Club announcement on its status and COVID-19
TO ALL OF OUR MEMBERS, SEASON TICKET HOLDERS, SUPPORTERS, SPONSORS, MANAGEMENT AND PLAYERS
I think it’s fair to say that Ossett United has had a challenging year and clearly with the current coronavirus crisis there is no end in sight. At this critical time we know that all of our members, season ticket holders, supporters, sponsors, management team and players will have many questions and we thought it would be helpful to now provide you with a detailed update on all of the key issues impacting on the club and consider how we can all work together for the benefit of Ossett United and the town of Ossett. Remember we are and always will be #StrongerTogether.
Since the merger we have faced a number of challenges, however,with your unrelenting support we have made very positive progress in tackling those challenges and whilst we are now in unchartered waters with the outbreak of Covid-19, we are confident that with your continuing support we can do this and will come out the other end in a much stronger position,
Before we get into detail, I think the most important thing for us to say is that we hope that you and your family and loved ones are taking care and staying safe. At this important time your health and well-being have to be our main concern.
We will now provide you with an update on the key challenges we are dealing with.
Last Season’s Financial Challenges
As is well documented, the 2019/20 season started with a significant financial challenge following major financial issues which arose last season with debts amounting to circa £90k in total at their worst. The Board have worked incredibly hard over the last 10 months and are delighted to report that the overwhelming majority of that debt has now been paid. This has been done through having a clear business plan and ensuring our spend this season was within our means whilst allowing scope to pay off outstanding creditors. It has also been helped by some of our Directors providing loans from their personal savings and we all owe them a debt of gratitude for helping us in this way. We can also confirm that all members of the Board are volunteering their time and whilst we did previously have a paid chief executive who received a little remuneration, Phil Smith is now unpaid and a volunteer like the rest of the Board. We are also thankful to James Rogers who has been helping the Board since last May and we are delighted that he recently agreed to come back onto the Board at this critical time. Finally, we must also thank our current manager Wayne Benn and our current players as they have helped get the playing cost down to a budget that can be managed within our current resourcing envelope. Our playing budget remains competitive and we believe our current league position is not directly related to the budget being spent. Rather, we believe that our overall performances over the season have deserved more and we thereforeremain optimistic for next season. So, all in all very positive progress was being made on securing financial stability and dealing with last season’s debts.
Rees Welsh Court Case
The court case was also well documented in November 2019 and we are sorry that we have not been able to update you on any detail of how this is being dealt with. Since the outcome of the court case was first known the Board have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to seek to find a way to manage this very negative outcome without further undermining the financial stability of the club and seeking to protect football at Ingfield. At the present time we are still in legal dialogue on this matter and therefore, we aren’t able to share too much detail at this stage. One of the key challenges we have had is securing borrowing to provide an opportunity for us to negotiate a settlement. Regrettably banks will not loan community football clubs money due to the risks of non-payment and whilst we could have borrowed money from other lenders, the interest rates were so high we would have struggled to repay the interest never mind the capital. However, we are pleased to report that we have now been able to secure money at an incredibly low interest rate from people who are associated with the club, who wish to remain anonymous. With this borrowing, along with contributions from the crowd-funder, we are hopeful that we have sufficient funds to settle the case and that legal negotiation continues. Clearly, we have to pay back the money borrowed and there is a very clear agreement and payment plan in place. The quicker we pay this loan the quicker we can get back to where we should be financially, therefore, your ongoing support to the club and all fundraising events is very much appreciated. So again, very positive news and we hope it won’t be long before we can formally announce that Ingfield has been saved.
Our site at Dimple Wells has caused other challenges for us over the last 12 months. As you may know, Ossett Albion Football Club (2016) Limited have a lease on Dimple Well which has 73 years to run. Ossett Cricket and Athletic Club are the landlord and have, over the last 12 months, sought to make life very difficult for us. They have engaged lawyers to seek to force us to surrender the lease and have made life very difficult and very challenging – for this reason we have significantly reduced our reliance on our Dimple Well Site. This, in our opinion, unjustified action by Ossett Cricket and Athletic Club has come at great expense as we have also had to engage specialist property lawyers in order to support our response, at a time when we could ill afford such costs. It was, however, worth the investment as we are now absolutely reassured on our rights with regard to the lease and it is clear to us that the actions of Ossett Cricket and Athletic Club are superfluous and purposely aimed at trying to force us to simply handover the lease. That simply will not happen. Many people involved with Ossett Albion and now Ossett United have over many years put too much investment into Dimple Wells for us to just walk away. We are prepared to work in partnership with the Cricket and Athletic Club however, regrettably, certain key people involved on their side only want to work on their terms. We have offered to surrender the lease for a capital payment recognising that we have 73 years of the lease remaining and have agreed to accept nearly a third of what its true value is. Unfortunately, Ossett Cricket and Athletic Club have made a derisory offer and therefore the stalemate continues. We shall keep you informed.
Membership, Season Tickets and Sponsors
Whilst the above challenges are significant, there is currently nothing more important to us at this time than responding to the challenges of the coronavirus. We know members, season ticket holders, supporters and sponsors will have lots of questions as well as personal worries as we clearly live in uncertain times.
From a club perspective the overwhelming majority of our income has ceased with immediate effect with the football season coming to a premature end and the bar having to close its doors. At the same time, we continue to have expenses to keep the site maintained and operational as well as other commitments such as the loan that is referred to above. We currently have a small cushion with a limited amount of cash in the bank, however, this is not significant and will only see us through a few weeks. Government have announced a number of grants that we should be able to access however at this time there is a lack of clarity of exactly what we are entitled to; when we can claim; and when we will actually see any money. The monthly membership fees we receive from our members are essentially now our only means of regular income.
We also recognise that many of you will have your own personal financial challenges dependent upon your own individual circumstances. With this in mind we want to provide flexibility to our members about your future membership payments. If you can afford to continue to pay, we would very much appreciate you keeping your regular payments in place and doing your bit to help us in this difficult time. Clearly, if you cannot afford to do this, we are more than happy for you to pause your regular payments with immediate effect and resume when things become clearer and we know when the new season will start.
In regard to season ticket holders, which includes members too, we recognise with this season coming to an abrupt end you have effectively paid for four home games you will not now have the opportunity to attend. To recompense you for this, for those that renew their season ticket (including members) next year we will find a way of recompensing you for the equivalent of the four games missed this season. We will communicate how we intend to do this when we know what’s happening with next season.
Our sponsors are also another significantly important part of our club and dependent upon your arrangement with us we recognise that you will also be impacted by the season being cut short. We also recognise that your own business will be affected by the coronavirus outbreak and we wish you the very best in dealing with whatever challenges you face. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the invaluable support, whether that be financial or in-kind support, that you have provided to us this season and we will be keen to continue to engage with you to continue that support into the future. If there is anything you would like to discuss or anything that we can do for you in these challenging times please do not hesitate to contact us.
We would also like to say a special thank you to every member of the supporters’ club and particularly Luke Swinden, Chris Bowker and Marty Oldroyd for the leadership and commitment they provide in heading up what must be one of the best non-league supporters’ clubs in the country. The supporters’ club is a massive asset to Ossett United and their help both financially and in-kind over this past year has been nothing short of brilliant. As a Board we hope to work even more closely with the supporters’ club in the coming weeks and months as we steer through these stormy waters and come out the other side stronger.
Management and Players
On behalf of all of our supporters we’d like to take this opportunity to thank Wayne Benn and Andy Hayward and all of the players both past and present for your contributions this season. Whilst we ended the 2019/20 season not where we ideally wanted to be in terms of league position, or indeed what your efforts actually deserved in reality, we now have an opportunity to start next season afresh. We also recognise that the coronavirus will be providing you with your own personal challenges and we recognise that with the season being cut short you will also lose out financially from your football income. We are sorry for this and sorry that we simply don’t have the funds to financially support you at this time. Please be reassured that we are working with the league and FA to see what support might be available to clubs of our nature and if anything is provided, we will let you know.
When all of this is behind us, we are planning on a major thank you party for all your support both in the past and during this current crisis. Whilst we haven’t made specific arrangements yet, we will have discounted drinks for all of you and for those of you who are able to maintain their monthly membership payments during this time as a special thank you will be entitled to £1 a pint on our standard draft products all night. We’ll also aim to put some food and entertainment on too.
Given the challenges we have found ourselves in, and even before the covid-19 break out, we knew the 2019/20 season was going to be a difficult one. Our aims, however, for 2020/21 are unchanged and once we are in a position to begin thinking about the new season wecan assure you that Wayne Benn and Andy Hayward will have our full support to put together a squad that will be looking upwards rather than over our shoulders.
For now, stay safe, follow the government’s health advise and we cannot wait to get going again and welcome you all back to Ingfield.
The Board of Directors
Lee Broadbent, Paul Billing, Stuart Garside, Steve Hanks, Phil Smith, James Rogers, Neil Spofforth