will be set out in forthcoming guidelines and protocols, which we will share with you as soon as they are made available.
It will also be necessary for us to consider the number, location and use of turnstiles in operation on match days in order to meet these protocols in terms of ingress and egress. We will therefore be implementing stricter ticket checking controls - as well as the possibility of staggered arrival times to avoid bottle-necks building at key areas (such as turnstiles) and also looking at the logistics around potential kiosk openings and social-distancing measures within toilet facilities and across concourses.
All valid season tickets submitted to date will be processed within the 1,500 maximum that we set. We have processed around 2/3 of the tickets received so, if you have still not been notified of the success of your application, please do not worry. As we were unable to process online applications, this has been a manual processing exercise and your understanding and patience is therefore valued. If you do have a genuine query about your application, we respectfully ask that you email us on email@example.com, rather than visiting or calling, as this will allow us to process the applications and your queries more efficiently and quicker.
Once we have a firm number of season ticket sales, this will be accommodated within the safe working capacity of any restricted spectator calculations. If the safe capacity falls below the final number of tickets sold, a priority system will be adopted as explained at the time of the season ticket launch. If the safe capacity exceeds the numbers sold we will be able to offer additional season tickets and/or match day tickets.
We envisage all match day tickets having to be bought in advance for the foreseeable future – and not available to purchase on the day. The reason for this is ‘track and trace' and to ensure that we retain the details of every ticket purchaser in accordance with Covid guidelines.
In the event that no spectators are permitted into matches, the Club will be providing every season ticket holder with an extra match day ticket (to bring along a friend or family member) which will be available to use at fixtures later in the season as and when crowd restrictions are eased.
For the time being, we will be keeping the ticket office closed during the working week whilst the season ticket applications are processed and queries resolved. We will advise of planned opening days (and hours) in coming weeks, however we are expecting to alter the existing opening hours and days depending on whether we are playing matches behind closed doors, restricted or full crowds. When the ticket office is re-opened, Covid protocols and a restriction on the numbers of supporters in the office at any time will be in place.
As with the ticket office, we will be keeping the retail shop closed during the working week. We will advise of planned opening days (and hours) in coming weeks, which will likely coincide with the opening hours of the ticket office. When the retail shop is re-opened, Covid protocols and a restriction on the numbers of supporters in the shop at any time will be in place.
In the meantime, please continue to buy your retail merchandise online. We are open for business, albeit behind closed doors!
In recent weeks we have been working closely with O'Neill's to finalise the designs and details of our new kits and training gear. Our home and away kits for the coming season have now been ordered and we are awaiting confirmation of delivery dates.
Ideally we would have liked our new kits to have been in stock some weeks ago, however our primary contacts at O'Neill's only returned from full furlough last month so we are grateful that they have helped us get to this point under the tight time constraints, and uncertainty, that we have all faced.
Our kit reveal is being planned at the moment in conjunction with O'Neill's – so watch this space!
We are assured that replica shirts will be available before the season starts and we will be making them available for pre-order online at the time of the reveal, when our main sponsors for the season ahead will also be revealed.
We will issue a further update as matters develop and further clarity is obtained by the Club in the build up to the start of the season.