It’s less than a week since our agonising FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United in a sudden-death penalty shoot-out at Wembley Stadium. Great drama for the neutrals, but sheer torture for those directly involved.
As I said in my message to both supporters and staff on Monday morning, there is much we can be proud of: we were the better team on the day, we enjoyed more possession, and we deserved to win the game.
However, football, as in life itself, doesn’t always deliver what you deserve. And so, with two Premier League fixtures in the next six days to prepare for, there was no time for anyone at the club, least of all Roberto, his staff and our players, to dwell on our collective disappointment.
Similarly, it was important for us to encourage you, our fans, to set aside your own feelings about Sunday as more than ever we need you to get behind the team – just as 36,000 of you did so magnificently at Wembley – and help us to finish the season as strongly as possible.
Indeed, the noise and colour our fans generated on Sunday will live long in the memory. And not just inside the stadium. The atmosphere travelling to Wembley, around the stadium itself, in the Fan Zone, and at Box Park was just fantastic!
Attending an FA Cup semi-final isn’t cheap. The cost of tickets, merchandise, travel and food adds up, particularly when entire families support the team. We are really very grateful for the sacrifices and commitments fans made to support us last weekend.
Of course, it wasn’t the result we wanted, but going toe to toe with one of the world’s biggest clubs – and most expensively assembled squads – for over 120 minutes was a demonstration to the football world (quite literally) of the progress we’ve made in the four years since our last semi-final appearance.
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It was so heartening, but not unexpected, to see Solly March receive so much support from our fans at Nottingham Forest on Wednesday night. When a penalty shoot-out gets to sudden death, there is inevitably going to be one person in the spotlight when the music stops. Sadly, it was one of our players and one that has enjoyed the season of his life. Again, like life, football can be cruel sometimes.
To all those who have sent messages of support, please rest assured Solly is as strong as he is hugely talented and, with the encouragement of Roberto, our coaches, players and staff, I have no doubt that he will maintain the very high standards he has set for himself all season long.
As for the game at the City Ground, I thought we dominated most of the first half, but the physical and mental toll of 120+ minutes of football at Wembley – coming just 72 hours earlier – began to catch up with the team. Roberto, understandably, made changes to the side, which included a first Premier League start – and goal – for Facundo Buonanotte. He is another example of a young player being given his opportunity by Roberto, and we look forward to watching his continued progress moving forward.
With this being our first home game in four weeks, my email inbox was, understandably, burgeoning in the wake of our defeat at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium earlier this month. It’s fair to say it wasn’t a game the match officials will remember too fondly.
A 2-1 defeat to Tottenham after an entirely dominant performance was hard enough to take but to be on the wrong end of so many big calls by the match officials, including errors that PGMOL subsequently acknowledged, made it harder for everyone.
However, as frustrated as we all were on the day itself – and no doubt like many of you for several days afterwards too – the club must manage such situations calmly, with perspective, and privately. There is quite literally nothing to be gained by ranting and raving publicly.
Similarly, talk of bias and corruption doesn’t help. Nobody at the club believes that either exists in the Premier League or amongst match officials, and neither is there any reason for anyone else to do so. Match officials are human. Human beings make mistakes. Sometimes in football mistakes cost teams points.
And, as unjust as the outcome of the Tottenham match felt at the time, we also quickly forget decisions (or errors) by match officials that have gone in our favour. These issues do go both ways and, despite the rhetoric, decisions go against bigger clubs too.
PGMOL’s chief refereeing officer, Howard Webb, has been proactive in his efforts to reduce errors by on-field officials and VARs, and has been quick to acknowledge when errors are made. Howard is new in his role, and he must be given time to make an impact.
In reality, publicly criticising match officials doesn’t help our sport. If we want to increase the pool of refereeing talent available to Howard and his PGMOL colleagues, we need to encourage young people to become match officials, not put them off for life.
Does this mean we are slow to make our disappointment known to PGMOL? Of course not. But it does mean we confine our complaints to private conversations with Howard, and we gracefully accept public apologies if they are offered. Behind the scenes everyone in football will continue to work hard to improve standards.
As we have found this week, the nature of top-level football means there is usually another big match right around the corner. So, rather than be consumed by what happened at Spurs, it was vitally important we all focused on the next match at Chelsea… and the opportunity to secure three more important points which I’m delighted to say we did.
I also enjoyed watching our Women’s First Team secure a very important win against Everton at Crawley the week before last.
This match was sandwiched between (another) narrow FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United, and a WSL defeat at Liverpool – a tough three-match run for Melissa Phillips, our new head coach.
In addition to securing the important win against Everton, Melissa has already made a big and positive impact with everyone at our club, but, like our players and staff, she is also well aware that our women’s team are in a relegation battle – and we have five very important games ahead of us.
Your support for the team in those upcoming matches, particularly the home games against West Ham United, Leicester City, and, in between times, against WSL title challengers and Champions League semi-finalists Arsenal, would be very welcome – while the road trips to Everton and Tottenham are equally important.
So, despite two FA Cup semi-final defeats and reverses in our most recent league matches, both of our senior teams have a lot of football left to play – and much still to play for!
Finally, I am delighted to confirm we have now sold out of both general admission season tickets and 1901 Club memberships for the 2023/24 season. This is a fantastic show of support from our fans, and we’re very grateful for your faith and commitment.
We have also enjoyed the support of a record 25,000 MyAlbion+ members during the current campaign – another sign of our club’s growing supporter base.
So, with demand for match tickets currently at an all-time high, and season tickets and the 1901 Club sold out, we now expect MyAlbion+ membership numbers (and with it our season-ticket waiting list) to grow even further over the summer period. Thank you for your incredible support for us.
Enjoy today’s match