The Club's Chief Executive provides supporters with a New Year update from The Progression Solicitors Stadium.
Hello and Happy New Year. I hope that everyone has had a pleasant and above all a safe festive period. It might not be the Christmas that we’re used to but, much like in football, we just have to make the best of what we have to work with at the moment and hope that 2021 brings better times for us all. Below is a monthly update covering some of the major talking points of the last few weeks.
Welcome Michael Jolley
First of all I’d like to publicly welcome Michael Jolley to the Club and wish him all the best for the rest of the campaign. Michael has already had his first taste of being in the dugout against Tranmere Rovers and I know that he’s eager to get to know everybody and make a strong start to life at Barrow.
Michael was the standout candidate of those that we interviewed. His preparation, attention to detail and ambitious vision for the Club’s future all left a lasting impression on the interview panel, as did his desire to bring the town and supporters along with us on the journey.
COVID-19 creates challenges in the short term in our efforts for Michael to get to know the fans, but we’re going to explore technology to see if a virtual ‘Meet the Manager’ event is feasible once the transfer window closes and Michael has settled into his role.
In the meantime, it’s going to be a busy but exciting few weeks on the playing side of the Club. We have some crucial games coming up and in parallel will be exploring the opportunity to reinforce the squad. The owners share Michael’s determination that this Club will not be relegated from League Two and everyone is working tirelessly to ensure that we have a far stronger second half to this campaign.
Tier Four and COVID-19 Update
The news that Barrow was to enter tier four might not have been a surprise having read some of the media coverage in the hours prior to the announcement, but it was no less disappointing when the blow fell.
After a lot of excellent work both from staff and a small army of volunteers, the Club had settled into a matchday process that was allowing close to 1,500 fans the opportunity to watch games safely at the Progression Solicitors Stadium. For that to be taken away again despite the fantastic feedback the Club had been receiving from safety and regulatory bodies – and the really encouraging direction of case numbers in the town generally – is frustrating, but public health of course has to be everybody’s overriding concern. Rest assured that our plans remain on the shelf ready to go when conditions improve and restrictions ease. In fact, we’re using the time to further enhance and strengthen our procedures both for matchdays and for the players in terms of training and travel and accommodation arrangements.
I’d like to thank not only the staff and the SLO team, who were such a huge part of the recent matchday experience, but also the overwhelming majority of supporters who followed the Club’s safety procedures. Maintaining social distance and wearing face coverings are not always simple requests at pinch-points within a football stadium, but the excellent feedback that I mentioned earlier from the police, the local Safety Advisory Group and the Sports Grounds Safety Authority is testament to the behaviour of supporters. So once again, thank you.
Christmas Shop Orders
We’ve received a number of complaints about orders placed online not being received before Christmas. I’d like to apologise to anybody affected by this issue and explain a little about what steps we took in advance to avoid this eventuality and where the problem lies.
In order to ensure that all qualifying orders arrived on time, we set a purchase deadline of 4th December for guaranteed Christmas delivery. Beyond that date, which was stated on the website prior to purchasing, we still tried to get things to their destination (and succeeded in a lot of cases) but we couldn’t guarantee it. Any orders placed on or before 4th December were subsequently shipped by the Club in advance of Royal Mail’s stated dates for guaranteed delivery, including those going overseas. The only parcel that we’re aware of not being shipped was one for Sweden, and that was due to COVID regulations. Any others that didn’t arrive in time would seem to be a symptom of Royal Mail struggling to cope with the demands of Christmas postage during the pandemic.
We apologise again and if anybody is still missing an item, please get in touch and we’ll do our best to track it down for you.
Tranmere Match Tickets and Future Plans
I’m also aware of some people who experienced difficulty trying to buy match tickets for the Tranmere Rovers game on the morning that they went on sale. The issue seems to have been that having tickets in a ‘basket’ didn’t protect them until a purchase was complete, meaning that if other people managed to purchase those same tickets faster then the first transaction couldn’t complete because capacity in a given area had been reached.
We have held initial discussions with our current ticketing partner since the event and it seems like this may be a limitation that we have to work around until the end of the season. I’m still hopeful that we can fix it, but if not then we may have to look at other solutions once fans can return and until the summer when we can make more meaningful changes. These could include releasing match tickets in multiple tranches (e.g. half at 9am and half at 4pm), limiting tickets to two per customer or giving priority to certain groups such as Bluebirds Trust members. The only other answer if none of this mitigates the issue would be to take expressions of interest in advance of each game and then ballot the tickets, but the admin burden of this (balloting, collecting payments, re-balloting for any late cancellations etc.) is considerable and not something that the Club wants to explore while other options are available.
Exeter Postponement and Pitch Work
There is an understandable amount of interest in the reasons for the Exeter City postponement yesterday and the pitch generally, so I thought I’d cover in brief the events of the week and also the plans moving forward.
The pitch has been frozen in places for days. Discussing it with the groundsman on Thursday, it was felt that there was no benefit in putting the frost covers on that night because the pitch was already frozen. Thursday night was forecast to be reasonably mild and it was hoped that by Friday afternoon the pitch may have thawed, and the covers could then be put on.
However, on Friday morning it was obvious that the temperature had dropped further than expected overnight. The entire pitch was frozen and in the time between then and kick off the forecast was not for the temperature to rise to more than 3 degrees.
The EFL were advised of our concerns and they arranged for a local referee to inspect the pitch and report his findings to the match referee. All agreed that the prospect of the game going ahead was very low and that it should be postponed, particularly given the length of Exeter’s journey and the national guidelines around the risk of travel into and out of tier four areas.
There are ongoing challenges in some areas of the pitch, particularly the Holker End goalmouth and one corner at that end. This stems from the unique scheduling of the summer when heavy machinery was required to be on the playing surface to construct the new roof well beyond the date by which we would normally have been playing games. The ground is now heavily compacted in that area and surface water doesn’t drain as it should, except in the areas serviced by the newly installed drains. We’ve invested in some growing lights which will help with the problem areas and are in the middle of a remedial programme of ‘earthquaking’ and installing gravel slits which will get us through the winter.
2021/22 Kits and Supporter Engagement
Finally, while it’s far too early to discuss designs, initial meetings have been held to plan next season’s playing kits. Anyone who knows me will be relieved to hear that I’m staying away from the design process and restricting myself to the commercial decisions!
Taking onboard the overwhelming feedback of supporters, we’re exploring the possibility of a bespoke home kit to ensure that we have an original and unique design. We’re also aware of a particular colour request and are attempting to incorporate this into an away shirt that may be quite different to what fans are used to from Barrow in recent years. And of course, after much debate on this topic, we’re also working to ensure that EFL sleeve patches can be pressed onto replica shirts.
Feedback and ideas on these subjects or any others are always gratefully received. This is your Club and we exist to try to give supporters what they want from Barrow, as well as ensuring a successful and sustainable business which fuels the playing side.
In order to give fans what they want to see, we need to know what that is. Some months ago we created the email@example.com email account which remains the most effective way that you can help shape the club. Now that Chris Altree is in post as Supporter Liaison Officer, you can also reach him direct at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want Barrow AFC to be one of the most community-driven clubs in the EFL, and for that we need the engagement of the support.
Once again, I wish you all a happy and a safe New Year. Here’s to better times ahead, both on the pitch and for society as a whole.