After significant debate and soul searching the Board Members on Wednesday evening, concluded that due to the rise in cases in Wales caused by COVID-19, the current local lockdowns in place in neighbouring Caerphilly CBC and RCT, the fact that Merthyr and Newport are included on the ‘watch list’ of the Welsh Assembly Government, the level of testing that had been taking place in Merthyr last week, plus the Assembly's current restrictions that prevent any fans attending our home games, the Board extremely reluctantly decided to submit a request to the Southern League that our 2020/21 season is 'suspended' with immediate effect.
The initial outcome of the Board meeting was to request additional time to fully consult with our members. However, when we were advised on Thursday that the procedure would prevent this as the season was about to start, we were left with no choice but to start the process which is the last thing the Board wanted to do given the importance of the situation we now find ourselves in.
We anticipate that the restrictions regarding the blanket ban on allowing supporters into grounds in Wales are unlikely to be relaxed in the near future and that the next step taken will possibly be to actually increase the restrictions on gatherings which may not be lifted for a number weeks, even possibly months.
We are currently in a unique position out of the 88 Clubs at Step 3, as the only one that is prevented from playing home games in front of our own fans. The National Game Board has consistently stated that it would not be possible to start the season at Step 3 and below playing behind closed doors, but that’s exactly the position that we now find ourselves facing for an indefinite period.
To mitigate against all of the above the Board considered the following options:
Option One - We take our games across the border to play in England. Costs increase due to ground sharing and we lose significant match-day revenue including bar, catering, hospitality boxes, Match and ball sponsor, sale of Club merchandise and car parking income.
Option Two - We start the season playing behind closed doors. There is no match-day income generated that our business model needs, our anticipated and current financial reserves that we have already ‘ring-fenced’ to pay the playing budget would run out in late November with no fans in the ground. This would put the Club in a position where we would inevitably be eventually trading insolvently and we could not allow that to happen.
Option Three – We request that our season is ‘suspended’ subject to an agreement that we retain our place in the Southern League Premier Division. There is already precedent for this course of action with Guernsey and the Isle of Man being allowed to ‘hibernate’ for a season. In order to achieve any chance of obtaining approval the request had to be made on the Friday morning, to ensure that all of the necessary steps could be taken.
We have been advised that the National Game Board will not penalise any Clubs due to the pandemic and we would also be able to retain our place in next seasons FA Cup, due to the unprecedented circumstances that we currently face.
The Board fully appreciated the fact that it was an extremely difficult situation to request a suspension from the league on the very eve of the season, but we were advised that this option would not have been open to us if we had actually started the season.
Given the pressing timescales, the Board unfortunately had insufficient time to consult with all owners. However, on Thursday Board members carried out a representative sample telephone survey of the members whose contact details we had, in order to canvas a consensus of opinions. This resulted in a poll with 77% favouring suspension as the least-worse option.
The Board did consider releasing a holding statement, however, it was felt that this full factual statement would be preferable to the membership.
This suspension only involves the 'football side' of the Club and all of the community elements including hire of the 3G pitch and the hospitality section will continue to operate as normal.
We will also have to forfeit the FA Cup tie against Poole on Tuesday.
In closing, the Board would like to reiterate just how difficult it was making this decision in these unprecedented times. The Board’s intention was to only act with best interests in terms of the preservation and long-term viability of the Club.