Head Coach Mark Bonner comes off furlough to provide an update to supporters on the football side of the Club, following the announcement of Cambridge United retained/release list earlier this week.
First off, I hope all of you are keeping safe and well. Last weekend should have been the season finale at the Abbey against Crewe Alexandra, but we have all come to accept that these are not normal times.
The players are now furloughed, so the original home fitness programmes have eased off. Accepting that, as things stand, this will likely be the longest period without games, players are treating it as their holiday period and have a lighter programme physically. Should the season complete, it is likely the turnaround to the new season would be short, so they are striking the balance between looking after themselves without intense work at this stage.
We have been checking in informally with all the players on both their mental and physical well being. Those injured have been treated ‘virtually’, - something obviously new and challenging. Our player retained list has also been released in the usual fashion at the end of this month, but rather unusually has been done with nine games still remaining of the season. Treating people respectfully is one of our core values so we wanted to let people know as soon as possible whether they were in our future plans.
As highlighted in the statement on Tuesday evening, of the 12 players out of contract at the end of the 2019/20 season, discussions will begin with Greg Taylor, Liam O’Neil and Harrison Dunk on a new contract. The financial picture is clearly changing and suitable new agreements need to be reached that are acceptable to both the Club and the players. I am keen that all three agree to stay as part of the squad we want to build. All of them have contributed a lot over a sustained period of time, but particularly in the short time I have been leading the team. They are all leaders and role models in their own way and offer us some important senior continuity throughout the squad.
I have personally informed the remaining nine players that we will not be offering an extension to their terms at the conclusion of the season. This gives them some clarity now and crucially time to plan life beyond their contract with us. These are always tough decisions to make and tough to communicate. In all cases, the players have conducted themselves impeccably, in keeping with the way they have represented us. We thank Dan Jones, George Taft, Reggie Lambe, Samir Carruthers, Paul Lewis, Jabo Ibehre, Finley Iron, Jordan Norville-Williams and Sam Bennett for their endeavour in their varying lengths of time with the club. I am sure I speak for everyone in wishing them the very best in their future careers when they leave Cambridge United.
Our immediate plans focus on a potential short term return to action in the summer to complete the 2019/20 season in the best way possible, should this be the decision reached in the coming weeks by the EFL. This would provide playing opportunities for some of the younger squad members to aid their development. Secondly, we continue planning the construction of a team to represent us in 2020/21. This is an ongoing process that evolves all season but at this time inevitably carries more complications than usual. In any case, we do not envisage any early recruits as it makes sense to wait. We will be ready to act quickly and decisively when the time is right to do so.
Away from the pitch, the ‘Here for U’s’ campaign remains active and the support and services that our Community Trust team have been providing has been first class. With less need now for practical and physical support, and having joined Directors and Club staff in speaking to all 64 year old + season ticket holders, I am acutely aware of the number of people who are feeling lonely and isolated. This is perhaps the biggest role the Here for U’s campaign can play now. So if you need someone to talk to, we are genuinely here for you. We are proud of being a mentally healthy club and we are all finding ourselves at times in increasingly stressful and isolated situations. We will continue to ‘drop in’ with regular calls to those who have requested them to keep our community connected and safe. Please call us on 01223 632 129 if you want someone to talk to.
You may have seen Imogen from our girls development centre who is attempting to complete a ‘keep up’ for every key worker in the NHS to raise money and awareness for nine charities. A number of players across the club have donated through the JustGiving page and by donating ‘keepie ups’. Both have been gratefully received. There are 7.1million to do!
We are United in these difficult times and are determined as a Club to come through them in the best way we can. We know how tough they are for everyone. We know how much the Club matters to so many people. And we know that it is going to be a rocky road ahead in so many different ways. There is a shared focus and determination across the Club and nothing illustrates that more than the support from you the fans - whether it is through season ticket sales, purchases at the Club shop or your help in countless other ways. I remain optimistic about the future even if the shape of it is unclear.
In closing, I’d like to add my condolences to the hundreds of messages the Club received after the sad passing of long term loyal supporter Keith Hood. We will continue to strive to improve your Club and give the thousands of loyal followers like Keith, something to be proud of.