So, now we know that our next game will be as a Football League club. How strange that sounds, I had to double-check the BBC football pages to make sure I haven't made it up. What a massive testament that is to all of the hard work and application put in by Matt and his backroom staff and, of course, the players over the last season and they richly deserve all of the accolades that come their way.
However, I'd like to be a little more introspective and look back at the most difficult and challenging period that most of us have ever lived through, certainly from the perspective of a football club.
When the Coronavirus caused the first period of lockdown back in March last year I don't think many realised how long the emergency would last or what the ramifications would be. Overnight the club lost virtually all sources of income; no matchday receipts of course, but also no bar receipts or pitch-hire income.
The board of directors immediately moved to a schedule of weekly meetings held over Zoom, and the initial focus was on cutting expenditure to an absolute minimum and exploring every avenue for bringing in extra income. Originally around an hour or so each week, by the end of the season we were looking at two hours plus every time.
Move forward 4 or 5 months and the realisation that we faced starting the season with no crowds brought new challenges, not least the plethora of rules designed to keep players safe and matches on schedule.
Paul Doswell liked to say that Sutton United is a special club, with a unique bond between players, supporters and directors and I like to think that this bond has been demonstrated and rewarded during the 20/21 season. So, I'd just like to namecheck some of the club's officers who have kept the ship steady over the last 15 months and allowed the team to flourish.
The finance team was prominent throughout, especially in the early months, and so a word for Rob, Christian and Bruce who balanced the books and took advantage of every support mechanism on offer for riding out the crisis, with Bruce battling weekly with the minutiae of the furlough scheme that proved so vital. Likewise our commercial team, who even managed to bring in a few new sponsorship deals during the most difficult of times. A big shout out too for Jason Reynolds and Phil Tattersall for running the vital United We Stand scheme and, of course, to everyone who took part in that or bought a season ticket or watched the match streaming.
Shan and Ray managed the office brilliantly, although usually remotely, to enable our remaining business to operate with a semblance of normality. From Day One Pat, Tony, the SUFCtv crew and wider comms team were excellent in trying to keep everyone informed and then in streaming our games; sometimes with difficulties that were not widely known and always as committed amateurs who were learning as they went. Gareth kept the online shop going, Lyall switched comfortably to an excellent online programme and there was lots more done by others such as Graham, Steve, Mark and James. It really was an enormous team effort and apologies to anyone I have left out.
Once regulations permitted, Mark Kidd took responsibility for the popular bottle bar and for the enhanced covid cleaning regime, whilst Phil said “leave the academy to me”. So we did ! (And many congratulations to Marvin and Ricky for their fabulous run in the FA Youth Cup but also for completing the academic year in such difficult circumstances).
Graham had to battle with a fixture list thrown into disruption by last-minute covid cancellations on top of usual weather worries and Dave Mathers ended up as a nearly full-time logistics manager trying to get the team to and back from matches; with late re-arrangements, covid limits on coaches and hotels and even a few curfews ! And, of course, we also needed a reliable team of volunteers to ensure we could stage matches in accordance with our (very complicated) mandatory protocols. Many thanks to Mike and Kevin for working with me across all aspects of the covid protocols, and Jamie de Cruz for taking on the task of implementing them during the brief period of relaxed regulation last summer.
Mick took on car-park duties, with a team of committed helpers, as well as battling procedure and red-tape on a long-term project and Martin lent his expertise and help on a number of projects, not least the launch of the innovative Bundeling B-to-B app. and the recent food distribution scheme in association with Football For Peace. Finally, Gary O came on board at Christmas and his financial acumen, alongside Dominic, with great technical input from Gary H, has been invaluable as it became clear we had to prepare for three different scenarios: promotion as champions, promotion via the play-offs and staying in the National League.
And then, of course, there was AB. He was a force of nature, whether it was seeming to audition for a job on Match Of The Day or just rallying the troops. Both he and Bruce worked closely with Matt to ensure we were able to finish the job. The final mention has to go to Tim, our unbelievable club and company secretary; virtually everything has gone through him and we really couldn't have done any of this without him.
And all of this was before the extensive and detailed preparations for life as a Football League club.
So, in conclusion, I would just like to personally thank every one of the officers and directors for their dedication and persistence that not only kept us viable but provided the platform for our memorable championship triumph. I knew we had a good team in the boardroom and beyond but everyone rose to the occasion more than I could ever have imagined. Thank you one and all.
Chairman of the Board