Welcome to our first home game of the 2017/2018 league season – and what a blockbuster fixture we have.
Portsmouth are a club with a rich heritage and it is good to see them back in League 1. We extend a very warm welcome to their fans, players and officials and look forward to a great atmosphere and an exciting game.
It has been a fairly eventful close season for the club but I am delighted that we start the season in very good shape which should augur well for another season of progress.
First things first, and it is my huge pleasure to extend a formal welcome to Pep Clotet as our new manager. Pep was a stand-out candidate among an impressive list of applicants and is a worthy successor to Michael Appleton. I am delighted that he has very quickly settled at the club, already forming an excellent rapport with the coaching, recruitment and backroom team. I believe we have an ideal combination of a strong team-based culture, together with an infusion of new ideas and broader experiences which will serve us well over the course of the season and beyond.
I am confident that Pep will prove to be an outstanding manager and I very much hope that he remains at the helm for many years, overseeing our continued progress towards our objective of achieving promotion to the Championship.
Before looking ahead, I would like to express my thanks to Michael Appleton. Michael was my first appointment at the club, immediately on taking over on 4th July, 2014. We formed an excellent working relationship and, equally importantly, a friendship which I think will be life-long.
Looking back, this relationship was cemented during the first three to four months of the 2014/2015 season, when the team got off to an inauspicious start! You learn a lot about people and relationships when things are not going to plan but Michael and I, together with the coaching team, established a mutual bond of trust, combined with a steely ambition to get things right, which formed the foundation of our subsequent success.
Following the transfer window of January 2015, we gradually strengthened the squad and under Michael’s stewardship achieved promotion to League 1, two Wembley appearances, numerous giant killings and last season finished in our highest league position for 20 years. Furthermore, this was achieved based on a highly attractive playing style which has seen us score more than 100 goals in each of the last two seasons.
While I have always placed a premium on stability and continuity, Michael’s decision was understandable given his relationship with Craig Shakespeare and his desire to work in the Premier League. I am sure everyone will join me in wishing Michael well in the future and extending our grateful thanks and appreciation for his outstanding stewardship over the past three seasons.
The summer also saw the departure for pastures new of several players who were fans’ favourites and who had served the club with great distinction. John Lundstram, in similar vein to Kemar Roofe, wanted to test himself in the Championship but left on the best possible terms and I look forward to welcoming him back as our guest during the season, as well as wishing him every success in the future.
Alongside John, Chris Maguire, Joe Skarz, Phil Edwards and Chey Dunkley, as well as Liam Sercombe and Conor McAleny, all joined other League 1 clubs, reminding us of the ephemeral nature of football. Each made an invaluable contribution to the club and are most welcome visitors anytime.
So we turn to the new season.
The good news is that we have had a largely positive transfer window, despite the natural disruption following a change of Manager, and have secured most of our prime targets. This reflects great credit on Derek Fazackerley, Chris Allen, and the recruitment team, especially Mark Thomas and Craig Dean, their professionalism and the speed with which they have earned Pep’s confidence.
We have continued to invest in the playing squad and go into the season with the strongest squad in my tenure, both in terms of depth and in terms of quality. We have built on our core policy of investing in and trusting youth by bringing in experience at higher levels in key positions. The additions of Mike Williamson, Dwight Tiendalli, Ricardinho, James Henry and Jon Obika, together with the arrivals earlier this week of Ivo Pekalski and Gino van Kessel, as well as our ‘coup’ in securing Jack Payne on loan, will mean there is healthy competition in virtually every position.
I look at our squad as we begin my fourth season at the club and, without in anyway resting on our laurels, the quality of the current playing personnel shows how far we have come over the past three years.
As we all know, there are no certainties in football. There are 23 other teams in League 1 who have varying degrees of ambition, but with probably 10 or 12 who harbour real hopes of reaching the play offs.
The margins in football are often very small and, over a long season, team spirit, togetherness, collective will and good fortune all play key roles in determining the ultimate outcome.
As our first two games have shown, nothing can be taken for granted. Responding to disappointment, as well as not getting ahead of ourselves, will both be important in equal measure over the season. Most of all, retaining a grounded sense of perspective is crucial. In the bigger picture, these are exciting times for the club – we go into the new season with every opportunity for a concerted challenge for the play offs!
Turning back to pre-season, I also wanted to give my reflections on Portugal. For me, it was an outstanding trip. The camaraderie among the group, players and coaching team, was as good as ever and this togetherness was exemplified, together with our magnificent fans, at both friendlies against Middlesbrough and Hull respectively. The turnout was amazing and staff from both of our opponents were richly complimentary about our support!
From a personal perspective, the wonder of football is epitomised by the optimism and sense of adventure that accompanies every season. Whether it is business or sport, I know of no environment where criticism and negativity leads to success. I know that everyone at the club is doing their best to mak their contribution to the progress we want for our club.
It is this spirit of togetherness which has underpinned the achievements over the past three years and will continue to be the foundation of our future success. I have consistently said that our fans really do make THE difference. Energetic, enthusiastic, positive support, both through good and through more challenging times, is critical and I urge everyone to give the team your full backing at all times – it really can make the difference!
With my best wishes for another exciting season.