Following the premature but inevitable conclusion of the season for League Two I wanted to reach out to you all to thank you for your wonderfully loyal support throughout another season. The majority vote to curtail the season was a sensible solution to a very difficult situation, and whilst far from ideal, it does give everyone some closure on the season and allow planning for 20/21 to begin in earnest.
When the League Two Play-offs go ahead next week, I will be an interested spectator as the league table for next season takes shape and we see who will be joining us for the next campaign. The likes of Swindon, Crewe and Plymouth are deserved winners of promotion for their consistency throughout, all three showing some admirable qualities that we can learn from.
Many of you may have watched the return of Bundesliga football from Germany over the past couple of weeks and will watch on eagerly to see the conclusion of the Premier League and EFL. It is hard to look beyond the lack of supporters and atmosphere in the stadiums, and it will be interesting to see how this affects the quality of the game and the event as time goes on. Football is about emotion, on the pitch and in the stands. It can become very sterile without it. However, this gives us an opportunity to see how it develops, how the TV coverage is improved to cater for the lack of crowd noise, and what the implications may be for us as a team should we have to begin the season in this fashion.
As per my previous announcement, decisions around those players out of contract were made and communicated. The official end to the season now means that we will not see those players again in amber and black shirts. However, we hope to see them back at the Abbey in the future and wish all of them the very best in the season ahead, thanking them again for their efforts.
The conclusion of the season also brings an end to Sam Smith, Jack Roles, Victor Adeboyejo and Ben Coker’s time with us. Disappointingly we didn’t see Ben in a game, and though he was due to play against Cheltenham in the match that never happened, we wish him well and were pleased to see him make a return to full fitness, ready to play again. Victor had been with us for a short while much like Paul Mullin, and both added good competition in forward areas and were good characters around the Club. In the case of Sam and Jack, both enjoyed good periods throughout the season, scoring important goals and showing their potential. We thank all of these players for their contributions and wish them well in the coming months.
As we await confirmation of a potential start date for next season, the players and coaching staff can now all relax and switch off for a short period. Despite the time away over this uncertain time, everyone has maintained a level of fitness and lived with the thought of an imminent return. The confirmation yesterday allows us to put closure on the season and therefore players can relax, switch off and recharge ahead of a new campaign. After a period of complete shutdown, the squad will begin their home off season fitness programmes and gradually increase the intensity of their work before returning revitalised for a new season.
We have work to do regarding additions to the squad to increase the depth and competition, and that work will become clearer over the coming weeks as the play offs conclude, potential restart dates are confirmed, and all clubs announce their retained lists for next season. We are clear in the positions and profile of players we would like to add to the squad and the numbers we would like to work with, but there are still many unknowns as we await guidance and leadership from the EFL around future plans and the implications of Covid-19.
It isn’t clear yet what football will look like for supporters and players alike in the short term. One certainty is that football is all about supporters and whilst the prospect of playing in empty stadiums is unappealing, if that is the short term necessity imposed upon us in these unprecedented times, then we will deal with that the best we can as a team and will endeavour to create ways to engage with you the supporters, before a return to normal can resume.
It’s been emotional revisiting and enjoying all of the social media posts over the past few weeks including the six-year anniversary of that wonderful day at Wembley. It reminded us of previous successes and reflected on a team that achieved hero status in the club’s history through creating a team that was organised, hard-working, committed and clear of what was expected of each player. That organisation, together with a team spirit and purpose allowed the talents of the players to build a winning team. That is a timely reminder of what we need to recreate here. The type of team we want to be. The type of team players want to play in. The type of team you want to watch.
One member of that winning team, Luke Chadwick made headlines recently with his honest and brave story around how his early career in particular was impacted in terms of his mental health. Luke is an excellent role model and his vulnerability will have helped so many others. Another of that squad was Harrison Dunk, who wrote a superb blog outlining the importance of education alongside playing to prepare for life after sport and challenge yourself.
As part of mental health awareness week, the Community Trust continued their outstanding work with a virtual primary school assembly that myself, Kayleigh Anne-Burt, Daz Coakley and Leon Davies were pleased to support. As we continue the work as a mentally healthy Club and improving our own understanding and support in this area, it has never been more vital to create conversation and make ourselves vulnerable. Everyone has up and down moments. We all have mental health. One opportunity of lockdown is to become more aware of these feelings and of the emotions of other people, sometimes forcing us to speak more openly to each other. The agreement to see ‘Heads Up’ appearing on the front of the training kit is a great addition to further highlight this area and our approach.
We will continue developing as a Community club, there for everyone, here to serve and willing to help. When we return for a new season, we will fulfil our sporting function and play with this community at the heart of our cause. But it is constantly being highlighted that all of us have a role to play in the community, to support others and make our Club a role model in the city.
We can all look forward to a fresh start, a new season, and to doing our job. But we will never forget how influential we can be and how a United club can have such a positive impact on our Community.
Stay safe and remember we are ‘Here for U’s.
United in Endeavour