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Plough Lane is for everyone - and especially those fans we've lost along the way

Our Chief Executive's programme notes

14 August 2021

As the big kick-off gets closer and closer, we thought we'd share with you our Chief Executive Joe Palmer's programme notes for today's historic game.

In his notes, Joe thanks everyone over the past years who has helped make our proper homecoming a reality - and then dedicates the game to one special group in particular: those who sadly won't be with us today.

The match-day programme will be available inside the ground and also outside our main entrance and the new Plough Lane entry by the corner of the South and East stands...

It's been 10 months since we played our first League game in our new Plough Lane stadium and yet today is the proper homecoming we have all been dreaming about.

When we faced Doncaster back in November 2020 there was one vital ingredient missing. Yes it was historic and a milestone in our wonderful history. But it wasn't complete and it couldn't be anywhere near complete until today.

To be able to welcome Bolton Wanderers in front of a packed stadium, filled by the very people who made our impossible dream come true, is what the struggle has been all about.

It gives me goosebumps to even think about it and, as I write this, I can only imagine the roar that will greet Robbo and his team as they step out for the first time in front of a packed arena. Especially after their exhilarating start to the season so far!

I must stress, though, that today is also extremely important for an entirely different reason.

This isn't just an emotional League match for us, it's our final test event as well. We will be monitored from start to finish to prove, once and for all, that we can safely stage a major sporting event in front of a capacity crowd.

The reward for overcoming this final hurdle is huge. Pass and the future is in our own hands. We will have the freedom to run and operate our stadium exactly as we have always envisaged.

With the stakes so high, we have decided to mitigate potential risks as much as possible. This means some of our usual match-day operations will be scaled down to make sure we don't overstretch ourselves and make costly mistakes on the day.

For example, we won't be running the kids' zone nor our full match presentation with mascots. Of course, we all wanted our first proper homecoming to be loaded with bells and whistles but being sensible on this day, of all days, is a small sacrifice when there's such a gigantic reward ahead. Get through today, get that final safety certificate and there will be no more barriers blocking our way.

I can't help thinking that underlines what our homecoming is all about. Breaking down barriers. And the real miracle is that we've done it during one of the most horrendous periods we have ever faced. To get over the line when Covid was ravaging everything makes the achievement even more immense.

Naturally, there are so many 'thank yous' to say. So many people have been involved, not just recently but five, 10, 19 years ago. Building Plough Lane wasn't just one big decision made by one person - it was all the hundreds and thousands of little decisions and contributions that, put together, produced an irresistible force.

Plough Lane wasn't just a construction project, either. People could see a stadium going up - but they couldn't see what was going on behind closed doors. The constant discussions and coordination with stakeholders - people like the police, ground safety officers, planners, architects and councillors. Then there was all the legal documents and paperwork and protocols. The operating manuals alone are massive - 23 documents, each a dissertation, outlining in microscopic detail all the operational procedures for every conceivable aspect of stadium life.

This includes things like the stewarding plan, the entrance and exit policy, the communications, ticketing, medical, transport and logistics plans. All of this had to be outlined and documented so it could be presented to the Safety Advisory Group. This was on top of all the everyday issues of running a football club - staffing changes, budgeting, football transfers, merchandise, the is list goes on and on.

The build project itself was immense. Every single thing, even in an ordinary room, had to be thought about and discussed. Where should the speakers go, the electrical sockets and power cabling, what furniture and carpets should we have. Total all this up and we had mountains of information that all needed processing and documenting. Only then could we have a stadium to be proud of.

There's one group, in particular, who I wish to dedicate today's match to. I'm talking about the people who are no longer with us. Maybe they were simply loyal fans who never stopped dreaming about today's game, or maybe they were people who sat on a committee or attended a meeting and made a contribution which, in its own unique way, brought us to this moment.

This game is for them. Plough Lane is their legacy.

Finally, I'd like to welcome today's visitors. Nobody can dispute that Bolton Wanderers are a proud team with a rich history and it was a massive relief to see them pull back from the abyss when it looked like they might suffer the same terrible fate as Bury and Macclesfield. We are expecting well over 1,000 visiting supporters and we sincerely hope that they - and everyone connected with their club - leaves Plough Lane with fond memories of a very special day.

Robbo and the lads have started the season in spectacular style with two superb away victories at Doncaster and Charlton. Let's give them a rousing reception today and help them turn our new ground into our fortress and our home.

Stay safe,

Joe


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