We’ve enjoyed a busy period here at the Kuflink Stadium despite the premature end to the 2020/21 season and as such it’s time for another update. We are sure you’re as heartened as we are by the developments nationwide in regard to falling Covid numbers and vaccination rollouts. Like many of you, our staff are now beginning to get their first if not second vaccinations and we very much hope this is the first stage in reuniting with all our supporters on a match day.
The more these figures improve, the nearer we will come to opening our doors in the summer for events and then in July/August for pre-season friendlies and league fixtures – we are not getting ahead of ourselves and we continue to abide by the rules but the future is optimistic and we will spend the coming weeks and months planning for your return.
On Saturday we concluded our series of friendlies and training games. Recent matches have included a 2-2 draw with FA Trophy finalists Concord Rangers to aid them in their preparations for their big day at Wembley. Goals came from Lee Martin and Rakish Bingham, whose last-minute penalty came in response to Concord’s own late spot-kick minutes before.
Saturday’s game saw an excellent display in a 3-1 win over Aldershot Town (Poleon, Trialist, Paxman) and before that we recorded a 5-1 victory over Sittingbourne (Cundle, Bingham (2), Poleon, Trialist), while Margate won a tight encounter 2-0 against an experimental Fleet lineup with two late goals.
Some of you may have seen the livestream Brentford offered when we took on their ‘B’ side at Hanwell Town. High-profile matches with the likes of Brentford and Wycombe Wanderers in recent weeks have been of enormous benefit and the evolving links we establish with clubs at Championship level will prove to be very useful for the Fleet in the future.
Some of you have questioned why we have continued to play these games and also why some players who were named on our ‘release list’ have participated. We have a duty of care to all players at the club to continue to nurture and develop them while they are with us. With the season halted in February, we owed it to all our squad members to offer them the opportunity to continue to train and play for their own well-being, to maintain their physical fitness and in the case of those players whose contracts are not renewed with us, to have every chance of finding a new club in 2021/22.
We are pleased to say the response from our squad has been hugely positive. It is testament to the character and determination we have in the team that the players have been so keen, enthusiastic and prepared to continue to work hard, train and play without complaint and the spirit they have maintained has made the ‘downtime’ from the league fixtures pass that much quicker and brought us all closer still.
PLAYER RETENTION / RECRUITMENT
In addition to training and practice matches, Dennis Kutrieb has continued to plan for next season and takes in as many games as possible in person and via video – both to keep an eye on our opponents and to identify and target individuals who can strengthen our squad this summer.
We have agreed terms with a number of players to remain at the club for next season and those will be announced in due course. The club is working towards a clear methodology on recruitment and retention in terms of turnover and numbers of new additions with a strategy of progressing year on year – and we look forward to announcing the squad when the time is right. The stability and continuity this close season brings has us well placed to deliver the growth and progress we know supporters expect.
A few eagle-eyed forum users noted that our Plough End planning application was amended and approved recently. This amendment allowed for works to begin on the hotel site preparation. The planning approval has been in place for three years and was extended in 2020 under Government Covid legislation. Obviously finalising or amending the design during the pandemic wasn’t feasible due to the lockdown conditions and economic uncertainty, so the recent amendment to pre-construction conditions allowed work to begin within the planning approval window whilst still adhering strictly to planning conditions.
Initial demolition works have seen the “snipers” toilets – as they are so lovingly referred to by our supporters – removed, a legendary and historic feature of the ground which we know will be missed. However, the asbestos roofing and limited drainage and services rendered the building extremely outdated and no longer fit for purpose.
We continue to revise the overall hotel plan for the site to ensure feasibility and an optimised outcome on completion for the club. Furthermore, we do not expect construction or demolition to affect the new season or access to the stadium at this stage.
Renovation of the pitch is due to commence next week and we take this opportunity to recognise a wonderful and much-appreciated effort by all at the Trust and amongst all our volunteers who have continued to beaver away behind the scenes – painting, clearing, cleaning, fixing. All those essential jobs that keep our home in good and proper working order. To all of them, we say a massive thank-you. We will have a number of working days this summer so if you would like to add your name to the volunteer list, please do so HERE.
In terms of the league and the disrupted nature of the recently null and voided season, we worked hard with other clubs to find a way to settle on a format to allow those like ourselves to fight for promotion on the pitch. It was especially important for us on behalf of you all and our owners given the unfairness of the way we were relegated from the National League last summer during the pandemic.
Unfortunately the FA decided against approving a restart of a footballing solution to allow for promotion and whilst we accept that decision, it wasn’t easy to take given the result saw a less-than-satisfactory outcome and no opportunity to fight for reinstatement to the division we were relegated from as the singularly most unlucky club in the pyramid last year.
Once that decision was made, we made representations to the League and FA Alliance Committee to have rule 5.5.2 of the FA laws applied. Given the unique circumstances that led to our relegation last season, and us being one of only two clubs in the UK pyramid to be dropped into a relegation position by Points Per Game, we felt application of the rule under the laws was not only fair, but entirely reasonable.
5.5.2 states that where a vacancy exists in Step 1, the highest-ranked relegated team of the previous season is to fill that vacancy. On that basis, given there remains only 23 clubs in Step 1 and an obvious vacancy, we felt it reasonable and were confident that the FA Alliance Committee would enable that rule and bring Step 1 to its full complement of 24 teams for next season.
Unfortunately a number of emergency rule changes were made during the last season due to the pandemic; one of those was a change which altered rule 5.5.2. The wording was changed so that any vacancy that existed would be filled at the absolute discretion of the FA Alliance Committee and FA Council. We put forward our case that given the circumstances and nature of our relegation, that despite the rule not being “hard and fast” for this season due to the amendments, it stands to reason that the spirit of the rule could and should still be applied at the discretion of the committee.
Alas we were recently informed that despite their understanding and the strong case that we presented, the FA Alliance Committee would be recommending to the FA Council that the number of clubs for Steps 1 and 2 remain as they are for next season. The feedback we had was that by filling a vacancy at Step 1, a precedent would be set for filling vacancies at Step 2 and below, and given the lack of completed seasons at those levels it would be a difficult task in identifying which clubs were most deserving of filling those vacancies.
We countered that whilst we appreciated and understood that position, as we were one of only three clubs relegated in the entire pyramid below the EFL last season and no relegation was effected from Steps 2 or below, that we would hope our colleagues at other clubs through the pyramid would have understood and supported the vacancy at Step 1 being filled under the rules.
Despite our best endeavours we have once again fallen on the wrong side of a considered decision that had to be made for the entire pyramid. We appreciate the consideration and the very difficult task the League and FA have in pleasing everyone during these unprecedented disruptions and conditions that the pandemic has created, but we are so disappointed for our staff, players and most of all our supporters. They have accepted that one or two clubs had to be extremely unlucky last season to please the majority when finalising leagues but we are incredibly disappointed that we have not been able convince the FA Alliance Committee of the merit and inherent fairness of using the rules at hand to fill an obvious vacancy in the National League with the highest-ranked relegated club.
Our final finishing position in a full season was third last on Points Per Game in the National League/Step 1 in 2019/20 and unfortunately we have not had the chance to win or fight our way to promotion in a null and void league in 2020/21. Emergency temporary rules have made obsolete the mandated method of filling the existing vacancy at Step 1 that would rightfully be ours under the rules as they stand in any other year.
The leagues will now go forward for next season with 23 clubs in the National League, 22 in National League North and 21 in National League South and unless a substantial change of mind occurs at League or FA level in the next few weeks, we will focus on working hard on our campaign to return to Step 1 as soon as possible beginning next season.
We had a very successful ‘beer garden’ event on April 17th and the weather was most kind to us that weekend. It enabled everyone to enjoy themselves – we were extremely pleased to see and talk to so many of our fans back in their spiritual home – and we received some great feedback. We’ll digest all suggestions and continue to evolve our service with an eye on both matchday food and drink and non-matchday entertainment and events.
With the easing of lockdown restrictions on indoor hospitality, our events space will be opening again. We will advertise that more fully as the date approaches but please spread the word about the Kuflink Stadium’s availability for all manner of events.
Non-matchday income is something we can generate seven days of the week and so is vital to the prosperity of the football club, so the more our facilities are used, the better for us all.
Following on from our April 17th event, there are other events we would like to stage to get as many of you back with us as possible – when restrictions allow – so keep your eye on our social media/website very soon as we advertise those.
Our 75th anniversary kits have gone down well with you judging by the feedback we’ve heard and read on social media. We have been most careful to consider the club’s history when making the kit decisions in this special season and to be able to remember what has come before us as much as what lies ahead. We believe that’s important to you and it’s important to us – and there will be plenty of other areas around the Fleet where you will see evidence of this.
We were delighted to host Jimmy Jackson on two occasions at the club during this process. We hope you enjoyed seeing his face around Stonebridge Road once again (and in a Fleet shirt!) – and it won’t be the last time people and players you hold dear will be warmly invited to return.
In addition to our souvenir kits, there will be other merchandise available for our 75th season. We have our fantastic retro shirts already on sale and you will also be able to order items including training and leisure wear, accessories, a brand new and comprehensive history of the club and more to follow.
Don’t forget we also still have this season’s replica kit enjoying a 20% off sale – some sizes have sold out in both home and away so make sure you order yours now to avoid disappointment. We continue to operate fully our online ordering and delivery service for all items in our shop.
Many thanks for all your great and positive feedback around our decision to roll over existing season tickets in full for 2021/22. The situation with lockdown has been far from ideal and of course none of that has been your fault, so our view was why should our supporters be financially penalised for that?
We hope to welcome new season ticket holders as well in this 75th anniversary season and we will very shortly be going live with our online sales for those of you who wish to take advantage of a season ticket for the new campaign. Our ticket office and shop at main reception will also be back open this close season on a date to be announced to facilitate in-person sales.
That’s the first step to hopefully welcoming each and every one of you back for matchdays and events. We know you can’t wait – and neither can we!