Yesterday’s decision by the EFL to curtail the season and resultant relegation of the club to League 2 is, of course, extremely disappointing.
I do not criticise the EFL conduct, although there is as much merit in voiding the season (under which circumstances each club would remain where they are) as there is in curtailing the season. The EFL Board have maintained throughout their wish to finish the season on the pitch. This must be correct … completing the competition we all started in August 2019.
Sadly, that has not been possible. Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on many peoples lives, their families and friends. Circumstances that will haunt hundreds of thousands of people for years to come, if not forever.
Against that backdrop, what right have we got to be “disappointed” about our club being relegated at this unprecedented time. We are strong and Southend United will emerge from the trauma that is affecting the entire world and impacting its people.
That is not to say the coming months will not be without its challenges and our club, like every other business, will need to manage the situation until an improved degree of normality returns.
At present the continuing need for “social distancing” precludes a return to crowd filled stadia … until supporters are allowed back, everything is abnormal.
Without crowds I, at least, feel football matches will be a shadow of what we once enjoyed. Empty stadiums are soulless. It is the fans that make football … it is our supporters that create the atmosphere, the chanting, the banter and lets not overlook the humour.
Match day is also a place to meet friends, family … chat to the people we all regularly sit next to or see in passing. The conversations before and after the match … who played well, who didn’t, how we could improve … when such and such comes back for injury etc. (moaning about the chairman!) are all part of “going to the match”.
The industry is confident, as I am, it will return but for now living with Covid-19 means we have no immediate visibility to when League 1 & 2 will restart. If there was a vote I would oppose playing behind closed doors. For all the above reasons match day is nothing without you, the club’s supporters.
There has been some discussion of the Premier League kicking off next season (once they have finished this one!) perhaps between 22 August - 12 September.
If testing, as I suspect, continues to be necessary then it might be the autumn before League 1 & 2 could feasibly return … perhaps longer if clubs agree to only open with crowds.
It is potentially misleading to talk about a vaccine or therapeutic treatment in our universal battle against this virus. Nevertheless, as many of you will know Oxford University, having teamed up with AstraZeneca, are currently conducting human trials, which it has been said (if successful) could be rolled out in September/October. I accept there are still many unknowns but that does suggest the opportunity to return to match day with crowds may not be so very far away. The season might need to be extended or games condensed, perhaps less cup matches, but all this is entirely possible.
Bringing the club’s planning applications to Committee is one of my prime focuses right now. From that platform everything follows, enabling the club to release a certain program keeping everyone updated, providing detail as we move through the various stages of planning and construction.
Throughout this period we plan to stay in close touch with the club’s supporters, keeping them informed of any news of a restart. There will be players leaving and new signings made as soon as we have a restart date… clearly the transfer window will need to be extended.
Contract negotiations with Academy players who have been offered new contracts is progressing well. Surprisingly not all have yet accepted… perhaps they know something we don’t.
In the background, but moving apace, the club’s partnership with the Council continues to make great progress on the stadium plans and here also we will keefor our move to Fossetts.
Finally some supporters have enquired about season card refunds… not having completed the games. Others have said will I get a discount on next year and some have said the club needs it too, keep it.
That is true the club has gone without any income for three months and it looks set to be without match day income for some months ahead.
Over the next week or so we will review what is the best way forward. As always it is my wish to look after the clubs loyal supporters and although these are difficult times for us all we will do our best.