Saturday 23 May 2009
What's happening at Kingsmeadow #2
There has been a lot of activity over the last couple of weeks. The topic that most fans want to hear about is which new players Terry and Stuart are recruiting, so we will start there.
This close season is very different from any other we've experienced so far. Terry has been inundated with calls from agents and players, and dozens of unsolicited CVs have arrived in the post. He has had talks with quite a few players and some themes are emerging.
First, and hardly surprisingly, we are now much more attractive to league players. Second, many of the players Terry is speaking to have been full time. 'Full time' appears to mean one of two things. Some players, especially league players, are paid for all 52 weeks of the year. Meanwhile, others (mainly with Blue Square Premier clubs) have been paid for 44 weeks (which is the 39 weeks we pay, from the first to the last game of the season, plus the period from 1 July when training starts to the first game of the season). Obviously, we can spread the 39 weeks' money over 44 weeks if that helps the players, but it doesn't increase the amount we are paying overall.
One issue that might delay any 52 week full time player who wants to sign for us, is that their contracts expire at the end of June. However, if they haven't found another club by that date they are entitled to be paid for a further month by their current club. We don't pay players in July, so such a player might decide to take the pay from their current club until the end of July and then sign for a part time club like us. Of course, they run a risk that they might miss out if they do that, but that is their decision.
The third theme is that Terry is insisting that the players he signs must be available to train on Monday and Wednesday mornings, as well as the usual Tuesday and Thursday nights. For one player we were keen on, that meant he would have to give up his second job. We couldn't afford to compensate him for that, so we have reluctantly had to drop our interest.
Fourth, as Terry has repeatedly said, we are trying to sign young, athletic players. In quite a few cases these players are out of contract but are under 24, so it means that if we sign them and can't agree a transfer fee with their current club, we are exposed to the uncertainties of a 'Bosman' tribunal to set the fee. As we found last year, a tribunal can set a fee for a player which we don't agree with - but we have no right of appeal.
Finally, we believe that some players have unrealistic wage expectations. We feel we need to give them time to see what they can get elsewhere and then speak to them again. It is a waiting game, much more than in previous years when it was pretty easy to say what we would need to pay a player to get him to sign for us. There are still some players, however, who can get high wages and there are clubs which are willing to pay them; one player we were pursuing has reputedly signed for another club for over double our best offer.
None of this makes life easy for fans who want to know who Terry is signing. However, it has always been our policy not to comment on who we are talking to and not to announce a new player until he has signed a contract. This means that, sometimes, the press get there first. Terry has talked to so many players that the press is bound to get some right, but not always. And while a short phone conversation asking a player about his current situation doesn't amount to negotiations it might suit the player or his agent to tell the press that we are interested.
What progress have we made in signing players? We are in detailed negotiations with a defender and expect to hear his response to our offer over the weekend. We have had an offer for a midfielder from a lower division rejected and have just sent a revised final offer for the player. He is on a contract, so if his club rejects this offer then the deal is dead.
Terry has decided that he wants to sign a particular midfielder. That player is subject to the Bosman rules and so, as explained earlier, if we do sign him we will be taking a risk on the size of the fee, assuming we can't agree terms with his current club. We hope to sign him next week but, as with all transfers, there is always a possibility that the deal will fall through.
Some of our existing players have been retained because we exercised our option and Terry is talking to them about improving and extending their contracts. In this respect, we can announce that Jon Main has signed an improved contract which ties him to the club for two years. Talks with other players continue but they are being carried out with players who are already committed to the club for the coming season, whatever the outcome of the new talks.
Terry has many other irons in the fire but none of them are as advanced as the ones described above. But that could change as, naturally, different discussions move at different speeds.
Some players are moving in the opposite direction and last Friday we announced that Jake Leberl was not being retained. Jake was not included in the first list we published because Terry had not been able to contact him. Some other players are still in talks with Terry. One or two have not been retained but have asked not to be included in the list, as they believe that doing so might hinder them in their search for another club. While we would like to keep fans fully informed about comings and goings, we think it is more important in the short term to respect the players' wishes.
Moving on to season tickets, up to the close of business today we have had 1,218 applications and renewals. Well over 300 of these are new applications. On the same Friday last season, we had received 711 applications in total. We look to be on track to beat the target of at least 2,000 season tickets for 2009-10.
Some of the year-on-year increase in sales has probably been caused by existing season ticket holders being keen to reserve a space on the terrace of their choice as soon as possible. Until all the data has been input we can't say how many fans have nominated the Tempest End (which is the clear favourite) as their preferred spot. So, to be safe, fans who want to reserve a place on that terrace should apply soon.
We were expecting an increase in the ST numbers, but the response has surprised us and we are now working very hard to get up to date with data input. Until this is done we can't identify fans who haven't yet renewed, so we can't remind yet them that the deadline for reserving their seat is approaching; this is something we have always done, although we are not obliged to do so.
Around the stadium, the preparation of the pitch is well underway. After a long season the pitch is compacted so it has been 'hollow cored', which means extracting thin slivers of sand to reduce the compaction. Sixty tons of sand was then spread on the pitch and it was 'drag matted', a process which pushes the sand into the spaces caused by the hollow coring. After various other treatments the pitch was seeded last week and fertiliser was spread on it. As you can see from the photos, it starts in good shape compared to this time last year.
Elsewhere within the stadium, work on improving the view from the Kingston Road End is underway. It isn't very exciting stuff but, as the wood frames in the photo show, the rear step will be about 35 cm higher than at present, which should make for better viewing from that end of the stadium.
Over the next couple of days, some much-needed maintenance work will be carried out by volunteers in the first of two such weekends. If you have some spare time then please do turn up and help on Saturday or Sunday - or both!
Away from the stadium, we have had two meetings with representatives of Merton Council this week. The first was to explore where in the borough there might be space for a stadium; the second was to discuss the progress of the borough's Local Development Framework, a document that sounds very dull but which sets the direction and principles for the borough's development over the next 10 - 15 years. We have given input to this document at various stages to make sure that it includes references to the sorts of development that would allow a football stadium to be built in the borough. An update on the content of these meetings will be given at the SGM on Thursday 28 May.
Further afield, about 80 officials, players and volunteers attended a reception in the magnificent surroundings of the House of Lords, to celebrate the achievements of the team and the Trust. The event was hosted by Baroness Margaret McDonagh and her sister Siobhain, the MP for Mitcham and Morden. Among the guests were Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Lord Triesman, the Chairman of the FA, John Reid, Chairman of Glasgow Celtic, and Lord Faulkner, Vice President of the Football Conference and a Dons fan for many years.
There were brief speeches by Siobhain McDonagh, who talked about her love for the club, AFC Wimbledon CEO Erik Samuelson, who thanked Margaret and Siobhain for their generous hospitality, and Andy Burnham who talked about the benefits of supporter ownership, plus his beloved Everton and his desire that he might one day see them do what Wimbledon did, namely beat Liverpool in an FA Cup Final.
Talking about successes, several of the club's youth teams have held their awards evenings recently with trophies being presented by Terry and Marcus. At last night's presentations, the older boys enjoyed a Caribbean meal as part of their celebrations.