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Monday 15 June 2009
What's happening at Stratford-Upon-Avon - # 2

The weekend saw the Conference AGM in Stratford-Upon-Avon, when the club’s entry into the Blue Square Premier was formally confirmed. The Dons’ representatives at the meeting were Chief Executive Erik Samuelson and Club Secretary, David Charles.

This year’s AGM took a slightly different format from the past, with members of the three leagues spending about an hour in separate pre-meetings before the start of the formal proceedings. Each league meeting had a series of suggested topics for discussion and feedback, although clubs could raise any issue they chose.

We decided to anticipate our elevation and attend the Premier pre-meeting where one of the main topics was the Conference rules on insolvency and their effect on clubs. These rules have been the subject of some controversy recently, not least when an FA appeal hearing reversed the Conference's decision and reinstated Northwich Victoria into the Blue Square North, albeit with a ten-point deduction for the coming season.

There was also a discussion about why the existing board was proposing to reduce its size to from twelve members to eight, comprising six Premier League members plus one each from the South and North. The reasons appeared to be a mixture of making the board more streamlined and trying to ensure that there were no vacant spaces due to a shortage of candidates, which had a certain irony given events in the AGM itself.

In the pre-meeting and in the AGM itself, there was extensive discussion about the situation regarding Setanta. Clubs were briefed on discussions to date with Setanta and the Conference Chairman, Brian Lee, reiterated a message he has been propounding for some time, which is for clubs to live within their means. The Conference is clearly taking its own advice, with a review of expenditure to see where savings could be made in the light of the uncertain economic environment.

In the AGM itself, Brian Lee explained that changes to the Football League ground requirements are on their way. While the proposals have yet to be finalised, it seems likely that there will be more stringent rules including:

. a requirement to have a pitch covering;

. higher lux readings needed for floodlights. (We already need to upgrade our lights for the Blue Square Premier and, subject to cost, it will probably make sense for the work to include increased lux levels for the Football League.)

. possible increases in the minimum dressing room sizes, presumably to reflect the trend to increase the number of substitutes and the growth in the number of people in back room teams.

These changes don’t affect us yet but we will need to monitor them carefully to make sure we can comply when the need arises. At the same time, it is clear that grant funding is likely to be a lot harder to obtain than in the past, so we will need to find most or all of the funds ourselves.

Next, Dennis Strudwick, the Conference General Manager, announced that the fixtures for the 2009-10 season would be ready no later than Friday 3 July. Work can’t start on them until the Football League announces its fixtures on Wednesday this week, since clubs are invited to ‘pair’ with other clubs to avoid clashes of fixtures and some Conference clubs pair with league clubs. It seemed that he was hoping that the fixtures would be published earlier that 3 July but we must wait and see.

Fans may not know that the Conference fixtures are prepared ‘by hand’, rather than using a computer program. Dennis was praised for his work, which member clubs appear to prefer to the automated approach used by most other leagues.

After changes to the Conference rules and Memorandum, came the election for board members. Despite the reduction in number of members needed to comprise the board (as mentioned earlier), there were still four vacancies for Premier League candidates since a large number of board members had stepped down,. The AGM papers named four Premier League candidates, thereby making the election look like a formality until, amid some confusion, ballot papers with six names were handed out. Members were then asked to add another name, in manuscript, because one retiring member of the board had made a last-minute decision to stand for re-election.

The result of the vote was that the three late additions to the list were elected, along with Gary Sweet of Luton Town as the sole member of the original four candidates to make the cut. Erik Samuelson was one of the unsuccessful candidates. The meeting ended shortly afterwards.

The remainder of the afternoon, and some of the evening, was a chance to catch up with other clubs. We also spoke to the Setanta representatives about arrangements for league games, gantries etc when the time comes.

The club had two tables at the awards dinner that evening and, as previously reported, we won every trophy for which we were eligible and had four members of the league representative team, as voted for by member clubs. Somehow the programme of the year awards weren’t presented but we understand that this will be done at the pre-season meeting for clubs in July.

Everyone dispersed on Sunday morning. Terry Brown has taken a few more days’ holiday and, in his absence, Stuart Cash will oversee the proposed player signing early this week. We have yet to finalise the fee for the other target midfielder and, since we understand that he is on holiday, it is unlikely that the deal can be completed until late this week at the earliest.

It is now under two weeks before pre-season training begins…..