'Racism, discrimination and any other form of abuse has no part in 21st-century football'
Good afternoon everyone and it is a pleasure to extend a warm welcome to players, fans and officials from Millwall FC for today's early kick off.
The clocks go back this evening, a sure sign that winter is approaching and that the season is in full swing. November will be another frenetic month with four League games, a visit to Stamford Bridge and a televised first round FA Cup game against Merstham FC.
After 15 games, the league is beginning to take shape and shows all the signs of being unbelievably tight with most teams being evenly matched.
The season so far has been somewhat disjointed where we have yet to find the consistency that was the foundation of last season and have yet to put together a strong run of results which would catapult us up the table.
Having said this, we are only four points shy of the play-off positions and I do believe there is much more to come from our squad. Overall, and I am probably biased, I feel we have 4/5 points fewer than we should have!
Curiously, and in stark contrast to last season, our away form has been disappointing. We have conceded two goals in six of our away games and it is essential to address this defensive frailty on our travels as part of improving our away form.
It would be remiss not to mention our away support which once again has been second to none, capped, of course, by the 4,000-plus who travelled to MK Dons and an amazing turnout for our Tuesday evening trip to Coventry.
At home, we have, in general, shown great resilience and have grown in confidence. I have been encouraged by the overall level of home support and, as Michael has commented regularly, playing in front of big crowds really does make a difference.
As we enter the middle third of the season, there is still plenty of reason for grounded optimism and confidence. Under Michael Appleton's leadership, we have assembled a young squad which is still evolving and improving. Unity has characterised the club over the past 18 months and I am sure this will carry us forward positively through the long winter months and put us in a good position to challenge at the business end of the season.
We continue to make progress off the pitch in terms of developing our Community Trust and working in the local community. As you know, my own passion is education, which in my view is the only way that communities are transformed and individuals are given the opportunity to fulfil their aspirations.
To this end, everyone at the club sends our congratulations to the Oxford Academy for a fantastic Ofsted report and for finishing 14th out of more than 6,000 secondary schools. This is an incredible turnaround for a previously 'failing' school and is testimony to the leadership of Niall McWilliams and his team and the collective effort of pupils, parents and teachers. It is a real life feel-good story and the club is proud to be partners with the Oxford Academy.
Building on this theme, the success at the Academy shows what can be achieved if everyone is aligned based on team work and a community ethos based on hard work, tolerance and respect and support for all.
I was heartened by the appearance of Greg Clarke, the Chairman of the FA, before a parliamentary select committee. He had the courage to admit that football still had a way to go in becoming a spectacle to which all are welcome and where all forms of discrimination and abuse are a thing of the past. He especially focused on homophobia but could equally have embraced racism, misogyny and general verbal abuse and intimidation.
I am a passionate football fan and the tribal partisanship is what creates the special atmosphere at games across the world. However, there must be boundaries.
As far as I am concerned, racism, discrimination and any other form of abuse has no part in 21st-century football and we have to collectively have the courage to challenge the unacceptable.
Our ambition is to be a fully engaged and active community club and confronting these challenges head on is the only way that we will ensure that football is open to all, based on an ethos of tolerance, respect and equality.
This week we had a very positive Community Trust trustees meeting. It was uplifting to witness the generosity of spirit and desire of all to make a difference in our local community. There is still much to do but under the leadership of Kate Longworth and with the support of everyone at the club and across supporters, we really can make that all important difference.
Football has the power and responsibility to be a positive driver of social change. I urge all fans to ensure we embrace this ambition and help make us a genuine community club. Football matters but so does helping others.
Enjoy the game today.