Club President Wael Al Qadi looks back on the events of 2020 and provides a festive message for supporters in the latest open letter...
Before this awful year comes to an end, I just wanted to write to you all again and sign off with a positive, hopeful message that 2021 will be better (much!) and that we will soon all be back at the Mem together cheering on the Mighty Gas!
Back at the Mem, we have not been spared. Before any of us really understood what was happening, we already had a number of cases amongst the non-playing staff with various members of our operations and management team contracting the virus back in March. At one point, we lost all our retail staff who, throughout this pandemic, have been working tirelessly through the ever-changing restrictions to ensure that you receive your orders in a timely manner. Thankfully they have all made a full recovery. More recently, I too caught the virus and found myself having to isolate in my parent's basement back home in Jordan. Luckily, my symptoms weren’t too extreme and I too have now made a full recovery.
Unfortunately, while we have all done our utmost to abide by the new Covid rules and procedures, 11 months on and it finally reached our players. This week has been one of the toughest for all of us at the club with the positive tests for a number of first-team players resulting in the entire first-team squad and staff having to isolate, and the postponement of our games against Charlton and Oxford.
Given the good run of form we had just embarked on, it has been a very unwelcome and untimely halt to our progress. However, the safety and well-being of everyone at and associated with the club will always be our paramount concern so we had no choice but to postpone those games. I would like to thank Ian Ferguson, the Club Doctor, and all our safety staff for dealing with this unprecedented challenge in a prompt and professional manner and ensuring all the correct procedures and testing were followed.
Thankfully, so far, those players who contracted the virus haven’t been too badly affected and we are hopeful that for 2021, everyone stays fit and healthy.
While the situation is far from ideal, the one positive I see as a fan is that given the disruptions that we have faced throughout the season so far, we have a large number of matches to make up in 2021, meaning the fixture list is going to be jam-packed and we are going to be blessed with two games every week! Needless to say, I don’t think Paul will share my enthusiasm seeing as that will mean less time on the training pitch, but I have no doubt, that together with his coaching and medical staff he will do his utmost best to manage the team under these challenging circumstances.
It is without doubt that 2020 has proven to be one of the most challenging for the club in its long history. We have seen limited income since March, a constantly changing backdrop, many new regulations to adhere to, and of course, no supporters to cheer us on in the stadium for the past nine months.
However, despite its challenges, I feel that we are ending this year stronger than we started it.
I was delighted to officially take full control of the club in June and commit to capitalising the loans that had been made to the club by Dwane Sports. That process is now complete.
Upon my takeover, I also formed a new Board of Directors with Karim and Tom joining Martyn and myself. Then last month we made the decision to invite our unbeaten manager Tommy Widdrington to the board as well. As directors, we continue to be fully committed to our strategy of improving our infrastructure, remaining competitive, becoming sustainable, developing young players, increasing the fanbase, and supporting our community.
In November, we made the difficult decision to part company with Ben, and shortly afterwards Tommy led the team to victory against Chelsea in the EFL trophy. With his 100% win record intact Tommy was more than happy to step aside to allow the appointment of Paul Tisdale as our new manager. We felt that Paul ticked all of the boxes for what we required to lead the first team to where we want to go and in the manner in which we wish to get there. The results prior to our enforced break were very promising and we are pleased to see not only an improvement in our performances on the pitch but also the beginnings of a new style and application within the group.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing though…I nearly missed our excellent victory at the New Plough Lane after my dear fellow Director Karim took us to the old stadium instead. Thankfully (for Karim), with less than 20 minutes until kick-off, I managed to navigate our way through the London traffic to make it just in time. Let’s hope Santa brings him a Sat-Nav for Christmas! Or perhaps a gym membership and a new pair of running shoes – while running the final 500 metres to the ground, I noticed he was struggling to keep up!
Onto another of our positive achievements this year. Progress at our new training ground is going well and I am delighted that we now have two and a half top class pitches at the Quarters of the same quality as the surface at the Mem, as well as a fully equipped gym. We are also continuing to work on the new buildings and training facilities at the site and look forward to our full migration in early 2021.
We are also impatiently waiting to welcome supporters back to the Mem as soon as it is safe to do so. As I started writing this letter, that would have been for the Portsmouth game – unfortunately, I have just been informed that due to the number of positive cases within their squad, that game has now also been called off. Although these home games with reduced capacity will run at a significant additional loss, I think we are all in agreement that enough is enough and regardless what the limits are, we need to start getting as many of you back in the stadium as we can, as soon as its safely possible to do so.
The effects of this pandemic on us all and the wider football community will last for many years. For us as a club, our efforts to work towards sustainability have been severely disrupted and the financial implications will run into the millions. Despite this, I remain unwavering in my support to help safeguard and develop this important community institution that has been in existence since 1883.
I have been truly touched by all of the support that we have received during the darkest days this year and we remain determined to repay that support. Season ticket holders have already received a small token of our appreciation with a gift-voucher to spend in the online store and to further celebrate your loyal support, we will be creating an installation at the Training Ground containing the name of every single season ticket holder that renewed or purchased this season. You have all supported us when we needed you most and that tribute to you at the Quarters will be a permanent reminder to the players of who they are representing and what it means to wear the blue and white quarters.
Moving into 2021, this presents a new opportunity for us to continue our progress and hopefully return to some form of normality. Unity is strength. It’s vital we all pull in the same direction and if we do, together we can achieve great things for this club. Thankfully, seeing how all those working at the club have pulled together to support and help each other and the club throughout this challenging time, I am confident we are heading in the right direction.
I wish all of our supporters and the wider community in Bristol a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope that you and your families all stay safe and well and I look forward to welcoming you all back to the Mem in the not too distant future!
Thanks again for all of your support and UTG!