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Saturday 30 May 2009
What's happening at Kingsmeadow - number 3

The week started with the first of two annual spring cleaning and maintenance weekends. Many thanks to the band of about 20 volunteers who gave up anything between a couple of hours to the entire weekend to cleaning, weeding, tidying up the car park and the surrounding shrubbery, jet washing the seats, carrying out various maintenance jobs, etc.

It was particularly good to welcome some new faces to the weekend, and we will be pleased to see anyone else who is willing to lend a hand for a couple of hours or more when we resume on 27 and 28 June. You can just turn up that weekend, although it does help to know in advance if you are coming so that we can allocate tasks and provide enough food.

This was one of the best supported spring cleaning weekends for a number of seasons and the higher level of interest and support is being reflected in a number of other areas, not least new joiners to the Dons Draw and, most strikingly, season tickets.

Having initially been taken aback by the level of applications we are now pretty much up to date in processing. After allowing for a 20 – 30 terrace applications which are yet to be processed we calculate that we have had about 1,850 applications and renewals so far. Comparisons with the same date last year seem irrelevant when you consider that last year, after also including half year season tickets, we had 1,724 season tickets.

There can be little doubt that we are heading for over 2,000 STs this season. We have had well over 400 ‘new’ applications, including about 300 from fans who have never had a ST before; the balance is from former ST holders who have returned this year. In the past the renewal rate has been about 85% (i.e. experience suggests we could expect about 250 non-renewals) but we suspect that the renewal rate will be comfortably higher than that this year.

Over the next couple of weeks we will start to allocate seats. As last year, we are not offering STs in Block M, the one nearest the Kingston Road End. There may be times when we need to release these seats to opposition fans, so we don’t want to allocate them to ST holders, and we are also keen to use the seats to encourage younger fans to come through a number of different initiatives. The number of seats we can allocate will also be restricted by factors such as a commitment to reserve some to ball sponsors and mascots, for Setanta for televised games, etc. We noticed that some fans were still buying half season tickets at the going rate in late February, presumably to secure a seat for this season; it looks like they made a shrewd decision.

Elsewhere, and still on the subject of tickets, we are reviewing how we sell tickets for games where we expect to sell out. For example, at the end of last season we launched the on-line system for selling terrace tickets. It was a great success, especially for the St Albans game, but part of the reason for that was the limited number of away fans who were likely to buy tickets. Where the demand for away tickets exceeds the number we are willing to allocate to them, an on line system offers a lot of temptation for away fans to buy tickets in the home end. We are working on ways to respond to that issue.

The Football Conference agm and awards dinner in two weeks’ time will give us a chance to talk to other clubs about how we might handle these sorts of issues and benefit from their experience in a whole range of areas. The business of the agm includes electing the club into the Football Conference National league – we aren’t officially a member until then. Also, Erik Samuelson is standing as a candidate for the Conference board. With various board members standing down due to promotion and relegation making them ineligible, there are several vacancies to be filled.

During the week Terry Brown signed five players. Three of them, Elliott Godfrey, Jay Conroy and Jack Turner, were already with the club but were either non contract or out of contract. There is at least one similar negotiation to be completed over the next week or two.

Two ‘external’ signings were announced on this site. Paul Lorraine has been monitored ever since he left the club and he was watched by the club’s scout at least three times during the season, as well as by Terry and Stuart. Similarly, Terry had been keeping an eye on Steven Gregory for some time and in addition to the games he played against us he was seen several times, including in the play off final.

Paul is 25 and out of contract, so there is no question of a fee to pay. Steven is 22 and had been offered new terms by Hayes and Yeading, so they are entitled to compensation. If we are unable to agree a fee then there will be a Bosman tribunal. In the meantime, we have secured his contract by writing, as we are required to do, to the FA saying that if we can’t agree a fee then we will abide by the decision of a tribunal. We would prefer to agree a fee, as the outcomes of such tribunals are uncertain for both clubs, and there doesn’t seem to be a case history of decisions that can be consulted to give us a good feeling for a likely amount; if such a record was available, there might be less need for clubs to go to tribunals.

Meanwhile, our offer for another midfielder remains on the table.

Fans may be interested to know that, while we can’t afford the sorts of scans etc that some clubs carry out, all new players are subject to a medical review by Mike Rayner before we sign them. Also, all the retained players have also been given a summer schedule of exercises, weight training, diet etc. They were weighed and subjected to various fitness tests immediately after the end of the season. They will be re-tested when they return at the end of June for pre-season training and Terry has made his expectations about fitness levels very plain. Paul and Steven are already very fit but they too have been given their schedules.

Terry is in discussions with a few other possible signings as he moves towards completing his squad. There is no great hurry, as more players become available all the time; very soon the list of released Football League players will be published to add to the list of possible recruits.

We are slowly finalising our pre-season fixtures. We don’t publish them until they are agreed in writing. Unfortunately not all our opponents take the same approach, so if pre-season games are announced elsewhere before we publish them we apologise, but we won’t be changing our policy.

At youth level, preparations for the new intake at the Merton College Under 19 Academy are nearly complete. With ample time to advertise for applicants this year there has been an incredible response, with over 140 players attending trials. The final rounds were held at the club’s New Malden training ground this week and Academy Manager Mark Robinson has now made his choices on the 22-player squad. Mark told us “the standard has been far higher than I expected and I have had to make some difficult decisions. This intake sees some talented young players choosing AFC Wimbledon. I can’t wait for pre-season to come around to start working with the players”. We will update you on the progress of Russell Harmsworth’s Under 18 squad in coming weeks.

Around the stadium, we expect concrete pouring to start this week for the Kingston Road terrace improvements. We have also asked for quotes for raising the rear step of the John Smith stand. The pitch is looking better than at this stage last season and the benefits of the recent renovation work are now becoming visible.