Football club's skills nutmeg social distancing to get 500-plus supporters into its stadium
At the start of the year the idea of a sports club part-filling its stadium for a play-off with cut outs of its supporters instead of the real thing would have been laughed out of town.
But when you season depends on a win, your club needs the money, and social distancing says ‘no fans allowed in person’, it suddenly makes a whole lot of sense (what a difference a pandemic makes?).
Just ask the 500 pledges which have come forward in a space of a few hours to fill The Paddock stand at Cheltenham Town's Whaddon Road Jonny-Rocks Stadium – raising an incredible £14,700 at last count (3pm on June 1).
Which explains why the League Two club feels encouraged enough to extend the idea – an initiative explored by German Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach to great effect.
“Last night we sailed past our initial £12,500-target to put 500 Foamex supporters in the Paddock for the forthcoming play-off semi-final match against Northampton Town,” said a spokesman for Cheltenham Town.
“It took little over 33 hours to reach our goal thanks to over 400 pledges on Crowdfunder.”
A pledge of £25 has bought hundreds the promise of a head and shoulders image on a Foamex body of the fan themselves, a friend or keyworker!
“We have received over 250 motivational messages, which we will display on the tunnel for the players to see.
“Several businesses have also shown their colours and we received the backing of over 10 former players from down the years.
“Fans may not be able to join us due to social distancing measures but they will certainly be there in spirit for the unprecedented game.
“We're running out of ways to thank our incredible supporters, but thank you again. We've got this far together and we're determined to finish the season with you as best as we can.”
The spokesman added: “Due to phenomenal demand we've 'opened up' the Speedy Skips Stand for an additional 250 fans to join us for the game."
It is a long way off a capacity crowd of 7,600, but aside from the money helps generate not just some good publicity, but a ittle atmosphere in the stadium.
“Thanks to our partners at Typecraft we have been able to 'stretch' our target to £18,750 to accommodate the extra supporters and we urge everyone to get behind the club, but we quick.
“We will be donating 10 per cent of all the profits to our charity partner, the Hollie Gazzard Trust, to support their mission to tackle domestic violence.”
The innovate initiative has won the attention of television news show Points West, which has been visiting Typecraft at its base in Longhill, Elmstone Hardwicke, as the first cut-outs roll off the press.
The show was due to air the report on Monday, June 1, at 6.30pm.
If the club returns to League One it will be money well spent. According to one national newspaper League Two clubs receive £472,000 per season regardless of where they finish and a £430,000 solidarity payment from the Premier League. Not to be sniffed at.
But in the division above that becomes a reported £677,000 and £645,000 respectively (figures are from vitalfootball.co.uk).
Cheltenham Town FC's last set of published accounts, from February this year, show a profit of £69,291 for the year following a loss of £121,261 the previous season.
To find out more or support the campaign visit the Crowdfunder page.