27 Oct 2021 by John Edwards

Board addresses all the issues from Alty's big TV game

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Altrincham FC statement from Co-Chairman Bill Waterson on last night’s game against Solihull Moors: 

First of all, I would like to thank all the Alty fans who turned out last night in such great numbers for our “Football for a Fiver” initiative.

The response exceeded our expectations, and it continues the magnificent support we are getting from the town and surrounding area this season. There is so much good happening around the club at the moment, and we will build on this momentum. 

However, we are not blind to our shortcomings, nor are we complacent in terms of the work that needs doing. The club has come a long way, on and off the pitch, in a short time, but we have a lot more to do to achieve our ambition, which is to establish ourselves in the top half of the Vanarama National League in the short term and aim for Football League status in the next five years. 

Being chosen by BT Sport for live televised coverage of a match at The J.Davidson Stadium placed the club firmly in the spotlight, and therefore we needed to make the best possible impression.

We were eager to do just that, but our on-the-pitch plans, already blighted by a number of injuries, were further disrupted by one of our back-room staff being diagnosed as COVID positive, which necessitated 10 days of self-isolation for several of our players under Government regulations and National League rules.

We advised the National League on Monday of our situation and did not expect the game to go ahead, given the scale of our injury and COVID-related problems and number of players affected.

The response from the League was unequivocal – the game had to be played and the onus was on us to take the necessary steps to field a full side from players on our books and through loans.

On Tuesday, we asked for clarification on the rules covering postponements ahead of the game, and we noted that there were four postponements in the National League North for COVID that same night we were forced to play.

To reiterate, our intention was for last night’s game not to go ahead, for valid and obvious reasons, even if it did mean putting Saturday’s game at Woking at risk, but the League did not support our stance.

Faced with such a predicament, and with little choice but to patch a team together the best we could, we worked hard to bring in loan players and were able to secure the services of Barry Baggley and Tom Walker to strengthen our threadbare squad.

Sean Higgins and Kwame Osigwe made the step up from Reserves to help fill the bench and somehow we were able to put 16 names on the team sheet ahead of the BT cameras rolling.

What a great effort from Phil, Neil and the team to put in such a gutsy performance in the most difficult of circumstances in front of a nationwide TV audience - not to mention 3,683 inside the ground - once again demonstrating the strength and passion that runs through this squad of players. 

We would also like to clarify the bar and catering situation from last night. First of all, in the Community Sports Hall, we brought in a team of staff from a bar recruitment organisation to ensure we had sufficient experienced and trained personnel, and indeed we had eight people behind the bar at half-time.

It is clear, however, that with all the signs pointing to home crowds in excess of 2,000 being the new norm for us, we need to expand our capacity and improve our infrastructure.

The Board met yesterday afternoon to discuss our strategy, including for the match day experience, and we know we need to take action to significantly increase bar and catering facilities around the ground.

Some of these improvement activities are, by necessity, longer term in their delivery, and therefore we will be looking at things we can do in the immediate term, such as pre-pouring, bottle bars and short-term improvements in facilities.

Don’t forget, it is only four years since we were hosting Lancaster City in front of 618 spectators on an October Tuesday night, but we know it’s the here and now that counts and we must not only take whatever measures are needed to meet current demand but be proactive about delivering future requirements. 

Which brings us to the Fan Zone. Progress on this facility has been frustratingly slow as material and labour shortages and spiralling costs have seriously impacted on our progress.

The latest delay concerns the erection of the roof, for which the groundworks had been done, causing a potential trip hazard. We liaised with our friends at Trafford Borough Council, and after discussions between us, we agreed we should close the Fan Zone until we have made the site safe from a Health and Safety perspective.

The Fan Zone does provide us with additional bar and catering facilities, as well as offering a different match day experience, and its closure last night did increase the capacity constraints in the ground. Once it reopens, it will alleviate some of the pressure on our facilities that we saw last night. 

There was one area last night where we were expecting issues, but in fact revisions to our processes and staffing seems to have met the demands of facilitating over 3,500 home spectators.

We had all fans inside the ground shortly after kick-off, so thank you to those who turned up early and thank you again for your patience as we work to further improve the process of getting everyone into the ground. 

We recognise your frustrations around yesterday’s game and reiterate that, on the field, these were not of our making, nor our choice. Off the field, we are working hard to expand our facilities to help cope with the additional level of spectators, as well as addressing our processes and staffing to offer a level of service that is fit for purpose.

We thank you for turning up in such numbers and getting behind the team, and we will endeavour to keep working hard to improve your match day experience throughout the rest of this season. 

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