Darryl Eales' notes in today's matchday magazineGood afternoon everyone and welcome to our last home game before Christmas, especially to the supporters and officials who have made the long journey from Bury.
I have regularly referred to our ambition to patiently and securely build sustainable success both on and off the pitch. Today, I would like to highlight the increasing momentum in our off-the-pitch activities, particularly in fan engagement and community participation.
From the outset of our ownership, we have sought to be open, transparent and communicative and to emphasise our desire to make the club central to the community and make a real difference through the medium of sport in general but especially football.
We also want all fans to feel they have a voice, are appreciated with loyalty being rewarded and, importantly, are listened to constructively as we seek continuous improvement in all that we do.
Hence I am delighted to set out some of the initiatives and plans we have set in motion to bring fan engagement and community participation to life.
Today should see a big crowd and a great atmosphere, helped by two initiatives that we have introduced for this game.
The first has seen all of our season ticket holders given the opportunity to bring a guest for free. Season ticket holders are the bedrock of the club and this is just a small thank you to everyone who follows us week in, week out at home games. Hopefully you have brought friends, family or colleagues along for an enjoyable afternoon's entertainment. If you are one of those friends and family then you are most welcome and we hope you come back soon to join us for another game.
The second initiative will see 2,000 schoolchildren and their families offered free tickets to the game. This is part of a new community initiative in partnership with our good friends at Quantel.
We have kicked off with perhaps our most local school, the Oxford Academy, and the primary schools that feed into it, for today’s game. Our sincere thanks go to Niall McWilliams of the Oxford Academy for his help in getting this off the ground, together with a massive thank you to Quantel for their fantastic support and generous funding. I hope this is a precursor to a more ambitious programme of engagement with schools across Oxfordshire which will encourage our fans of tomorrow.
These two schemes are the first of a programme of new initiatives which will be launched over the coming months. Equally importantly, we also wanted thank our amazing away supporters. Our away support is second to none and as a small gesture we are offering free coach travel to next Saturday’s away game at Hartlepool. That is a long journey, especially on the weekend before Christmas, so we hope that free travel on the London Road Club coaches will persuade as many fans as possible to travel in numbers and give us our normal fantastic support.
Talking of travel, we have another long road trip on Tuesday with the FA Cup replay at Tranmere. What an incentive for the winners: a home tie against Swansea City. Then, on Thursday 18th December, the youth team play Manchester City (away - and another long trip!) in the 3rd round of the FA Youth Cup. I am sure we all wish Chris and the team the best of luck for a good performance and, hopefully, the right result.
Looking ahead, and perhaps most exciting of all from a community perspective, we are strengthening our Community Trust board and will be launching our Community Trust programme in the spring which really will kick start our ambition to make the club even stronger and more relevant in the community and across the county. Mark Ashton is at the forefront of driving this brilliant initiative and I am sure he will comment in more detail in the near future.
We are also looking at ways in which we can genuinely expand fan engagement. We firmly believe that, through active listening and strong communication, we are likely to come up with a better understanding and prioritisation of issues and, ultimately, better solutions.
How best to engage effectively with all fans is far from straightforward. We are 100% supportive of Independent Supporters Trusts whose primary mandate, rightly, is to act as an independent body to ensure that the club is run in a professional and responsible manner and to support the strengthening the bonds between the club and the community. This is entirely consistent and complementary to our vision and we will continue to hold regular meetings with OxVox and build a strong relationship with the common objective of promoting the best interests of the club.
However, over and above this, we would like to find effective ways to engage with all fans, both formally and informally, to encourage broader participation in the club, especially in the areas of fan experience and community activity.
We are already committed to holding regular fans forums and are considering the setting up of a Fans Advisory Board. This is an embryonic idea and we would welcome views from all supporters as to whether we should take this forward and, indeed, any other ideas which will promote fan participation.
Finally, back to matters on the pitch. We have been on a decent run in recent weeks with dominant performances probably not being fully rewarded. Over the next three weeks, games come thick and fast. A good run over the Christmas period would lay the foundation for a really exciting second half of the season.
With that in mind, whether you are here every week or here as a season ticket holder’s guest, please get behind the team, make plenty of noise and play your part in getting the festive period off to a good start.