Business wise the last twelve days, since ball number 30 was drawn out after ours on Monday evening, have been a big challenge. Football wise, the challenge is obvious. But with every challenge comes an opportunity. We know what that is for the players but for the off-field operation, it is equally important.
There are a number of layers of decision making required and the outcome always needs to be in clear focus and dictate the process, rather than vice versa. Our philosophy is clear. In terms of tickets, we want to look after our loyal fans. We want to look after those who attended in the bleak times against slightly less glamorous opposition when we had a slightly less attractive team! They total less than 2000. Then there are the hardy souls who watched us in the bleak outposts of the Football Conference. They are the same people. Then there are the fans that we've enticed back to the R Costings Abbey Stadium; supporters who came against Morecambe, Exeter and Cheltenham. And finally there are the fans who swell our numbers for the highest profile fixtures such as the opening day encounter with Plymouth and the likes of Luton & Southend.
Even more important is to recognise that whilst we have introduced an online system this season, approximately 700 fans regularly pay at the turnstiles, so we have no record of their details. It is also crucial to realise that whilst we must always look after our season ticket holders, they are not our only band of loyal fans. A significant number of supporters pay to watch every game but don't buy a season ticket. Many if these fans may be CFU members. That is why we offered them a guaranteed ticket. It is also to recognise the fact that CFU members have played a major part in keeping this club alive over the last decade. We hope that in showing the relevance we place on this organisation, future membership will grow above the current levels.
And that is another part of the challenge; to create a legacy from the game. That's not just trashing to make a quick buck on the night by exploiting fans with increased ticket prices. That is by ensuring the right fans experience the occasion and that we use the occasion to hook new fans into the club for the remainder of the season. We want to grow our fan base and increase season ticket holders. This fixture is a great catalyst to do both, hence the ticketing policy around 12 Game Tickets for a guaranteed Manchester United ticket or purchasing Newport and Wycombe tickets to give fans the next best chance of attending the big game. We can't get it 100% right but we've tried our best to achieve our overall aims and the right outcomes.
We also have a responsibility to our loyal sponsors and the chance of attracting new sponsors to the club. It is vital that we grow our sponsor database and increase the number of companies associated with the club. At the same time, we want to cement and reward long standing relationships. To achieve both is difficult. To maximise revenue and retain the personal touch is a real challenge but one that we've tried to balance correctly. We can't afford to miss the opportunity this tie gave us to strengthen the club's financial base and continue the progress made over the last eighteen months. At the same time, we must remember that life will go on when the Manchester United game is merely fish and chip paper. That's why we must try to look after everyone.
Back to football, and I would like to welcome Gearoid Morrissey and Rory Gaffney to the club. We are always trying to be innovative in how we recruit players, recognising that we cannot compete with clubs at the top end of this league in terms of wages and we cannot pay any significant transfer fees. In January, to sign good players from clubs in England, it is likely that you will have to do both. That's why it's a difficult transfer window to improve the squad without big resources. It is easy to lose your best players in January but not so easy to sign players of real quality within our financial parameters. I should also make it clear that whatever the suggestions in the press, this game is not as financially lucrative as many would think, especially when you consider the cost of staging such a high profile fixture and the fact that in the FA Cup, all gate receipts are shared between the two clubs. Therefore, we will continue to operate with prudence, good sense and will only pay salaries that are commensurate with our income, cost base and provide value for money.
The market in the Republic of Ireland is somewhere we decided to familiarise ourselves with last season. Their season runs from March to November and many of the players are only signed on one year contracts, making them free agents in December. As it's across national borders, all players aged 23 or over at the end of their contracts are free of compensation. Therefore, it means that a number of good players are potentially available every January. Ben and I met a couple of agents, checked out a couple of recommendations and went to a couple of games in 2013. I then went back out to watch two of these players in the final game of that season, playing for St Patrick's against Cork City. I got very excited about a different player though, someone we knew nothing about, playing in central midfield for Cork. That feeling of excitement, when you spot real talent unexpectedly, doesn't happen very often. I rang Ben at half time to find out some of his details. I was then even more excited after watching him for another 45 minutes and rang Richard to tell him that I thought we had found a real player. It was Gearoid Morrissey. At that point, it was impossible to do anything because he was under contract, under 23 and once we spoke to his agent, we knew there was a large buy out clause. So we decided to monitor him this season. We saw him five more times in total, with Richard having the final say by watching him earlier this season. Frustratingly, after having to wait until the January transfer window opened to register the contracts, we then have to wait for international clearance. We expect this process to be concluded this week. Rory has a knock on his ankle so his bow at the R Costings Abbey Stadium will need to wait. But please give Gearoid a good reception as he makes his first appearance in a CUFC shirt. Both players have seen and heard the "Amber Army" in action and I'm sure this afternoon, and at the low key game next Friday, we will see the stadium bouncing again.
I will talk more about Rory when he's fit but his signing owed a lot to our persistence in covering this league, our powers of persuasion and backing ourselves to make a quick decision when an opportunity arose. I will explain more in future notes. What I will say though is that we will continue to clock up air miles with Ryanair to Dublin, Cork, Shannon and Knock airports to watch matches in 2015. With fixtures on Friday nights, only 12 teams in the Premier League and flights that mean you can be back in time for our games on Saturday afternoons, this is a competition that we can scout comprehensively without huge resources and personnel. We couldn't have two better prospects or characters to blaze a trail for their countrymen than Gearoid and Rory.
Talking of fantastic characters, I couldn't end these notes without paying tribute and putting my thoughts on record about Adam Cunnington. Who will ever forget his goal against Norwich City last pre-season? I remember another goal that summed him up. It was a penalty against Welling, at a time when our team was struggling to win matches in the build up to the FA Trophy final last season. In opening his body to slot home the penalty, Adam popped his groin. He'd only just come back from a hernia operation and he put his body on the line for the club. In fact, he did so for most of last season. On that evening, he scored and we won. As a result, he missed the final and almost all the remainder of the season. Totally selfless. Putting the team first. I was so pleased that he was on the pitch at Wembley when the final whistle blew to signal victory against Gateshead and promotion back to the Football League. Football is a transient game and emotion is rarely showed when players move on because it's part of the game. In Adam's case it was different. He's a top bloke. A real class act. I've got huge respect for him and on behalf of everyone connected with CUFC, I thank him for everything he's contributed to our success over the last eighteen months and wish him every success in the future. He is held in the highest regard by all the staff and players for good reason.
Now, please forget Friday for 90 minutes and get behind the team because this afternoon will be tough. Justin has done a brilliant job, just as he did at Rushden, and I'm sure will soon be attracting interest from clubs higher up the pyramid. Gary Rowett's impact at Birmingham should have a few more chairman looking into League Two for managerial solutions. Newport were extremely impressive when we played them away, are on a fantastic run and will be really difficult opponents.
Enjoy the game.