Another week passes, and another week of much confusion as we continue to wait and try to work out what is happening, and what we can and cannot do.
I will confess this has been a harder missive to write than usual with a real sense of mixed emotions with all that is currently going on. We should feel excited that at last, after so much patience and effort shown from everyone across the club, we are soon to start playing football again. After all, that is our core business and the reason so many of us get involved in the first place, yet strangely enough, as Chairman, most of my time is taken up with other issues that most people do not see. (An example being, as I write this, my phone has just gone off to inform me that the thermostat has stopped working at the club, and we have a leak!).
However, this sense of excitement is hugely tinged with one of confusion and disappointment at the way clubs at our level are seemingly being messed around and overlooked by the FA and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. When we were asked to suspend playing for the second lockdown, it was a decision we did not agree with for various reasons, but one we accepted as a club, obviously wanting to support the greater good and to follow government guidelines to ensure this awful pandemic can be faced down and a brighter tomorrow can be enjoyed by all.
As the end of lockdown approached and the new tiers were put in place, it was a bittersweet moment for all. The return of our beloved game, but a lack of clarity and care for said return. Despite five weeks ago being asked to follow government guidelines, we are now being asked to play matches in tier 3 areas, going against what we have been mandated to do and surely not in the best interest of anyone. As far as I know there has been no special dispensation given and therefore not only are we in contravention of the government guidelines, of greater concern, is the fact that we are being asked to risk the health and well-being of players, management and club officials.
I am of course referring to next week’s FA Trophy game at Weston-Super-Mare that is still going ahead, although the league season remains suspended. With Weston-Super-Mare being in tier 3 the game must be played behind closed doors, and we have been advised that there will only be Directors at the ground on the day with no facilities for even a cup of tea at the end of our 133 mile journey. We should not be a mere five days from a game with no clue about what is right and wrong and no sense of who we turn to for answers. I have been in communication with our local MP, Cheryl Gillan, who has been superb in responding very quickly and raising our concerns with the appropriate government departments; however, they have not responded yet as they are so busy! Aren’t we all!
As these issues continue to rumble on, we see EFL clubs being supported by the Premier League billions, League One and Two clubs have received some support and the National League and National League North & South, have received lottery money funding, which is good to see for them. Yet also incredibly frustrating that we seem to be the forgotten level, still looking to fund semi-professional football players whilst we wonder how we will continue to exist during this time with gate receipts already ruined and now secondary income also halted due to most clubhouses not being allowed to open on matchdays.
It seems that all levels of football are getting grants, until you reach our level and below where there is £14 million available, but all as loans! And let’s be realistic here, we are the level where clubs will struggle more than most to repay any loans taken out, which could put clubs’ very existence at risk if they are not budgeted for carefully.
We, as a group behind the scenes, have been working tirelessly. We are all volunteers. We don’t expect any pats on backs, we do it because we love it. But when you’re stymied at every turn it can be very difficult to stomach, but we will soldier on, and continue to look forward to a bright future. On Saturday we do have our friendly game against Royston Town, unfortunately we will not be allowed to have the clubhouse open, but the Tea Bar will be serving refreshments and Billy Burger will also be there serving up his legendary hot treats. Please do come along to the game, we will have all our covid-19 procedures in place to ensure your safety. Entrance for the match is just £5, but if you felt you would like to pay more to help the club through these troubled times, we will be more than happy to accept a donation!
I am sure Paul & Ron Campion in the club office will not mind spending the extra time trying to work out why the cash does not tally with the gate receipts; they are both legendary volunteers at the club who have given so many endless hours over the years in many different roles, today they manages the gate receipts and calculate the crowd, organise the programme sellers and keeps the office manned on a matchday. A big thank you for all you do Paul & Ron, it is appreciated by us all.
I have today also attended the funeral of our great manager from the 1968 FA Amateur Cup Final days, a sad occasion, but John was remembered in the most fantastic eulogy read out by Martin O’Neil, a fitting farewell for perhaps the greatest manager our club has had. On the drive home I was cheered up by a phone call from a season ticket holder who I will not name, but they explained that although they had purchased a season ticket, they will continue to pay on the gate at home games as they understand how tough it must be for the club. Little moments like that warm the heart, and make you realise it is all worth the effort.
One final update on club merchandise available, we have ordered 25 Chesham United snoods, available from the club at £12.50. If you would like to reserve one, please drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, there we are, despite so much confusion and uncertainty, still plenty to write about in the end! Whilst I know the management will have the players prepared in the best possible way for our match versus Weston-Super-Mare, all we really want is answers from people at the top to ensure we are playing in a safe way for our teams, and in a sustainable way for the long-term future of the club. One thing is for sure, whenever we welcome everyone back, we will be ready – on and off the pitch.
Until then, take care and stay safe.
Peter Brown, Chairman
Chesham United Football Club