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Club Statement - Coronavirus Latest

The latest on the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the U's

18 May 2020

Colchester United owner and Chairman Robbie Cowling has made the following statement as lockdown measures begin to ease in the UK.

I do hope everyone is well and is being sensible about coming out of lockdown.

Although we have had a clear steer from all twenty four clubs in League two that the way they would like to conclude the season would result in Colchester United being in this season's Play-Offs, I don't want to address that issue until it is formally ratified by the league. Hopefully it will be and I'll be writing another statement soon with the full details.

We all appreciate our NHS staff and the other key workers who are getting us through the pandemic and they all deserve every single clap and cheer they receive on Thursday evenings.

In addition, the fantastic effort from the general public has been amazing too and it’s going to be our responsibility to make sure the heroic efforts of the key workers have not been wasted by making sure the future isn’t just going to be different, it’s going to be better.

By better I don’t mean bigger or shinier or newer, but better because we get greater pleasure from smaller and simpler. Maybe we can’t fly off to exotic destinations for a while but how many hidden gems have you discovered on your doorstep during your daily walks or bike rides.

Football at League One and Two level is going to change dramatically next season, with probably half of the games being played behind closed doors. But what about afterwards when changes could be by design rather than just forced upon us.

Are we going to simply let football go into ‘Limp Mode’ because it’s forced to do so before simply returning to how it was previously as soon as it’s allowed to? Personally, I think it would be a massive shame if the current situation isn’t a catalyst for change.

Another matter that is going to hit the headline this week is salary capping and although I will have to address the details of that when they are known, I can provide a bit of background.

There was already a desire for change prior to the spread of the Coronavirus because even before the financial impact that the lockdown has and continues to cause, EFL clubs were operating a broken financial model that saw Bury go out of business and would probably have seen at least one club a season suffering a similar fate. With the added financial hit of the coronavirus pandemic, the need to find a fix is high on the agenda of every club not just those on the verges of collapse.

The root causes of the problems are quite easy to understand. As clubs are given more money from TV and sponsorship deals, they all want to spend the extra cash on squad improvements. It starts with clubs looking at signing better players on higher wages and bolstering their squad sizes too so they can cope with the clusters of injuries they all seem to get at the most inconvenient times of the season.

The problem is with every club having more to spend, it ends up with players of the same quality being signed but on higher salaries and additional players being signed too. And so it goes on. You’d think clubs would be smarter and resist but if they don’t follow suit, they will fall behind.

If the new money means you now have to spend more money to get the same players, then spending the same as before will mean getting lesser players. Next season will go into a reverse spin. The financial impact of coronavirus will mean that clubs have less money to spend and therefore wages are likely to spiral in the opposite direction and clubs will manage with smaller squads.

It's going to be very tough for footballers who are out of contract. It's not their fault we have paid them higher wages and the decline is likely to be very sharp. I just hope their agents are being honest with them. It is for these reasons that we informed our out of contract players early that their contracts were not going to be renewed.

It's also why, if our place in this season's Play-Offs is confirmed, that we must respect the decisions they, (the players out of contract in July), make when they are deciding whether they want to take part in the Play-Off games or not. Normally, promotion to League One would mean we could afford to spend another £200k - £300k on players but just taking part in the Play-Offs is going to cost that much and we may not get promoted and if we don't then that's £200-300k we won't have next season.

So the challenge for football is to find a workable solution that allows clubs to operate as financially sound organisations. Ideally, more money will find its way down the football pyramid and measures will be introduced that will make clubs spend those funds sensibly and within their means. We have been trying to change the model at Colchester United for a number of years with our investments in the Academy and training ground and until this all happened, those strategies were leading us towards our best financial results since we were in the Championship.

The measures the EFL will introduce are almost certainly going to involve a spending cap but they will most probably allow the wages of players under the age of twenty one to be excluded from the summing up. Therefore, our reliance on our Academy is going to be more important than ever because it will allow us to spend more of our capped playing budget on fewer high quality players who will then play alongside the academy products.

Of course, this is not going to happen immediately even if the EFL introduce squad spending caps this coming season as they will have to allow clubs who already have players under contract to make the transition. Sadly some clubs will find their way around the rules and clubs will still go out of business but Colchester United will not be one of them. We still have uncertainty and some very tough decisions will need to be made, but I will make those tough decisions and Colchester United will comply and we will have a future beyond coronavirus.

Situations like this aren't just testing; they're also revealing and for me it has revealed that Colchester United is a great club that we can all be very proud of. Even at a time when there is no football and so much uncertainty, the staff, the players, the sponsors and the fans have all been brilliant and have played their part in being a part of the solution. The media have been fantastic too and it's clear that they don't just report on our club, but also have great affection for it and care about its wellbeing.

So with challenging times ahead of us, I have everything crossed in the hope that the EFL ratify the wishes of League Two club owners and our promotion battle restarts against Exeter in just a few weeks' time.

Stay safe and Up the U's.

Robbie Cowling

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