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Sunday 28 June 2009
What's happening at Kingsmeadow #5

The two weeks since the Conference AGM have been very busy. Obviously, the main news has been the demise of Setanta although, when it finally happened, there was little else for us to do to manage the consequences, since it had been coming for so long.

As the recent statement on the OS explained, the Dons Trust board had approved a budget which included income from Setanta, after considering whether we would have any problems if they were to go into administration. The budgeted Setanta income included both the fixed amount and fees for some live games.

As a general rule, we don't budget for income that is uncertain, for example, we never assume we will be drawn at home in the FA Cup. But the FA cup draw is random, while the selection of games for TV isn't. We were already confident from talking to Setanta officials that we would feature reasonably often. However, we'd been told by the Chairman of a leading Blue Square Premier club that teams with large away followings tend to be on TV most often - but away from home, as the travelling fans create a good atmosphere. So we assumed that, with the size of our travelling support, we'd be shown quite frequently away from home and we budgeted on that basis. Given that the fee for the home club in a televised game was six times the away fee, it seemed a reasonable approach to our budgeting. And, most important, we considered our position if none of the income was available and concluded that we would be OK.

On the subject of TV games, we can say now that we had been approached, informally, to ask if we would be able to move our first ever game in the Blue Square Premier to the Friday night, should we be drawn at home for our first game on 8 August. We weren't sure we could do it, as it happens, since we already had a booking in the back bar on that Friday night. But it is academic now.

Throughout the summer, Terry Brown has been taking his time to sign players, since many more than usual were likely to be available, given the current recession and the worries about Setanta. We have also been clearer than ever before about what we were willing to pay in wages and transfer fees. So, having determined what we felt were fair amounts for the two players who attracted fees, Ricky Wellard and Steven Gregory, we negotiated hard. This is one of the reasons the transactions have taken some time, but we got the players we wanted in the end and at prices that we consider to be fair.

Once again, the other club in a transaction announced the deal before we did. In this case, Ashford Town (Middlesex) put the news that we had agreed terms on their site a day before we announced the deal. The reason is simple - we only announce deals when they are signed, sealed and delivered. In the case of Ricky Wellard, we finalised the fee on Thursday and it was agreed that he could come in for a medical, before any of the paperwork was signed. While he was seeing Mike Rayner, Ashford confirmed that the deal was agreed so we took the time-saving step of asking Ricky to sign the relevant paperwork, so that we could take it to Ashford on Saturday for them to sign. Until they signed it was possible, although very unlikely, that the deal could fall through. So we didn't announce things until it was signed, in line with our usual policy.

For Steven Gregory's signing to be effective, we had sent a letter to the FA saying that if we couldn't agree a fee with Hayes and Yeading we would pay what any tribunal decided - with no right of appeal for either club. We were anxious to avoid a tribunal, and so were Hayes and Yeading, since we feel that the results are unpredictable. Whether it is fair or not, there is a general perception that tribunals settle somewhere in the middle of the two clubs' offers and counter offers. This makes the process rather false, since offering anything other than a nominal sum is inadvisable, because all the written exchanges will be published to the tribunal. Conversely, there is no real reason for the ‘selling' club to lower its offer, as doing so might prejudice the fee they are awarded.

The effect is that both sides are unwilling to reveal their real view, especially in writing. To overcome this, the Hayes chairman, Derek Goodall, and Erik Samuelson had a ‘without prejudice' conversation about what each club might really be willing to settle for. After that conversation, they consulted their respective boards and with a little bit more flexibility from each side a fee that satisfied both clubs was quickly arrived at - and paid the same day!

Terry Brown has, therefore, got most of his squad in place for the coming season and, with pre-season training starting Saturday 27 June, the pace of the preparations is increasing rapidly. All the players were given training and dietary regimes for the summer break and the first training sessions will include the players being weighed, undertaking bleep tests, etc, to assess their general fitness. Terry is still looking for a couple of signings so although the squad is very nearly complete, there will be a number of triallists at the pre-season training.

Regarding pre-season games, we have now finalised the final details of the game at Farnborough. As regards 14/15 July, after reviewing the possible games Terry and Stuart are now considering playing a training game instead that week.

Turning to the fixture list, fans may remember that it came out earlier than initially advertised last year. The latest on this is that the fixtures are unlikely to be published early this season but, if this changes, we will publicise it on the club's site.

Moving on to the stadium, we have finally found time to take photos of the improved terracing at the Kingston Road End. The original steps are in the foreground, and they remain in place either side of the floodlights. The increase in height is quite dramatic and we expect that once the work on the new turnstiles is complete and we are able to make the KRE available to our fans, the much improved view will make it a very popular place from which to watch the Dons.

The new KRE terracing alongside the old steps

We have now commissioned a new piece of work to add another step at the rear of the John Smith stand. While it won't be as good a view as the improved KRE, it will make things a lot better for fans. We are planning other work, which includes extending the barrier at the KRE so that it stretches from floodlight to floodlight, replacing the ‘A' boards in front of the Paul Strank Stand, and possibly introducing a barrier along the front of the John Smith stand. A meeting with the council's safety consultant take place next week to discuss these ideas in detail.

Meanwhile, we are about to put a further application in to the council dealing with the plans for the additional turnstiles. Before we do so, we are checking reports that the Football League has added new requirements to their ground grading criteria and we want to make sure that any work we carry out this season will be consistent with the revised FL regulations. This may hold us back a few days but we need to be confident before pressing ahead.

Season tickets have taken up a lot of time this week but, by now, the seats have been allocated. Almost everyone who asked for a move to a different seat has been called to explain whether we can help or not, while successful new applicants have also been phoned to explain what we are able to offer. In almost all cases we couldn't give new applicants the seats they wanted - if we did, the back rows of the centre of the Paul Strank stand would have half a dozen people in every seat. In a significant number of cases we had to leave a message explaining the situation and we await fans' replies to see if they accept the offer or choose to stand instead or, as some have done, withdraw their application.

The end result is that until the seat allocation process is finally pinned down we still can't complete the allocation of places into the Tempest End, but we hope to do so this coming week. Again, please don't call us; we will call you. But if you've changed your phone number or email address recently, please do let us know.

The order for printing the season ticket books has gone in. They will be slightly different from last season as the colour of the insert to the book will indicate which area of the ground the ticket is valid for. And the vouchers will look a bit different as a review showed that some of the previous season's vouchers had been used last season. We'll be taking steps to make that much harder to do.

While this is being written, the second summer weekend clean up and maintenance work is progressing. A year's worth of accumulated rubbish is being removed and all the seats are being jet-washed.

Jet spraying the seats

Not needed any more

All help welcome

Incidentally, the ‘champions' hoardings have since been retrieved by a fan.

Various digging, scrubbing, painting, weeding and pruning is taking place as a group of volunteers helps to get the stadium ready for our first pre-season friendly, only two weeks away.

It isn't long now ...