Happy Boxing Day and festive greetings to one and all, and an especial welcome to fans, players and officials of Exeter City.
I am writing these notes the day after our defeat at Wycombe and my uppermost thought is retaining a sense of perspective both to recognise how far we have come in 2015 while remembering that we still have so much more to achieve.
Over our last 37 league games, we have the following record:
W18 D14 L5
We have achieved a level of consistency which I believe will stand us in good stead as we enter the New Year and the second half of a long but exciting and, hopefully, fulfilling and successful season.
Over and above our progress in the league, we are in the 3rd round of the FA Cup and in the Area Final of the JPT – as long-suffering fans know, it really does not get much better than this and it reminds me of a saying of my history teacher (many years ago!):
‘Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey!’
I think this is a truly profound statement and is applicable to all aspects of life as well as the trials and tribulations of being a football fan.
My own addendum is that:
‘A journey is best measured in friends – rather than in miles or years!’
I would like to thank everyone who has shown me friendship and support over the past 18 months, as we have taken our first few steps on the next stage of the Oxford United journey. To me, it really does feel like home and, more than ever, I understand what a wonderful club this is and the enormous potential it has if we get it right.
Given the time of year, I thought it worth giving some reflections as we arrive at the halfway point in the season, and would like to start with the playing side of the club.
I have had the opportunity to spend more time, roughly a day a week, at the training ground and in the company of players and coaching staff as well as, of course, Michael – the good news is your club is in great hands!
We are driving a consistent football philosophy throughout the club based on playing an attractive, high-tempo, passing game. I think most fans would agree with and – I hope – endorse this philosophy – but, critically, it is also allied to a resilient, never-say-die, all for one, one for all attitude.
Since pre-season, I have witnessed unbelievable commitment, consummate professionalism and authentic camaraderie across the entire football and playing staff which is testimony to Michael Appleton’s leadership, and his superb supporting cast.
This is among the strongest, most resolute teams of people I have had the pleasure of working with and it has and will continue to ensure we deliver excellence on the pitch – with the right results following accordingly!
Moreover, I am sure this esprit de corps and togetherness will ensure there will be no complacency and no getting ahead of ourselves but just a burning desire to succeed allied to immense work ethic, an ethos of our setting our own no-excuse environment and a collective passion and purpose which others will find tough to replicate will serve us well in the months and years ahead.
I now turn to our progress off the pitch and must start with fan engagement.
In any walk of life, unity is strength – not passive unity, but unity based on collective ambition, continuous improvement, constructive challenge and mutual support and encouragement. At its most fundamental this must start with the fans, who are the embodiment of the club. This is why fan engagement is at the heart of everything we do.
For me, fan engagement is epitomised by the relationship between players, manager and coaches, all club staff, and indeed, the club in its broadest sense, and our fans.
Ever since Austria, this bond, especially between players and fans, has been growing in strength and has massively contributed to a feel-good environment about the club and a better and better atmosphere at games.
We have improved our own approach to fan engagement through social and traditional media, more regular forums, stronger relationships with OxVox and Yellow Army and generally accessible open and transparent communication. We will strive to improve and maintain and broaden this approach to reach all fans, existing and potential, and this will be a priority in 2016.
In similar vein, we have improved significantly on the commercial side of the club, with a focus on the match day experience, which also links into fan engagement and community, engagement with local businesses through linking to community and building longer-term relationships, as evidenced by our fantastic relationships with Liontrust, Polythene and Clifford Thames, and improving the marketing of the club, both to build the supporter base and general awareness of the club and its positive activities across the county.
I really do think we have made major strides in improving the match day experience. This has been a real team effort and has been achieved through the commitment and dedication of the whole commercial, ticketing and community team.
Without doubt there is lots more to do. There always is! Expanding our marketing reach to a wider audience, improving our retail offering – in the club shop, around the county and on line – and one of my own personal priorities, engaging more proactively with local businesses and enlisting your support in the future development of the club.
As ever, all feedback is welcome – as is any help or direct support which you can provide. This would be both actively encouraged and highly appreciated.
Finally, and most importantly for me, we have relaunched the Oxford United Community Trust. I have said before, football is in a unique position to make a difference to communities – indeed it has an obligation to do so. We now need to put positive intent to affirmative and effective action and engage as many as possible in this long term.
The gala dinner was a fantastic example of how the club and supporters came together, had fun and raised vital funds for the trust which are now being put to good use. The trust will remain at the centre of the club’s ethos and vision, and our growing education-based partnership with the Oxford Academy is a testimony to how we really can begin to make a difference.
I am reminded of the words of Winston Churchill:
‘We make a living from what we get
Make a life by what we give’
Let’s all seek to make a difference and make Oxford a true community-based club.
So that’s a brief overview from my perspective. Other priorities in 2016 will be the training ground and, of course, stadium. I am a great believer in the best answers are achieved through open dialogue and relationships, and I am delighted that we are building good relationships with key stakeholders who can contribute to building our sustainable future, most notably, Firoz and Feroza Kassam and our local councils, led by Bob Price and Ian Hudspeth.
Finally, I am delighted to have taken on the Executive Chairmanship of the club. I believe we have a bright future and I want to play my full part in delivering this and accelerating our progress based on continuing to build a true one-team culture, throughout the club, across the fan base and involving everyone who wants to share in serving the best interests of the club.
For me, building sustainable competitive advantage, both on and off the pitch, starts with cultural cohesion and this will always be my overriding priority.
There is undoubtedly much to do – there always will be as we focus on continuous improvement! There will be bumps along the road, but I am certain our togetherness and unity will carry us through and make 2016 a truly memorable year.
I wish everyone a happy, fulfilling, successful and healthy New Year.
Best Wishes and COYY