Last week’s visit to Brentford’s new stadium saw us secure three valuable away points as we continued our very solid start to the new campaign. Leo Trossard’s fantastic strike in the 90th minute capped a very good second-half display.
It was a nice way to mark playing the Bees in each of the four top divisions and to build on our early season Premier League wins against Burnley and Watford, and our success at Cardiff City in the Carabao Cup.
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Last time out here at the Amex, we were beaten by a very good Everton side – a reminder of the quality opposition that exists outside of the traditional 'top 6'. Today's opponents will provide a similarly tough test.
I'm sure by now everyone will have seen the Government’s winter COVID plans. As has always been the case, these plans and the relevant guidelines remain fluid, but, at the time of writing, it remains possible the Premier League will require fans attending matches to continue to carry some form of COVID certification and will expect clubs to carry out random checks on a proportion of the crowd across the period from gates opening right up to kick-off.
If it comes to pass – and judging by my mailbag over the last few days and weeks! – I am sure ongoing checks will please as many fans (who wish to come to the stadium with the added confidence that this process provides) as it does frustrate others (who prefer the minimum number of restrictions to enter the stadium). However, if these measures help us to keep fans and staff as safe as possible and Premier League stadiums at full capacity, then it is something I’m sure we will continue to adjust to.
With a final decision on whether COVID checks will continue for Premier League matches yet to be made, we do not know exactly what they might entail, but we would not expect them to differ too much from what you have already experienced entering the stadium for games against Getafe, Watford and Everton – except to say that if the checks are more formally implemented we would not expect to be able to provide fans with any leeway for those not carrying the necessary COVID status proof.
Our staff pride themselves on making sure supporters enjoy their visits to the Amex, and most importantly, that you are kept safe. Carrying out any checks beyond normal ticketing and security processes involves a huge amount of extra work for our staff, and we will all need your continued support and cooperation for this to happen, but the club’s priority will always be the safety and security of everyone in the stadium, including our staff, with operational efficiency and ease of access a close second.
On this point, and regardless of what, if anything, the Premier League may ask of us, we would urge everyone to continue to use their common sense to protect themselves and also to protect fellow supporters and our staff from COVID. We recommend you continuing to maintain distancing where you are able to do so – not easy in a busy stadium, I know – and to wear a face mask in confined areas in and around the stadium, not least because the person in front of you, or to your side, may be more vulnerable. We have also had feedback from many fans concerned about travelling to and from the match by public transport, and it is clear that they would feel much more confident coming to the Amex if supporters on trains and buses – including the park-and-ride buses – wore masks for their safety while travelling.
Going forward, we must all be prepared for plans to change and guidelines to be adjusted, possibly at very short notice, however inconvenient or frustrating this may be. We all need to be ready to adapt to whatever the Government or Premier League may mandate to keep people safe, and to keep our stadium open for the maximum number of people to attend matches throughout the winter months and the entire season.
It’s been a very difficult period for everyone – and the football industry and fans of all clubs have been massively impacted. Your patience, support, understanding and loyalty throughout this period has been humbling, so thank you. I’d also like to acknowledge the hard work, professionalism and resilience of our staff, many of whom are without any kind of break since well before the pandemic began. They’ve all been magnificent – and it’s worth noting we wouldn’t be in the stadium today without them.
With, we hope, a more ‘normal life’ gathering pace, we are all looking forward to getting off Zoom calls and meeting more of our fans face to face at supporters' group meetings across the wider county and further afield when time permits. In this regard, it was good to see fans back in the Mayo Wynne Baxter lounge at the Amex for our first fans’ forum of the new season. Broadcast live on BBC Sussex, the chairman, Graham and I enjoyed taking a range of questions, excellently hosted by Johnny Cantor.
Our club’s direct engagement with supporters has always been a high priority and we always welcome hearing your views and questions. We also appreciate having the opportunity to give you an insight in to how and why we make the decisions you hear and read about, while also happily debunking any myths and rumours from social media chatter too! If you do get an opportunity to attend one of the numerous face-to-face meetings we intend to hold throughout the season, we’d love to see you.
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Elsewhere in the club, the good start to the new season for our men’s first team has been mirrored by Hope Powell’s women’s first team, and also by the men’s under 23s, led by Andrew Crofts, which is really good to see.
We’ve also opened new top-class training facilities for our women’s and girls’ teams, and a range of new facilities for our men’s and boys’ teams, making an already world-class training facility even better.
At the stadium, we’ve received fantastic feedback from our 1901 Club members, who are enjoying the benefits of a £3 million-plus refurbishment of our matchday lounges and bars.
As we’ve previously explained, staffing remains an issue for us in operational and catering areas, but, with universities returning soon and the number of competing summer events across the south of England subsiding, we are hopeful of securing better support and better service for you in the coming weeks.
I’m sorry this hasn’t been at the level you have come to expect and we strive to provide so far this season, but thank you for your understanding and patience during a tough period.
Looking ahead, we won’t be straying too far from home for our next few games. After Swansea City’s Carabao Cup visit next week, we make the short trip 'north' to face old rivals Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park before welcoming Arsenal back to the Amex, both in Premier League fixtures. Your continued support for us in a busy fixture programme is important and really appreciated.
Finally, as you will see on page 12 of today’s programme, we have joined forces with Women in Football to #GetOnside.
Supported by Women in Football’s lead partner Barclays, #GetOnside sees organisations, such as ourselves, make a specific pledge of action to help level the playing field for girls and women in the game and help make an immediate and real impact.
As a club, we have pledged to invite local girls’ football teams to visit our new training facility at Lancing; set up a group of aspiring female marketeers to help develop inclusive attendance plans; have more female representation in writing content for club channels and matchday programmes; and increase the participation of girls playing football in our local community and schools.
As a club, we feel we are already making strides in levelling the playing field, but there is still much to be done and, hopefully, with these new pledges, we can continue to bridge the gap as we #GetOnside.
Enjoy the match!