Welcome back to the American Express Community Stadium for this evening’s Premier League fixture.
We extend our welcome to the players, staff, officials and supporters of Newcastle United – who, in most cases, will have made the very long trip to the south coast from the north east – and also to BT Sport who are broadcasting live from our stadium for the first time this season. Once again, the Amex is entirely sold out, so we can look forward to another cracking atmosphere both in the stadium and via TV screens across the UK and much further afield.
We have competed in some tough matches against the Magpies over the past half a decade or so, not least during the 2016/17 Championship season when both clubs were promoted to the Premier League automatically but Newcastle ran out winners in both league fixtures. Since then, having won four and drawn four of our last eight fixtures, we have built an impressive Premier League record against our visitors but, with Newcastle looking for their first league win of the 2021/22 campaign, we know we will, once again, be in for a very tough match tonight.
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Last weekend, almost 2,000 Albion fans thoroughly enjoyed seeing us reverse an early 2-0 deficit at Anfield to secure an excellent point against Liverpool. The quality of our performance against the 2019/20 Premier League champions was matched by the team’s spirit, as goals from Enock Mwepu and Leandro Trossard silenced a packed and partisan crowd. Having secured two good results against the Reds last season, I’m very sure demand for tickets for Liverpool’s return to the south coast in the spring will be greater than ever!
In my last set of notes for Manchester City’s visit here, we outlined our zero-tolerance policy for any kind of discriminatory or anti-social behaviour. Despite that warning, a small number of individuals, purporting to support our club, decided to fight each other and, later, fight with visiting supporters – all mindless behaviour which resulted in a number of injuries, ejections and arrests. Lengthy bans for all those involved, for both our home and away matches, will certainly follow. Some fans will also face prosecution, and the prospect of a criminal record.
Sadly, in common with a number of other clubs up and down the country, we have seen a steady deterioration in the behaviour of a small section of our support this season. With lockdown lifted, fans permitted to attend matches again, and the team enjoying an excellent season so far, it’s hard to fathom why. Nevertheless, a range of unacceptable behaviour has so far led to 32 exclusions from the Amex up until the end of October. This figure compares to just 52 exclusions for the whole of the last full season with fans in our stadium.
The behaviour of the individuals involved has been as embarrassing to witness as it has been anti-social and unlawful, and we will continue to identify, indefinitely exclude, and seek criminal prosecutions for anyone that puts other supporters or our staff at any kind of risk before, during or after matches at our stadium. Zero tolerance means just that. As such, we will be deploying additional stewards and police resources to monitor and counter such behaviour, and we will be using the stadium’s CCTV technology to help identify offenders.
Our stadium enjoys an excellent reputation as a great venue to watch top-level football. This is because it is welcoming and safe for all sections of the community, as well as for fans of other clubs. It is also because our fans are known for getting behind their team, and for enjoying healthy but inoffensive and non-violent interaction with visiting supporters. We will not allow this hard-earned reputation to be damaged by a tiny minority, so the message from everyone here is very clear and very simple: if you wish to behave in this way, please stay away from our club.
Thankfully, as ever, the overwhelming majority of Albion supporters continue to grow and enhance the club’s reputation, not least via the fantastic vocal backing we are continuing to receive here at the Amex, and also on the road (highlighted at Anfield last weekend). Having recently secured new club records for season-ticket sales, as well as selling out our 1901 Club for a third successive five-year term, we are now on the brink of setting a new club record for Albion+ club memberships while the season-ticket and 1901 Club waiting lists are once again starting to build.
So, with an enhanced capacity to utilise this season, we are now offering Albion+ club members the limited opportunity to secure a half season-ticket for the remainder of the current campaign. This will also be renewable for the entire 2022/23 season, and will therefore not only guarantee supporters a seat for this season’s matches from 26 December onwards, but also put them in pole position to extend their support for the team in the best available seats for the whole of next season too. Further details can be found on the club’s website.
Staying with the theme of tickets, some fans have asked about securing tickets to away matches, and how we determine how many tickets to take. Firstly, we consider the geography and timing of the fixture – e.g. a midweek match will usually mean a lower level of demand. Secondly, we look at the allocation options. Thirdly, we consider any likely travel issues. And finally we look at recent demand for the same fixture. Unfortunately, it’s not an exact science and we have to make a judgement call to ensure we maximise support for the team, but minimise financial risk for the club.
Once we have determined the allocation, we must then consider the loyalty point thresholds and timing of the ticket sale. Most clubs will also provide us with strict sale instructions – in other words, the order that tickets must be sold block by block. This often means we are unable to sell what some fans might perceive to be the best seats in any given stadium first or to those with the highest number of loyalty points. We fully appreciate this is far from ideal, but given the limitations of the system most clubs deploy and the time available to us to sell, we are rarely able to counter this.
We will always look to take the maximum number of tickets we think we can sell. We want as many Albion fans to support the team on the road as possible, but we also have a responsibility to use the club’s resources wisely, and not waste money when our judgement is that we will be left with tickets we can’t sell.
It often seems we could have sold 100 or 200 more tickets than we actually take, but if, for example, that still leaves us with 800 unsold tickets, and that happens in, say, half of our away games, we will have wasted around a quarter of a million pounds.
With five of our seven matches next month live on TV, we are of course seeing a number of changes to the dates and kick-off times of our fixtures. As is always the case, the various changes suit some season-ticket-holding fans and not others, and as is always the case, live coverage means that many Albion fans who can’t visit the stadium will be able to see many more of our matches during one of the darkest and coldest months of the year. For the late kick-off on Boxing Day when Brentford visit, we will be doing everything possible to provide additional transport options to help supporters get to and from the stadium when we know public transport options are far more limited. We hope to announce these plans soon.
Finally, with this being our game ahead of Remembrance Sunday, I would like to welcome Efrem and Sharon Brynin as our special guests at the Amex this evening. As many of you will know, their son, L/Cpl James Brynin, a staunch Albion fan, was killed in Afghanistan in October 2013. We are proud to name our annual Fan of the Season award in James’ honour and before kick-off we will remember him and all those servicemen and women who have died in the line of duty for their country.
Thanks, as ever, for your support. Enjoy tonight’s game!