Another season of progress and achievement
Welcome to our final game of the 2017/18 season, and what a season!
We started out in August, hoping to come close to matching the 16/17 season's amazing campaign which saw us achieve promotion, get to the JPT final at Wembley and reach the 4th round of the FA Cup, including beating four higher-division sides on the way and playing a very attractive style of football.
Well, I think most fans will agree that we have built on those successes, have continued our adventure and we can look back on another wonderful season, rich in achievement and lifetime memories.
We have played a staggering 62 games: 46 in the League, two in the EFL cup, six in the FA Cup and, of course, eight in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Over this period, we have maintained our standards and continued to play a great brand of football. This is testimony to Michael Appleton's leadership, the critical team-based culture created by Michael and his backroom team and, of course, our outstanding squad of players. Every single member of the football department deserves our grateful thanks and our best wishes for a well-earned rest over the next couple of months.
This season, we will finish in the top 10 in League 1, our first in the division for 16 years and our highest league finish since the 1998/99 season. If we win today, we will finish within four points or less of the play-offs, another mark of tangible progress. And I am sure more than a few of us think that our punishing schedule, especially during March, cost us a real shot at securing the final play-off place.
Over and above this, we appeared at Wembley again, we reached the 5th round of the FA Cup, giving Middlesbrough the fright of their lives in one of the best games of the season, and we beat three higher-division clubs.
So for me, it has been another outstanding year, a year of continued advancement and achievement with, most of all, so many highlights both on and off the pitch and especially the togetherness across the whole club and with our fantastic fans.
Tonight, we have the "End of Season" dinner and awards where the whole club comes together to celebrate the campaign and the special contributions made by so many across the club. My own favourite award is "Club Person of the Year", which is voted for by all members of staff. This will be a richly deserved award to the person who goes above and beyond, often behind the scenes, and has gained the recognition of his or her peers. Similarly, the Player's Player award is a recognition by teammates and the winner will join a rich history of stars and club legends who have won this coveted award.
It is also an evening of great fun and camaraderie, swapping war stories and personal highlights, and is a fitting end to the season and a chance to begin to look forward to the 2017/18 campaign.
As you would expect, the planning has already started and we will debate openly and positively the key lessons learnt this season. Continuing to strengthen the squad will be a priority, alongside building on the culture which has served us so well.
Success on the pitch brings attendant challenges in the support functions and I would like to say a special thank you to the numerous members of staff who have risen to this challenge, always putting the club first and getting on with the job professionally and with a positive attitude.
I would particularly like to thank Benn Brown and Kathy Winstanley, both of whom have just completed their first season. They have worked tirelessly to continue our professionalisation of operations and culturally are a huge credit to the club.
Alongside Kathy and Benn, I would add special thanks to three stalwarts of the club who have quietly risen to the challenge of 62 games: Christine Greenough, Mick Brown and Chris Williams.
Finally, retail, commercial and Community continue to go from strength to strength and I would like to thank the whole team for their contribution over the past 12 months.
I would also like to thank a group of people who serve behind the scenes and provide a source of invaluable advice and support: our Board of Directors, who have overseen the progress of the club over the past two years. And, of course, my two critical best friends, Cheryl Cooper and Tom Grunwald, who do so much for the club without any real recognition.
Thanks also to all our sponsors who have placed their trust in the club and given essential support, without which the economics of our club would be even more challenging! Special thanks go to Simon Hildrey, Rod Tompsett, James Woollard, Calvin Barnett and James Dunn.
My last thank you unreservedly goes to our fabulous fan base. Your loyal and unwavering support has been a constant throughout the season. From my perspective, I would also like to thank the many fans for their personal messages of support throughout the season. They mean a great deal and, rest assured, I will always do my best to serve the best interests of this wonderful football club.
Back to today as we welcome Shrewsbury Town. They have recently secured their League 1 status which, for me, serves as a reminder of the fragility of football. I am sure many of us can remember Boxing Day 2015, when a strong Shrewsbury side showed us the yardstick required to get promotion from League 2! We welcome their fans, players and officials today and look forward to an open, exciting season finale.
So, overall, I think we finish the season in good shape. We have an outstanding manager, a great footballing staff, a highly talented and improving young squad, a committed and professional behind-the-scenes team and a sound financial position, based on a sustainable model which will allow us to invest in the squad without putting the club at risk.
Have a great summer, everyone. Please join us on the pre-season tour if you can and I think we can all look forward, with confidence, to an exciting and successful 2017/18 campaign.