The Rovers CEO provides an update to fans on the return of supporters to the Mem, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and offers his condolences to the family and friends of Gordon Bennett...
Ahead of our first home league game of the season, I wanted to update you all again on recent developments at the club.
Thirteen months or so ago no-one could have predicted the early termination of the 2019-2020 season for clubs in League 1 and League 2, with matches in the Premier League, Championship and Play Offs being played behind closed doors. If it had been written as a piece of fiction the majority of us would have described it as far fetched fantasy. For us to have imagined the start of this season would also be delayed and without fans in our stadiums would have extended that fantasy. Unfortunately, the last few months have not been a bad dream. COVID 19 is a reality with which we may have to live with for some time.
The pandemic has been devastating for many and simply irritating for others. I suspect that most of us have experienced changes and new challenges in our lives in some way shape or form. Most of our staff and all of the players were furloughed at the height of the Covid 19 outbreak and we maintained just a skeleton work force to look after finance, retail, ticketing and ground maintenance. Now the season is under way the majority of our employees have returned to work, some operating from home, others coming into the stadium on a part time basis. Regrettably, there have been a few redundancies as we try and shape the Club to deal with the ongoing uncertainty.
During the lockdown, we tried to use our time effectively, with regard to the recruitment of players and we’re delighted with the ones we have been able to bring to the Club. Significantly only 4 of the side that beat Sunderland just before the lockdown appeared in the team that came away with a point at the Stadium of Light last Saturday. It’s a great pity that our fans are unable to watch the new players at the Mem for the time being as Ben and the coaching staff embark upon their work of moulding a competitive and entertaining outfit.
Hopefully the Government can be persuaded to allow stadiums to be opened providing it can be determined it is safe to do so, for at least a proportion of our supporters to attend. We did receive a communication from the EFL just before 11.30 on Tuesday offering us the opportunity to run today’s game as a pilot event with 1,000 fans attending. However, we were only given until 2pm the same day to obtain the go ahead with our Safety Advisory Group and the SGSA. This was an impossible timeline to achieve and work out who we would be able to admit to the game. We have over 3,000 season ticket holders currently and our submissions to the authorities so far reflect the fact we want all of that number to be able to watch the games at the Mem as an absolute minimum…..sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, as part of our ongoing plans for a return to spectators, we have contacted all season ticket holders with some questions about a return. This guidance will help us further develop our plans to ensure that all season ticket holders can attend matches when safe. Furthermore, all season ticket holder have now been sent their codes to view the match this weekend on iFollow free of charge. This provision will remain in place until attendances surpass 50% of stadium capacity.
Just before the start of the season we received a series of offers from Peterborough United for the services of JCH. We did not want to sell the player. Goals are always hard to replace and Jonno achieved a high strike rate during his time with us. However, after pushing back on several bids we finally achieved a valuation for the player which we felt was in the best interests of the Club to accept given he turned down an improved and extended contract and his existing deal was in its final year. We wish Jonno well at his new Club and thank him for his services to the Gas.
I would like to offer my sincere thanks, on behalf of everyone at the Club, to all our season ticket holders, to our supporters who have purchased merchandise from our online store and to all our sponsors and advertisers who shown their commitment to the Club over the last few months. The funds you have provided have been extremely helpful and we’ll be forever grateful. I hope you will be able to enjoy your football and come and support the lads in person before too long.
To end, I just wanted to send our thoughts and condolences to Gordon Bennett's family and friends at this difficult time. The club was saddened to learn of his passing and he will be remembered as well-respected part of Bristol Rovers history. I had the privilege of working closely with Gordon as a colleague on the Plymouth Argyle Community Trust board where he was a regular provider of wisdom and sound advice to his fellow board members and he will be sorely missed.