Chief Executive, Levi Gill, provides an update for supporters as the Club reacts to the impending heightening of coronavirus restrictions.
Hello everyone. I hope you’re all keeping safe in these challenging times.
This update will naturally be heavily influenced by the recent announcement of a second national lockdown but I don’t want to make it all about that. It’s my intention to try to give a monthly update on the Club going forward. I understand how frustrating it must be to have to watch the team from afar, so I’m happy to share any information we’re able to on what’s happening and our thinking as we move toward the end of a year that probably won’t rank high on many people’s all-time list. If the Club can bring just a little bit of joy or distraction in the coming weeks, I’ll consider that a job well done.
There has been widespread press coverage in recent weeks about the need for financial support in the EFL and, as a Club, Barrow AFC are absolutely supportive of finding a long-term solution for our game. Short-term fixes will not resolve these issues, and it’s important that we re-focus this debate on the return of fans to stadiums (post-lockdown) and on the redistribution of wealth within football.
Already there are several EFL clubs unable to pay their wages and receiving emergency support from the League, and this number is set to increase to an unsustainable and unaffordable number this month. I’m pleased to report that Barrow are not one of these clubs, but it highlights the scale of the immediate and serious crisis that faces football.
Sometimes I think that the media portray this as a future problem, almost as though early next year when 12 clubs go bankrupt will be the time to act. It isn’t. The time is now before those clubs start to scale back their community activity and their Academies. By the time they’re on the brink of bankruptcy, that damage is done. All that’s left by then are 18 players honouring a fixture list. Our clubs are more than that, and we risk losing them.
At Barrow, it’s important to stress that our Board remain committed to the vision for where we all want this Club to go. Our Club benefits from its comparatively low cost base and the excellent management of Paul Hornby and our directors. But we don’t want to be one of the last clubs standing in a desolate landscape. We want to be members of a vibrant Football League. Only through a full re-assessment of the distribution of wealth in football can this be achieved, and the time for those talks is now – not when it’s too late.
National lockdown response
As you may have seen yesterday, we’ve taken the decision to close the offices until the lockdown restriction is lifted. Matches will continue as normal, so what this means in practice is that the Club and our Club Shop are now unfortunately once again closed to the public.
Moving forward, ‘collection from the Club’ will not be available as a delivery method. All items purchased this month will instead have to be shipped to your address, and you’ll be guided to this option when you purchase anything via the Online Shop. Anybody who currently has an outstanding order which you were planning to collect from the Club (e.g. a Matchday Programme) will now have your items shipped to you free of charge instead. While I appreciate that this isn’t ideal, there isn’t a practical alternative now that the Club is not going to be staffed during the week. Once circumstances change, we’ll give a further update to let you know that you can once again come in-store to collect purchases.
Please continue to contact us in the usual ways should you have any queries or concerns. We retain access to our emails and have rerouted the Club telephone line so that somebody will always be on hand during our normal opening hours to deal with your queries.
I’m sure we can all agree that Mark Simpson has completely transformed our Matchday Programme. There is now far more content than we’ve known previously, and the quality both of the features and the production are superb. Mark has worked tirelessly to create a Programme that we can all enjoy, and this is something that I’m really keen that fans retain access to throughout the season.
Despite this, we’ve reached a point where unfortunately sales just aren’t there to justify continuing the printing of physical copies at the moment. Since the fantastic interest in the opening day Programme, which of course we all knew would not be sustainable, the Club has lost money on Programmes for every subsequent game. In the current climate this isn’t something we can continue to do, so later this week we will be providing an update on a new digital version of the Programme. While this will be disappointing to collectors, I want to reassure you all that my personal preference is for a physical Programme and that once fans can return safely to grounds I will ask Mark to look at this again to understand whether we can return to the traditional offering.
I think that the Bluebirds Trust do an excellent job of giving everyone a sense of where we are on the ground development work. Their videos and photos really bring to life what has been a monumental task this summer and continues on even now.
Without the luxury to vacate our ground, we’ve been forced to undertake our redevelopment while working around the fact that this remains a live facility and people’s place of work. Especially on a matchday, there have been real complexities around making adequate provision for all of our media guests while the new gantry was still under construction. Our fixtures against Stevenage and Bolton Wanderers saw particularly high demand for press passed and once again I thank Mark Simpson for helping us with adapting to the situation as it evolved.
We now have a functional camera gantry positioned above the Ray Wilkie Stand. There is still some work to do inside this gantry to make it as comfortable as possible. Kris Wilkes seems determined to make it suitable for anything up to and including hosting the Champions League Final, so there’s a toilet to be installed alongside adequate tea and coffee making facilities and other comforts which will hopefully distinguish us from other clubs when the time comes to select televised games in the future.
Alongside the gantry, the fan zone has been, for me, the most exciting project of this summer. With my fan hat on, this will revolutionise a matchday. We’ve installed four outdoor screens as well as one larger unit indoors, all of which have their own speakers and should create an incredible pre-match atmosphere. I’ll speak a little more about the potential use of the fan zone later on.
Hopefully all Season Ticket holders have now heard from us about changes that iFollow are making to the way that they distribute free access to home games. I know that Anya has worked hard on making sure that everybody has a code for each game, but there’s no denying that the code system isn’t perfect.
Therefore, in time for our next home league game, instead of codes we will be able to simply upgrade our Season Ticket holders’ iFollow accounts to automatically grant free access to each home league fixture. This should make everybody’s lives much easier, but it means a little bit of short-term pain because we need all of our Season Ticket holders to let us know what email address they used when registering for iFollow. If it’s the address we already have on file for you, that’s great. But in circumstances where it isn’t, or where you may have bought several Season Tickets for friends or family but only gave us one email address at the time, please get in touch with us at email@example.com no later than midday on Friday 13th November so that we can ensure that your iFollow account upgrades go through successfully and in plenty of time.
While on the subject of iFollow, I know that the viewing figures are a source of interest. I’ve provided October’s numbers for Barrow viewers below:
Carlisle (A): 698 paying viewers
Leyton Orient (H): 657 code redemptions and 267 paying viewers
Harrogate (A): 429 paying viewers
Bolton Wanderers (H): 691 code redemptions and 327 paying viewers
Walsall (H): 678 code redemptions and 277 paying viewers
Mansfield (A): 500 paying viewers
As a final iFollow update, a fuller statement will be made on this subject but I’m aware that there have been questions on this Saturday’s FA Cup game. To confirm, this game against AFC Wimbledon will be available via iFollow at the standard price.
Streaming of games at The Progression Solicitors Stadium
Some fans may know that the EFL have granted permission for clubs to stream games live at their stadiums provided that any viewers are not in view of the pitch and, of course, subject to social distancing and consistent with the Club’s Stage Three COVID-19 procedures. This option is currently only available for home games, but the EFL hope to have technology in place within a month to also allow ‘beam-back’ of away fixtures.
For us, streaming home games anywhere in the ground is likely to remain difficult throughout the pandemic. This is because neither the fan zone nor the Cross Bar are outside of our matchday COVID ‘zones’, and the only places that we would be allowed to have fans would be in areas where there is no cross-over of viewers and anybody entering/exiting COVID zones.
The Cross Bar is completely out of the question as it is currently being used as an overspill changing room and it is unlikely that we can find an alternative to this way of working. Where we may be in a position to look at this, however, is for away games. On these days, we obviously don’t have to work around matchday workers or COVID zones and it is theoretically possible to show these matches once the EFL provide us with the technology. I can’t promise that we will be ready to implement this as soon as the EFL are, but it’s one of our priorities in the coming weeks to understand what would be required and how many fans we could safely cater for to establish if it’s worth exploring. I understand fans’ desperation to get back to the ground, even if we can’t be in view of the pitch, and I’d love for us to be able to take this step forward as soon as possible.
Retail and ticketing update
The feedback on our new clothing range has been incredibly positive and I’d like to thank Anya for all of her hard work on it. Pre-orders have been very encouraging and it’s a shame that just as some of the stock has started to arrive we can’t display it in the Shop and invite you all to have a look/try things on to find your size. You can still pre-order online and we remain committed to getting orders out and in your hands in plenty of time for Christmas, however, please bear the following in mind:
- In order to ensure that you have your items in time for Christmas, we’ve advised a deadline of 4pm on Friday 4th December to place your orders
- A very small number of items in specific sizes are not available until January, and some others until December. Those unavailable until December we will still get to you before Christmas, but please read the item descriptions carefully when making orders
With the national lockdown scheduled to end on Wednesday 2nd December, it’s our intention that the Club Shop will be dressed and all items on display so that anybody who wants to come in-store to see the new range will have three days to do so before our Friday 4th December cut-off for Christmas orders.
Please also keep an eye on social media for further ‘stocking filler’ ideas which we will be launching soon to supplement the new clothing and give fans plenty of choice when thinking about gifts.
When the Club reopens, it is also our intention to invite you all to collect your Season Tickets. We will be able to offer a delivery solution if collection is not practical for you.
Hopefully, this all gives you some sense of the work that is continuing at the Club, even in the face of another challenging lockdown.
We want to ensure that Barrow AFC is as strong and successful when you return as it was when you left it in March. In turn, we want the same for our fans. We’ve already sadly lost some along the way since we were last able to welcome everybody into the stadium. We want to keep that number as low as possible so please continue to follow the guidelines, give us every support on iFollow and via continuing to purchase on the online store, and we will take care of the logistics of getting orders out to you.
Stay safe and enjoy the coming games!