President’s Open Letter to supporters

Jun 19, 2020 | News

Dear Gasheads, 

I hope you are all well and have managed to keep your spirits up during what has undoubtedly been a difficult period for us all. The Covid-19 virus has been the biggest threat to the clubs existence to date and although there is still a long way to go, we have been working tirelessly to ensure that we not only survive but thrive.

I wanted to take this opportunity to write to you again and explain some of the recent developments at the club, what they mean and how they will affect the running of the football club. 

Firstly, as discussed in my previous letter, my father sadly passed away after the Blackpool game and following his death I reached agreement with other members of my family to purchase their shares within Dwane Sports Ltd. This means I now have control of Bristol Rovers (1883) Limited and Bristol Rovers Football Club Limited with 10% remaining with my brother Samer Al Qadi. The process has taken a long time to complete as its been necessary to fulfil the requirements prescribed by EFL regulations for any new owner. This included an assurance that I will personally continue to fund the football club, in the same way my family has done since we acquired the Club in 2016. Thankfully, that process is now complete and it has enabled me to become more direct with the key decisions at the football club and crystallise our strategic objectives. I will discuss more about these objectives shortly.

Following on from this acquisition of shares, I have decided to capitalise the debt owed to Dwane Sports by Bristol Rovers (1883) Limited totalling £18.4m and £16.4m of debt owed by Bristol Rovers Limited to Bristol Rovers (1883) Limited. This means that apart from our ordinary trade creditors, leasing and HP agreements the club is substantively debt free. Furthermore, I have written off all of the interest that was charged on this debt which totals £2.1m. I know that this issue is one that has caused many supporters unnecessary but understandable concern. However, actions speak louder than words and I hope this move demonstrates my commitment to the club and my desire to see it achieve its full potential. The process of capitalising the debt, will be completed through an issue of new shares in each company. This will have a diluting affect on the % shareholding held by the Supporters Club. However, I want to make it clear that despite this, it doesn’t change anything in terms of their entitlement to have a Director on the Board should they wish to nominate a suitable candidate. 

We are delighted that work has now begun on our new Training Base in Almondsbury. The Colony (as it is currently known) will become the home of our first team from the start of the 2020/21 season. The name of the site is one in which we have inherited, however, an alternative name will be sought once the work is complete. We will keep supporters up to date on this process. The development provides Ben and his team all of the required facilities on site as well as two top class pitches and a goalkeeping area, matching the standards and specifications of the Mem. The buildings will be permanent buildings and not temporary structures that are rented. This significant investment into our infrastructure is the first of a phased development that will see this site flourish in a Hub for the whole club in the long term. 

I am also delighted to confirm the appointments of Tom Gorringe and Karim Mardam-Bey to join myself and Martyn Starnes on the board. Both Tom and Karim, bring additional knowledge and experience to the board that will undoubtedly play an important part as we continue to develop.

As a board, we have been heavily engaged in discussions throughout the lockdown, with a view to coming out of this stronger than we went into it, as you can see from the above developments. Furthermore, we have also set out the following strategic objectives that we will be working towards as a football club; 

1.    Infrastructure improvements – the stadium project remains our priority. Finding a solution to this problem that has stifled the club for decades will be our most important task and one that we are working tirelessly on in the background. As soon as we are able to update supporters on this, we will do. We will also want to continue to push on with the training ground development so we can house the academy as well as develop the opportunities our new home brings.

2.    Sustainability – this pandemic has brought into focus the need for everyone within the game to look at the finances and how we make ourselves sustainable. This is a journey that we started at the club a year ago and all costs continue to be reviewed and all incomes need to be maximised. This has already seen changes such as the closing of the London Office.

3.    Youth – Under Ben Garner’s stewardship, we want to develop young players, bring them into the first team and give them their opportunity within the game. We hope that we can play an exciting and attractive brand of football whilst doing this. 

4.    Develop the fanbase – the support that we have at the club is undeniable, however if we are to progress then this support needs to grow. To grow the fanbase we need to be doing all we can to improve the match day experience, continue the feedback and improvements that we have been making and bring through the next generation of Gasheads. 

5.    Community – this club is built on Community foundations and that has shone through during this pandemic with the partnership between the club and the Community Trust to help all of those in need. I would like to personally thank all of the members of staff that were involved in this huge effort as I know that it made a difference to so many. Moving forward, continuing and growing these efforts will play a vital part in our attempts to be a welcoming and inclusive club for all that doesn’t just exist within our community but plays a key role within it. 

6.    Continual Improvement – the past four years has shown us that there is no quick fix to many of the problems that we face, however we are looking to instil a culture of continual improvement within every area of the club. Whether that is selling tickets, commercial performance, on the pitch or in our infrastructure, everyone within the club will be tasked to better the performance of the previous season and help the club to continue to improve and develop across the board. 

Together we feel all of these factors will play a vital role in helping us to work towards reaching our potential. 

Moving onto more current matters, you will be aware of the curtailment of the 19/20 season. As a club, our position from the start was that we wanted to fulfil all of the fixtures, that was the only option that felt right. However, as time went on and the implications of restarting became clearer, we felt that the only viable option was to end the season and to focus all of our efforts into the new season. 

We know that this will have brought disappointment to many, however, it felt this was the best thing in the end for the good of the game. On the back of this announcement we also felt it right to offer all supporters a refund on their tickets for the matches lost. This offering gave supporters a choice as to how this could be received. I’m so grateful that a substantial number of fans have indicated that they are going to choose to donate this money back to the club. A big personal thank you from me to everyone who made this decision. We know that it is a difficult economic environment for everyone and at the club, it is no different, so any donations received will go directly into our academy to help bring through the next generation of Rovers players.

The lockdown, not only brought about time to look at our strategic approach but it has also allowed us to get a head start on recruitment for next season. Ben and Tommy Widdrington have been working around the clock to ensure that we have the best possible squad for the new season and I am delighted with how plans within this area are progressing. 

Before I go, I also wanted to address one final point. Over the past two years in particular there has been intense speculation that the club is up for sale. I can confirm that I have no intention to sell the club and my desire is to retain a controlling stake whilst doing what is required to get the club to where it needs to be. There is no truth to the recent rumours about any sort of takeover and as you can see from the actions that we are taking, my commitment to the football club remains unwavered.  

This has been a tough period for us all, but we are hoping that we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. I would like to thank all of our staff who have all played their part in getting us into the position that we are currently. Without their work and sacrifice the club wouldn’t have made it to this point. I would also like to thank the supporters who have given me and the club such warmth during this pandemic. Moving forward, we need to stay unified and continue to pull in the same direction to give the club the best chance of success.

We cannot wait to welcome you all back to the Mem to play your part in getting this club where it belongs. 

Best wishes and Up the Gas,