Mothballs not footballs By Chairman Mao
There is never a dull moment when you’re a fan of Merthyr Town FC. No sooner are you responding to the club’s social media messages and buying tickets for Salisbury away then you’re trying to work out how you fill the void of no football at Penydarren Park in your life.
The Board’s decision to seek a suspension of football activity may be well intentioned and from yesterday’s fan meetings at the ground it has plenty of sympathy within our support however once again the delivery of the message has destroyed any hope of the fans embracing the requirement for a season of football abstinence.
The lack of consultation with fans on such a major decision has once again annoyed the fanbase. The foundation of our club is that we are fan-owned and that all major decisions should be based on a referendum of those owners.
The matter is compounded by the fact that the Board seemed incapable of providing any representative to be on site at the ground yesterday to meet fans who were looking for assurances on the issue. As mentioned earlier there was plenty of sympathy with the idea but no substance to allay fears. For example the issue of joining the Welsh pyramid was mentioned by many worried fans who thought this was the start of that process whereas the reality is that the offer is made by the FA on the proviso that we do not lose our membership of the Southern League. That message from a Board member would have carried more weight and reassured more people.
The board needed to trust the owners to make the right decision. The board needs to embrace better avenues of communication. A video message from the Chairman to outline the proposal with an email vote would have taken no time at all to arrange. We have talented volunteers who could make this happen if challenged.
So no football at Penydarren Park next season which after the last campaign’s performances may not seem such a bad thing. The 2020-21 season was always going to be a challenge even if we had committed to playing. The requirements to adhere to social distancing, health questionnaires and track & trace records will be daunting for all sports clubs in the next few months and the threat of local and even national lockdowns will always be hanging over sport and society as a whole.
Our unique problem which is all the more annoying is that Welsh Government regulations currently prevent us from allowing fans into Penydarren Park even with social distancing. Our famous old ground is perfectly set up for at least 400 fans to watch a game. Our large hospitality areas provide alternative dressing facilities for teams to maintain the current 2m social distance. In fact Merthyr Town is probably the best placed of all of the exiled clubs to allow fans into the ground. The professional clubs may need a reduction of that social distance rule to the English 1m+ model to even open their doors. The irony for us of course is that our league is allowed to admit fans so we could travel away to watch the our heroes but not at home in Wales.
Many fans quite rightly targeted the Welsh Government’s farcical rules that allow pubs and casinos to be open but not open-air sports grounds. Merthyr Town is a unique club and well placed to act as a test arena for the return of fans -this may be an option taken up by Welsh Government soon at Penydarren Park but with another club playing the football.
Everyone knows that there is a risk with planning anything in life at the moment so trying to navigate a football club through a pandemic is an unenviable task for any board. There would be a risk in a lengthy campaign of playing matches, both home and away, but this club and its supporters have never shied away from a challenge no matter how huge and with solidarity we would have faced down the financial implications as we always do.
The unique risk of inaction though is unchartered territory for us. How does a football club keep its core fan base engaged when every other club is playing games? What is the timescale for a return to action?
More importantly what are the opportunities?
A timeout for six months will give us the prospect of a blank canvas to reinvent the club and bring it closer to the football family within. Plenty of chances to remind the wider community of our history and values.
Seven owners of the club came forward early last week to take up the seven vacancies on the Board and to offer their help for the challenges ahead for the club. That offer was based on helping the club to host matches and to explore new avenues of fan engagement – the latest situation means that the new and fresh input from the secret 7 is needed more than ever and the Board needs to confirm their membership as soon as possible so we can ensure this club returns stronger than ever to the Southern League for the 2021-22 season.
Restarting a club from scratch is very challenging but of course we have already pulled off this successfully just a decade ago.
Its never easy being a Merthyr fans but its not boring. The next six months or so will be surreal but Merthyr Town is probably the most resilient football club in our country.
Already there are ideas on the table for the coming months we just need a platform to deliver them.