I'd like to update you on some of the key issues and decisions affecting our club during these unprecedented and worrying times.
First, though, I want to extend a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the incredible fans who are already doing so much to help in the community, especially our marvellous AFC Wimbledon Foundation and the Dons Local Action Group. Their selfless work - delivering much-needed food boxes throughout Wimbledon and Kingston, and running errands for people in need - is an inspiration to us all. I know Glyn and the players have also been getting involved; between them all, they are doing our club proud. Clearly, none of us are immune to the coronavirus crisis – it impacts on us as individuals, and also on our families, friends, lifestyles and places of work. Inevitably, it is also forcing us to adjust how we run our club in order to safeguard and protect it against the challenges ahead. We are having to make some prudent changes and this is what I want to share with you now.
Naturally, many of you want to know what is happening with the new stadium build – and when we will finally be able to move into Plough Lane. The new challenge we face as a nation in coping with COVID-19 means this is more difficult to definitively answer. As it stands, construction work has still been progressing on our new home, following government guidance relating to the wider importance of continuing construction works, if done in accordance with the social distancing guidelines wherever possible. The roof covering is completed and cladding has been completed for the ground floor. The pitch foundations are well in place and should be fully ready by July, as planned. The workflow, however, has understandably slowed for a number of reasons. Firstly, the guidelines for social distancing in the workplace, which are being strictly adhered to, mean fewer operators are on site working on particular tasks. Secondly, our constructors, the Buckingham Group, rely heavily on sub-contractors and the supply of crucial building materials and these have been heavily impacted as they slow down themselves.
In terms of financing the finished stadium build, whilst this remains challenging, we are in advanced discussions with a lender and will provide a separate update in the near future. Our completion date has been revised to accommodate these factors and we are now looking at October 23 – which was our original completion date. I say ‘looking at’ because I’m simply not in a position to give guarantees while so much remains unknown and that means of course, that this date could yet further change.
Meanwhile, The Football League has written to every club expressing its determination to complete the season, even if that means games being played throughout June, July and possibly beyond. Should this be the case, Chelsea have agreed in principle to let the club play its remaining fixtures of the 2019/20 season at Kingsmeadow. Should fans be allowed to attend – and, of course, we all want that – then current season tickets will still be valid. If the matches must be played behind closed doors, the current proposal from the League is to ensure all matches are streamed live for fans to watch from their homes.
The League estimates we will need a period of 56 days to complete the season and is advising that the recommencement of training sessions should not commence until May 16 “at the earliest”. Clearly this date may well be pushed back, depending on how the UK responds to the current epidemic. On the playing side, many of you will know that individual player contracts usually expire on June 30. Whilst discussions are still taking place with the various footballing stakeholders, it looks that in principle clubs will be able to extend those contracts on the same terms until the finalisation of the season, but we still await further approval.
This brings me to the club’s current financial strategy. From the beginning of April, and in line with other Football League clubs, most of our non-playing staff were furloughed under the government’s COVID-19 Job Retention Scheme. We have now reduced staffing down to a minimal working group, enough to give us the essential cover we need to keep the club ticking over. One of the key discussions amongst EFL clubs has been in relation to furloughing players, with several clubs having done so already. We have taken the approach of most league clubs and are approaching negotiations with the PFA on this matter as a collective group, with the aim of better securing some additional solutions to player finances. However, the feedback is that there are no issues in relation to furloughing players and we will likely move forward with this process next week.
Finally, I am aware that many of you want to know where we will be playing at the start of the new season, ahead of our new stadium being ready. Again, this is impossible to answer definitively at this stage, especially when we don’t yet know when the season will start or when we’ll be able to play in front of crowds. Needless to say, we have identified several options to meet various outcomes and will be able to update you at such time that the future becomes clearer.
I hope the above has, to some degree, clarified some of the main issues I know you are concerned about. I also hope to be able to update you in the next couple of weeks on our season ticket arrangements for next season. Until then, I hope you all – and your friends and families – remain strong and healthy. My thoughts are especially with any of our fans working on the NHS frontline, and those voluntarily working every day in the community to help people in need.