Welcome back to the American Express Community Stadium for this evening’s visit of Crystal Palace, whose players, staff and officials have made the short trip down the A23 and M23 from south London – and a belated Happy New Year to everyone!
It’s good to be back playing on home soil for the first time in almost three weeks. We followed up our Boxing Day win over Brentford with an excellent away performance at Chelsea, our first ever win at Everton and progress in The FA Cup at the expense of West Bromwich Albion.
As everyone knows, statistics can be read in whatever way you want them to be, but a run of “12 matches without a win” is now being portrayed as just three defeats in 15 Premier League matches, and only four losses all season!
As importantly to us, and with very few exceptions, our performance levels – despite selection challenges brought about by COVID, illness and injury – have been consistently good all season, and it’s great to see Graham, his staff and our players getting the returns those performances have deserved.
Palace’s visit tonight marks our entry point to the second half of the season and, with COVID pressures also seemingly easing across the country at the time of writing, we hope that more and more fans will be in the stadium to see if we can build on the very good foundations laid to this point.
It’s been a very challenging few months for everyone and, with so much uncertainty created by a very infectious Omicron variant, it’s a great shame that attendances up and down the country have been affected, leading to fans of almost every club missing out on seeing some great action live.
Our priority since football was first affected by the pandemic in March 2020 has been to keep people as safe as we possibly can. Thankfully, playing behind closed doors and restricted attendances gave way to allowing everyone back, subject to the production of COVID passes or negative tests.
Getting crowds back to watching football live was our secondary priority and this has relied upon fans of all clubs complying with the Government’s restrictions, co-operating with staff, and everyone generally taking responsibility for their own health and that of other fans around them.
The overwhelming majority of supporters have done just that, and it is because of this willingness to work with clubs that we have been able to keep stadiums open up and down the country which, has, in turn, helped protect the livelihoods of many people working directly and indirectly in football.
It’s hard to say for how long the current Plan B-related checks will continue, but your ongoing support and co-operation is very much appreciated. Let’s hope that by the end of the season we will see our matchday routines returning to something resembling normal.
Talking of normal, we’re acutely aware that in addition to COVID-related checks, our fans have had to contend with a multitude of travel-related challenges compounded by a series of late kick-offs, including tonight’s, largely brought about by our matches being selected for live TV coverage.
As ever, kick-off dates and times changing suit some people, and not others, but the vast majority of fans dutifully rearrange any other plans to ensure they can still get to the stadium. Again, we really appreciate this and there is no doubt that having you in the stadium helps the team.
However, the support we receive from our broadcast partners is also critical to our club, and many others. Broadcast coverage of our sport helps football to attract owners, sponsors and, not least, many of the world’s best players – all of which go towards creating a highly competitive league.
Live matches in this country can’t be broadcast at 3pm on a Saturday so, inevitably, if we are selected for live coverage – and our form this season has meant that’s been happening frequently – our matches will move away from this particular slot.
Again, this explanation won’t please or satisfy everyone but, as much as a 3pm on a Saturday is seen as the traditional time for matches in our country to be played, it really hasn’t been that way in the top two divisions for a very long time now, and we have all had to adapt accordingly.
People’s family lives and working patterns have also changed over the past decade or more, particularly recently, hence why the movement of matches away from the traditional slot also suits many people.
We know we will never be able to please all of the people all of the time but we also know that extensive live coverage of our matches is enabling many fans unable to get to the stadium, in this country and overseas, to see us play, which is, in turn, helping to build our club’s wider fan base.
All of this said, ensuring we have as many fans in the stadium for every match remains as important as ever – our broadcast partners want this too – so we will continue to do all we can to make it as easy as possible for people to get to and from the Amex regardless of the day or time of kick-off.
Our matchday logistics at the Amex – and your patience! – will be tested again early next week when we face Chelsea in another midweek fixture which has been rearranged due to the Champions League holders’ participation in the World Club Championship next month.
Given the high level of COVID-related postponements in recent weeks, the Premier League will – in line with its normal policy – always look to rearrange any matches that are postponed (for any reason) in the earliest available slot, and typically this will be midweek.
Beyond the Chelsea fixture, we can look forward to our third match of the season against Leicester City – our away support for this game already looks fantastic, thank you – and then further away games at Tottenham Hotspur, in the fourth round of The FA Cup, and back to the Premier League to face Watford.
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With matches coming thick and fast to the end of February, we then face visits from Burnley and Aston Villa in important home Premier League matches.
During this period, we will be launching our season-ticket packages and pricing for next season, and in support of this campaign – as well as to address any other queries or topics – we will be hosting another online fans’ forum where I will be joined by Jenny Gower, our head of supporter services.
The fans’ forum will take place on Tuesday 25 January 2022 at 7pm and access details can be found on the club’s website and elsewhere in tonight’s programme. We look forward to seeing you online for what is an excellent opportunity for us to engage with you directly, and to hear your thoughts and views on the club’s progress.
As ever, thank you for your support – and enjoy tonight’s match.
- This evening's programme will be available at the Amex, priced £3.50. You can also purchase your copy online.