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Club News

Darryl Eales Writes in the Shrewsbury Matchday Magazine

26 December 2014

The Chairman's notes in today's matchday magazine

Good afternoon and compliments of the festive season to one and all. Boxing Day games are special occasions in the football calendar and long may this continue!

Welcome to everyone from Shrewsbury for what promises to be an exciting game in front of, hopefully, our biggest crowd of the season.

On the pitch, although we remain unbeaten for the last five league games, there is a sense of missed opportunity in terms of converting performances into points and this was equally the case in the disappointing cup loss at Tranmere. In both recent away games, our support has been magnificent and I would like to thank the travelling fans on behalf of everyone at the club.

More generally, this is a time of year where we afford ourselves time for reflection and also set our goals and expectations for the year ahead.

From a personal perspective, 2014 has been a year of change accompanied by the usual mixture of achievements, disappointments, challenges and areas where I could have done better.

Significantly, I stood down as CEO of LDC, the business which has shaped my career and afforded me the opportunity to follow my real long-term passion - to own and develop a football club which does things the right way, builds for the long term and for sustainable success and, crucially, really does seek to make a difference, both to fans and in the community.

We are now six months in and I can honestly say that becoming involved in the club has been the best decision of my career. The overall welcome we have received has been amazing and the messages of support and encouragement are truly appreciated - thank you on behalf of myself, but also Mark and Michael.

Within the day-to-day operations of the club, I would especially like to express my thanks to the all staff who demonstrate their passion and commitment to the Oxford cause on a daily basis. It is inspiring and reinforces my desire to do everything I can to help take the club forward.

In particular, I would like to personally thank Mark (and of course Clare and Luke), Michael (and of course Faz and Micky) and Cheryl for all they do, for their positive attitude and amazing work ethic, for their desire to improve and constructively challenge and for their constant support. We have come together as a new team and, although, early days, I do believe we have begun to put in place the standards and structures which will deliver long term success.

I would also like to use these reflections to express the appreciation of everyone to Mary Page. Mary has been a loyal servant to the club, behind the scenes, for almost 41 years, never courting publicity. She has never wavered from her desire to do her best for Oxford United and can reflect on a job well done. Thank you, Mary, and we wish you well for the future and you will always be a welcome guest.

Looking ahead, off the pitch, fan engagement and community participation will be key themes in 2015.

In terms of fan engagement, we have already introduced a number of initiatives but the true acid test is sustainable improvement in the match day experience and, of course, bigger gates and a brilliant atmosphere!

I am delighted that we have reduced prices for families for this game. Alongside this, we have Rosie back on the pitch(!), more community and fan activity before the game and at half time, and Olly’s Den is proving a success with younger supporters. Overall, it feels as though we are making progress in creating a better matchday experience for everyone. It was uplifting to see so many people bringing youngsters along as part of the offer for season ticket holders to bring a guest for free at our last game. We will be looking to give season ticket holders another offer in the new year, so keep an eye out for that.

We still have much to do but I do think things are moving in the right direction.

In terms of wider community engagement, this will probably be the priority as we move into the new year. At the Bury game, we were delighted with the take up by local schoolchildren and their families.   We have also recently advertised for a Community Director and this is a role we feel is integral to the whole structure of the club and making community participation a reality, not just well intended words. The aim is to place Oxford United at the heart of not just Oxford but also the whole of Oxfordshire and the interview process will begin in the new year to find the right person to help us achieve that goal.

We have also sought to become more actively engaged with the business community - a particular passion of mine as I do think business in general needs to engage more with local communities - not as part of an anodyne "CSR" programme  but because it is the right thing to do and can make a huge positive difference. The United in Business network has been a huge success in 2014. We inherited this initiative but believe it has massive potential. Last week 90 key local business partners joined us for a visit to the Williams F1 headquarters. We were delighted that Humphrey Walters was able to join us to give a hugely motivational address to our guests and the whole event was a great success.

Alongside this, the Commercial department is currently an area we are restructuring but there is already much great work going on. I was delighted to play (with apologies to my playing partners!) in the annual Golf Day last week. Over £2,500 was raised for the Youth and Community Trust and I thought the atmosphere and the day as a whole was superb

Turning back to the football, may I just congratulate Chris Allen and his under-18 side who have been tremendous ambassadors for the club. Having beaten Bristol City and Swindon in the FA Youth Cup, they travelled up to Manchester City last week and were a credit to the club and their families. They pushed City all the way in a game played at their magnificent new Academy Stadium and should be very proud of their performance.
Finally, thank you for attending today and I wish everyone a happy, successful 2015.

Darryl Eales

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