While the country went into lockdown following the coronavirus pandemic, it was very much business as usual at the Albion. In fact, many staff were busier than normal as the club embarked on a host of initiatives to aid fans, staff, sponsors, media and the wider community during these extremely difficult and often sombre times. Here’s a timeline of events as the football club played its part. Part two will be published on Saturday.
Pay for matchday staff and food donations made
Following the postponement of the Arsenal game, the Albion board agree to pay the regular casual staff who work on matchdays. Chief executive and deputy chairman Paul Barber said, “We have more than 600 matchday staff, who regularly work for us. We have had to cancel their work at really short notice, and we know that their work and pay is really important. We have taken the decision to continue paying the vast majority of our matchday staff for the remainder of the season, whether or not we play the five remaining Premier League games.”
Food purchased for the hospitality lounges and retail kiosks for the Arsenal match, including all surplus fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products and sandwiches, was donated to Sussex Homeless Support, to serve and provide food across various night shelters and soup kitchens in and around the Brighton and Hove area.
Barber addresses all staff via Zoom
Further to earlier correspondence via email, Paul Barber hosts the first of six all staff briefings via Zoom, keeping employees informed of the latest happenings inside the club and further afield, while answering any individual concerns. He calls on staff to remain calm and professional, and that our mantra of ‘together’ has never been more important. He is later joined by chairman Tony Bloom on an all staff briefing on 22nd April.
Calls to the community and season-ticket payment holiday
Albion staff and players make the first of 4,000 phone calls to check on elderly or vulnerable supporters. Head coach Graham Potter, Bruno, Andrew Crofts, Tony Bloom, Paul Barber and Martin Perry, along with members of the women’s first-team squad, are among the first to make calls facilitated by the club’s supporter services team. Partners and sponsors also received a personalised message from our men’s and women’s teams sending their best wishes. “We are a community club and it’s a small but practical thing we can do to support people who mean a lot to us and who have been there for the club over many years,” says Barber.
Staff from Albion in the Community, the club’s official charity, also start regular check-ins with the most vulnerable people the charity helps, with teams also working to adapt workshops and sessions for suitable online delivery. Matt Dorn, chief executive officer at AITC, said: “At times like this it is more important than ever that we support the most vulnerable people in society and as a charity we will continue to do so in any way we can.”
With more than 92% of season-ticket holders having renewed for the 2020/21 season, the club offers season-ticket holders and 1901 Club members the opportunity of a three-month payment holiday to cover May, June and July to help alleviate some of the worries they might be experiencing.
1,000 tickets ring-fenced for NHS staff
Albion announce a minimum of 1,000 tickets have been ring-fenced for NHS staff and their families for future matches at the Amex. The club board also invite other Premier League, EFL, Scottish and Northern Irish senior clubs to consider following suit.
Paul Barber nominates AFC Bournemouth as next in line and Cherries’ chairman Jeff Mostyn is keen to rise to the challenge.
“We fully appreciate football is the last thing on anyone’s minds at this moment, but we feel this is a small way in which we can show our gratitude for those NHS staff on the front line who are fighting the battle on behalf of all of us and give them something to look forward to,” said Barber.
Weekly media briefings begin
Albion lead the way with the first of ten consecutive weekly Zoom media briefings during the coronavirus lockdown.
Graham Potter and Paul Barber answer questions from the broadcast and written media and it proves to be the club’s best attended briefing of the season.
It also draws plenty of praise from a host of media outlets including Talksport journalist James Savundra who tweeted: ‘This is brilliant! @OfficialBHAFC holding a press conference with Graham Potter and Paul Barber via video conferencing. Another superb initiative alongside many others introduced by the club in recent weeks.’
Management take voluntary cuts
Paul Barber, technical director Dan Ashworth and Graham Potter take a significant voluntary pay cut for the next three months in order to support chairman Tony Bloom’s efforts to protect all jobs at the club and AITC.
“We consider ourselves to be very fortunate to be working for the best of clubs at the most of difficult times so it is entirely appropriate that we play a very small part in reducing the financial burden on Tony,” said Barber.
A number of staff offer to follow suit but Bloom rejects the gesture. “Nobody at the club has asked them to do it but they have seen the situation we are facing and wanted to help,” said Barber. “Tony Bloom’s reaction was typical. He hasn’t taken up any requests and he is bearing the financial responsibility on his shoulders, but we are doing all we can to minimise our costs to try and ease the burden on Tony.”
Staff thanked with gifts
The club teams up with local businesses Sun Harvest and Piglet’s Pantry to make up a food parcel of fresh fruit and vegetables, eggs, and pies, which are to be delivered to all Albion staff, partners and sponsors. Throughout the lockdown staff are treated to further gifts of Amazon and Netflix vouchers and a selection of Albion As One Nike apparel.
Fans get to quiz Paul Barber
Paul Barber conducts a live Q&A with members of Seagulls Over London. It's the first of six events which are held with supporter groups during the lockdown including Seagulls Down Under and groups in Sussex.
No furlough for staff and fans’ forums launched
The club announces it has no plans to use the Government’s furlough scheme for Albion staff and no redundancies are planned.
The trustees for Albion in the Community decide that in order to protect jobs of those working for the charity, it does need to furlough staff who are currently unable to deliver their programmes and cannot be deployed to other duties.
A club statement said: “The trustees have committed to top up the balance of these salaries for the period of the current UK Government Job Retention Scheme to ensure these staff receive their full salary for this period.”
Paul Barber added: “We have furloughed staff in Albion in the Community but furlough for the remainder of the staff is at the end of a long line of things we can do to reduce costs further.”
Elsewhere, the first online fans’ forum takes place with Seagulls Over London, whose event on 25th March was cancelled due to the pandemic. Paul Barber updates SOL members of the latest events at the club and opens the floor for a Q&A session. Further fans’ forums have since been held online with the likes of Seagulls Down Under, Seagulls Over Burwash, the Robert Eaton Memorial Fund and the Official Supporters Club, with guests including Bobby Zamora and Steve Sidwell.
AITC launches Together in Community campaign
Albion in the Community signals its commitment to continue helping people in Sussex during the Covid-19 crisis by launching a new campaign: Together in the Community.
The temporary closure of most community venues used by AITC has meant much of its regular delivery has had to be postponed, so the Together in the Community campaign will see the charity focus its efforts online in three key areas: helping people get active; helping people stay well; and helping people keep learning.
Matt Dorn said: “As a prominent charity in the city and the wider Sussex region, we have a responsibility to do our bit to support our community throughout this crisis and we are absolutely committed to doing so.”
Amex converted into Covid-19 testing centre
The Amex Stadium is converted into the south coast’s biggest drive-in coronavirus testing centre, as the club strengthens its commitment to assist the NHS and other key workers.
Paul Barber said, “It has been amazing to see the Department of Health and Social Care, who are overseeing the set-up of these vital test centres, working alongside the army, club staff, AAA security and the team from our stadium and the club’s catering partners Sodexo, whose staff are helping to run the site.
“It is hugely impressive and a great triumph of both teamwork and hard work. The Amex will be the biggest testing site anywhere on the south coast and will be used for self-testing and assisted testing.”
Aside from the testing centre, it is revealed that the Amex is also being used for the storage of vital NHS supplies and, together with the club’s training centre at Lancing, is available for NHS training and local emergency services, in order to coordinate their efforts in the fight against coronavirus. The stadium has also been offered to the local authority as a field hospital, if needed.
Albion as One Fund launched
Albion players make a substantial six-figure donation as the Albion As One fund for local charities is launched.
The first-team squad donate a significant portion of their April wages, with their initial contribution further boosted by a donation from Tony Bloom and his fellow directors.
The proceeds from the fund – which will also be opened up to staff and fans who may wish to donate – will be distributed to a combination of local charities and good causes supporting our communities during the crisis, who have seen their own fundraising efforts become more difficult.
It is revealed the players have already made a private and significant donation to three local charities a month ago.
Food delivered to vulnerable families and fans
Albion in the Community volunteers team up with staff at the Bill’s Restaurant and Bar in North Road, Brighton and The Ivy in Ship Street, Brighton to deliver meals to some of the most vulnerable people that AITC work with. Some 1,000 meals are set to be delivered as part of The Caring Foundation in the first week, while people working at the NHS testing centre at the Amex will also receive meals. Food parcels are also set to be offered to season-ticket holders isolating at home.
American Express live events launch
The first of our live Q&As for American Express employees and their families takes place with Glenn Murray, Lewis Dunk, Hope Powell and Fliss Gibbons taking part. Dale Stephens and Adam Webster are participants at a later event.
The first ‘Wednesday Night Live’ Q&A event also takes place for 1901 Club members, with Paul Barber in the hot-seat. Other participants include Will Buckley, Bruno, Andrea Orlandi, Guy Butters and Bob Booker. In total, nine events took place during lockdown.
Albion launch limited edition NHS shirt
A special home shirt thanking the NHS and other front-line key workers is created, with American Express kindly giving up their sponsorship position.
The new design features a special ‘Thank You NHS’ logo emblazoned across the front of the club’s existing home shirt, and ‘Thank You Key Workers’ on the sleeve.
In the first day after going on sale, 1,000 shirts are purchased by Albion fans, with all profits going directly to NHS charities via the Albion As One fund.
Ticket refund confirmed
Following confirmation that Albion’s final games will now be played behind closed doors, 1901 Club members, season-ticket holders and match-ticket purchasers are offered refunds on tickets purchased.
Fans are also be given the opportunity to waive their refund or donate to the Albion As One fund. This is in response to a number of emails to the club from supporters wishing to be offered this opportunity.
Paul Barber said, “It has been humbling to receive so many emails and messages from fans, firstly concerned for our welfare as a club and also as individuals and secondly asking for their ticket or membership payments to be retained by the club or Albion As One fund.
“We fully appreciate not all fans will be in a position to make a donation or some may not wish to do that, but in response to those writing in we wanted to give all our supporters the choice.”
New benefits for MyAlbion+ members
With the announcement that the remainder of 2019/20 Premier League season is to be played behind-closed doors and as we are yet to find out if this scenario will continue into the 2020/21 campaign, additional benefits to next season's MyAlbion+ membership are released.
These include bonus Points for Loyalty; £10 Retail Voucher for Earlybird Renewing Adults; Free E-Programme – worth £48; Improved Welcome Pack – RRP £15; Exclusive online member quizzes, Q&A’s with players and staff, competitions and exclusive offers.