JEZ SAYS - 11th April
By April, it is difficult to think of what is interesting enough for me to write about and you to read! Home matches on three consecutive weekends makes it an even bigger challenge! I'm sitting in a hotel in Belfast whilst pontificating on the next 1500 words as part of the annual process of identifying potential targets to improve the squad. From here to Aberdeen, then back up to Edinburgh on Sunday. Last Saturday I flew into Glasgow and watched another SPL game. I've certainly clocked up a few miles on the low cost heavyweight airlines. At least you now get the luxury of a reserved seat!
Having gone to Burton v Stevenage and Coventry v Leyton Orient last week with Richard, I took the unusual step on Thursday of having an evening off to watch another sport. We have recently been interviewing for the role of media & communications manager, a role that is becoming more significant and important as the club grows and increases the breadth of our activities. The successful applicant currently works at Hull FC, so I saw the #derbyday against their local rivals, Hull KR. The atmosphere was excellent and whilst the antagonism of football remained from the away end to the home support and vice versa, it was also possible for fans to sit together in other areas of the stadium and voice support for their respective team. Banter not abuse, good natured rivalry not tribal hatred and no aggression or violence. How it should be. The pre-match build up also puts football to shame. The pitch was busy with activities involving hundreds of kids, families were entertained throughout the stadium, players were accessible before and afterwards, the event was more than just the game and a carnival atmosphere was created. We can learn a lot from other sports and especially on how to stage a fixture. The centre point must be youngsters; the next generation of fans. We have many new supporters in the stadium today through our "Kick it Out" campaign, that I will speak about later, but we must develop a strategy whereby kids are attracted to Cambridge United and are guided on a journey to becoming a fully fledged supporter by an intelligent pricing structure and a coordinated follow up after their initial visit. This is one of the many aspects of driving our business forward that we will attack next season.
Tom Stewart, the aforementioned new member of staff, will start his job with us later this month. One of his first tasks will be the launch of our new playing kits for the coming season, the announcement of another major sponsorship deal, season ticket prices, other match day initiatives and the continued growth of our community courses which will see us operating our Soccer Schools in 15 different venues during the summer holidays. His experience in a similar role at Hull FC, as well as his qualifications and affinity to Cambridge United, having grown up locally, marked him out as the outstanding candidate and we are delighted that he's accepted our offer. He will make a big contribution to the future off field success of the club.
Tom came to our game on Friday and, with both of us witnessing a defeat for the other's employer in home fixtures, our respective club's faced difficult away games on Easter Monday. The joy of sport is it's total unpredictability. Hull beat reigning champions St Helen's with a depleted team against all the odds and we all know our result and performance at Northampton Town.
The one negative regarding Thursday was that I missed the leaders debate on TV. I have since watched the programme and enjoyed some good debating rather than the usual diatribe that is prevalent at PMQ's. Regardless of the actual politics, I think that it's fascinating to watch seven leaders under pressure and assess how they perform. In trying to be genuine, some look the opposite and simply over coached. Some have authority; others don't, however much they try. As in any walk of life, the harder you try to have authority or the harder you try to gain respect, the less you look like a leader. The clock is ticking towards Wednesday 7 May and the result is too close to call so tactics, strategy as well as when and how to attack your opponent, will be key. Sounds familiar!
Watching the leaders from these political parties is not too dissimilar to seeing the likes of Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Louis Van Gaal et al in action every week at their pre match and post match press conferences. They spin incidents, try to make the public believe what they say, endeavour to keep their own supporters happy and do everything they can to speak with authority to fortify their troops and undermine their opponents. It would be an interesting exercise to swap them over and see Cameron v Miliband on a touchline and Mourinho v Wenger across the despatch box!
Finally, I would like to draw attention to what's happening in the South Stand today and what happened in the away end at Northampton on Monday.
Today is our "Kick it Out" Game. It is our club's opportunity to back a campaign against all discrimination. Respect is one of our core values and something that we endeavour to uphold at the club. It is drummed into our players from the youngest academy age group all the way through to the first team. And it's the antidote to discrimination. It is the fact that every human being should be treated equally and shown respect. We are delighted that we are able to use our position as the professional sporting organisation in the city to effect the lives of so many people, away from what happens on the pitch. In the week before the Easter holidays, our players visited a number of local schools with our coaches to deliver the "Kick it Out" message. In the last two weeks, our players have also been visiting all of our Soccer Schools with the same "Kick it Out" message. Thousands of youngsters will have heard it loud and clear; the message amplified because it was delivered by footballers. This is where we have to understand our role within the community. Footballers are held in high esteem by children, so when they deliver any message, it is really effective and makes a big difference. We take this responsibility seriously and are committed to improving lives amongst all cross sections of the community within our city. This is just one example. With clappers on every seat, and the average age in the South Stand younger than usual, I am sure that an excellent atmosphere will be generated from that end of the stadium and we will "Kick it Out" with the noise you'd expect from Cambridge United!
Talking of which, Monday was just immense. I've used up every adjective in my repertoire to describe our away support this season but what we witnessed at Northampton took it to a new level. To fill our end and give the players such incredible vocal backing after the recent run spoke volumes of our supporters. It helped us to win three much needed points and just as importantly, it showed the bond between players and fans can be strengthened, not weakened, in adversity. Our supporters really are an example to others. In a world that is increasingly impatient and fickle, your loyalty sets you apart and is hugely appreciated by the board, staff and players. Thank you.
We know that we still have work to do and, before thinking about anything else, we want to repay the fantastic home support with a win this afternoon. But it will be just as tough as Friday. John Coleman has become synonymous with Accrington over the years and they are a real example of how a club can punch above their weight. With the salary cap restrictions limiting the spend on players to a percentage of the overall turnover, their recruitment is extremely shrewd and they continue to defy the odds with a comfortable position in the league. John is a miracle worker and we have great respect for what they've achieved since promotion from the Football Conference.
But we are also proud of what we have achieved since Wembley in May, even if the last few weeks have been tough. If we can get through it, which we will, the club will be stronger and better equipped to move forward again next season.
Enjoy the game.