I am sure that just about every end-of-year review that looks back at 2020 will start the same way, by stating what a terrible year it has been. Not only was it impossible to predict that the year would be consumed by a global pandemic, most of us never imagined that by the end of December we would still be locked in the fight to control and suppress it. However, vaccines are now available, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I recall the update I published at the start of the pandemic back in March. Football had just been suspended, we hadn’t reached full lockdown, but all the signs were there that we were going to face a challenging time. I gave a commitment that the Board would do everything it could to protect the club and steer us through the inevitable financial hardship that we were likely to face as all of our income streams had been effectively cut off.
I’m pleased to report that despite the challenges, the club is in a healthy position financially. Whilst this is indeed good news, we musn’t forget that whilst the recent news of some financial support from the Government is to be welcomed, this is only replacing a proportion of the income that football clubs have lost since March. This funding must also see us through at least the remainder of this season. However, on behalf of the Board, I’d like to thank both the UK and Scottish Governments for providing this financial assistance. It is very much welcome and appreciated. We also received a financial donation from the philanthropist James Anderson. James is a private individual and did not need to do anything. But he did. He simply wanted to see football clubs survive. He recognised the important place that local clubs have in their communities. His support, particularly coming so early in the year, was a crucial factor in enabling us, and many others, to be able to get our clubs COVID ready and get playing a new season. We owe him a debt of gratitude, and the best way to repay his kindness is to continue to be the strong community focussed club.
With regards to the community, as most of you will know, we were one of the first organisations to launch a community support programme at the start of the pandemic. This initiative continues today. We’ve delivered thousands of hot meals and school lunches. We’ve carried out thousands of shopping trips for those isolating, delivered food parcels, provided a library service, and given lots of support in so many other ways. The football club alone could not have achieved this. We were able to do this thanks to the support from many other local businesses, organisations and groups. Most importantly of all, we had a fantastic team of volunteers who signed up to help – around 200 volunteers in fact. Many of those who offered to help already had a connection to the club, but a great number didn’t. People just wanted to help and support others. If there is one positive that we can take from this terrible time, it’s that there are lots of good people out there who are willing to go the extra mile to help others. ‘Community’, still exists.
The club received some financial support from a number of different organisations and funds and this enabled us to provide our community support. However, a number of parents whose kids are members of our community football programmes continued to support the club financially throughout the pandemic. Many of them sent us warm wishes and were thanking us for our community work. In fact, it is us that need to thank them, because their continued direct debits meant that we could provide this support. Again, it was another symbol of a great community partnership.
As well as our community work, the club had to also remain focused on football. We were a strong voice during the summer to press the football authorities and others to resolve the issues with regards to ending the previous season, league reconstruction, and financial support for football. We engaged where we could to influence the efforts to get football back when it was deemed safe to do so. Staff within the club spent a lot of time working on the various documentation required to get football back. We had to produce a number of different protocol documents, risk assessments, and establish new procedures to cover all the different club activities, training, and matchdays. This was a significant undertaking, but everything that was asked of us was put in place and is working effectively.
We continue to advocate for the safe return of supporters to Ochilview. We are confident we can do this safely, and we will remain a strong voice in the campaign for this to happen. Until this does, we will continue to look to improve the match day livestream. We have put in place the Pixellot system, and unfortunately, this system has not always lived up to our expectations. For this, we apologise. Whilst there have been some games where the coverage has been good, there have been other games where the automatic tracking has let us down. In the last few matches, the camera has missed goals being scored. We appreciate how frustrating it is for supporters to be prevented from attending games, and when the livestream system misses important parts of the game, this just compounds the frustration.
We believe we have a way to improve upon the coverage by using manual control. We have been trying to recruit a new member to the media team to carry out this task at home games and we are pleased that we now have someone willing to take this on. They will be in place for the January 16th game against Albion Rovers and we hope this will provide a better experience. I know that it has been asked why we opted for the Pixellot system and I can provide some background. The system was first identified by the SPFL a few years ago and a trial was carried out successfully at that time. When we looked at options at the start of the summer, we had three challenges to overcome.
The first requirement was to provide a full package system that could film and produce the live games, but it also needed a streaming service and pay option in order to satisfy league rules. The second requirement was to find a system that could be used to film community training and/or games. Parents have not been allowed to come in and watch their kids since March so we wanted a system that could livestream to them as well. It would have been too costly to provide a camera crew and the necessary equipment to cover community events that can be on from early morning right into the the later evenings through weekends.
The third requirement was to link the system into match analysis. We have been steadily building our first team football department within the club and we are now at the point where we need to enhance our team and player analysis. We utilise WYSCOUT for match performance data, but through the Pixellot system, we would be able to also use VIDSWAP for matches and within the training environment. We have just recruited a number of recruitment and performance analysts into the club and they will now have access to these systems and can not only tag events and provide in depth analysis, but they can cut and send video clips to players and coaches.
The Pixellot system was the option that could handle all our specific requirements. However, we appreciate that there are issues with the match day livestreaming element and as mentioned above, we hope to have found a solution. I should point out however, that Pixellot has worked hard since October to address the issues that clubs have faced and are making continual improvements to the system. Over two thirds of the clubs below the Premiership are using the Pixellot system so they are committed to ensuring they get it working for us. The new manual control system that we intend to start using was provided by Pixellot at their own expense. They have also donated back to clubs a substantial proportion of the costs of the system. Working together with them, we hope that the new improvements will provide a better experience for viewers.
With regards to the team, we are currently sitting mid-table, but are only a win away from being back in the promotion playoffs. Although this season is proving difficult due to COVID impacts, our target is promotion. We have had a number of players missing due to injury or self-isolation, but we hope to be back to full strength in the new year. We had a strong start to the season and we need to get back to full strength and top form. There is no doubt that it is a challenging environment for part-time players as we are always limiting their interaction where possible to minimise the chances of any virus spread. They all deserve credit for doing all they can to keep themselves healthy and available for selection. It is inevitable that some will come into contact with the virus, but our procedures should minimise the risk to other players within the club.
I’d also like to thank all supporters for everything they have done this past year. I appreciate how difficult it has been. It is challenging to get behind a team that you cannot see in person and get to know. However, our support has remained loyal to them and the club. Many fans have helped in a number of different ways and this has been very much appreciated. Supporters have bought shares, donated, volunteered, bought season tickets and sponsored seats. All of this has contributed to not only keep the club going through the most challenging of times, but it has enabled us to continue the plans to grow the club with the goal of competing at higher levels.
Finally, I am sure we are all aware that the club has lost people over the past year to COVID, and to other illnesses too. We will always keep them in our thoughts.
We should be positive about the new year that lies ahead. The vaccination programme is underway, and we will all be back at Ochilview at some point in 2021, and society will return to something closer to normal. Until then, we must all continue to do the right thing to keep ourselves and others safe, and where possible, we must continue to support those in our community that might need a bit of extra help.
Here’s to a good year ahead!!
Chairman – Stenhousemuir FC