O’Neill on Town handling coronavirus, Lambert, Evans, finishing the season, tickets and financial implications
ANDY WARREN spoke to Ipswich Town’s general manager of football operations Lee O’Neill about the club’s response to the coronavirus outbreak
How is the club coping with the impact of coronavirus?
LON: “First of all it’s very difficult to operate a football club without any football matches.
“It’s a bit like the off-season at the moment. A lot of the evaluating, planning and preparation that we would do over the off-season is going ahead now. So that means most of the staff are involved in that.
“From a coaching point of view, those staff members who would usually be out coaching the players can’t be doing that because those players are off site. So that becomes tricky because their jobs are largely determined by the players and the facilities available to them.
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“Some parts of the club are carrying on as normal and some have been hit a bit harder because the players aren’t around.”
What about Paul Lambert?
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LON: “The manager has been in at the club, working hard with other heads of departments to review what’s happened up until this point of the season and looking at recruitment in general and things such as performance analysis.
“The players have been given a 10-day home-training programme where they can do things away from the club and, at this moment in time, they’re due to report back on March 24 as part of the build-up to the Southend game. But we’re waiting for further information from the governing bodies and from the Government to see if that’s going to be possible.”
What are the chances of play resuming on April 4?
LON: “None of us know but I do wish I knew the answer to that one at this moment in time. I wish I could direct people, the fans and staff internally but I’m not an expert in the virus in any way shape or form and I’m only following Government guidelines and what’s being announced by them daily.
“We have a wider community of football as well and the Premier League and EFL are communicating with us about that and what’s going on. From the information we’ve got we’re trying to make the best decisions we can as quickly as we can.”
The club have already shared their stance on how the season should be completed from here and a desire to finish 2019/20 whenever it’s safe to do so...
LON: “Yes, but it’s all an unknown because none of us have ever been in this situation. There’s obviously been a lot of discussion about completing the season, not completing it or awarding promotions and relegations now. It’s unknown territory.
“That knock-on effect for major competitions and other issues like that are all being discussed at the moment and we hope that information comes down from the governing bodies as quickly as possible to help us make our decisions internally.
“From my point of view the best situation would be to complete the season whenever it’s safe to do so. How long the delay is, nobody knows, but at some point when it’s safe to do so we want to resume the season and carry it on to completion. That would be the fairest thing to do.”
Pushing the Euros back a year should help that, shouldn’t it?
LON: “That’s an option of course because it would give leagues the chance to play more games later on into the summer. How long that postponed period is and whether it needs to increase from the three weeks or whether we can go again, nobody knows. I’m only going off the available information and at the moment it seems like things are only getting worse and aren’t necessarily getting better quicker.
“We’ll need to review it daily and weekly and see what happens.”
Is playing behind closed doors something you would want to avoid?
LON: “Yes and I think everyone would say something similar in football really because that’s not really what football’s all about.”
Have the EFL offered any guidance on what they might see happening at this stage?
LON: “No, there’s been nothing like that formally communicated from the EFL, the Premier League or the FA. There’s been a lot of speculation on what things might look like but nothing concrete.
“I’m sure those conversations are going on behind closed doors and I’m sure it will be relayed when it’s clear.
“Just like here at the club I’m sure there are plenty of conversations still to have and they might need more government advice before those decisions can be made.”
What kind of financial impact is this having on the club at this stage?
LON: “That all comes around the games and the revenue we would receive from matchday tickets and the hospitality side of things. We’re not able to generate that income.
“How long this goes on for will really impact how financially this impacts clubs. We’re very lucky in a way that we have an owner (Marcus Evans) who has invested a lot of money and continues to be able to do so.
“But at the same time, as well as his businesses, other businesses across the world and other clubs are taking hits from the current situation.
“This virus will impact the business side of most football clubs unfortunately.”
MORE: ‘Pause the season and resume when it’s right to do so’ – O’Neill outlines Ipswich Town’s stance when it comes to football’s coronavirus break
Is Marcus Evans due at the club to help respond to this?
LON: “We have regular meetings with Marcus on the operational side of things and meetings were planned for this week. Whether they will be able to happen or need to be done remotely due to the current situation we’ll have to wait and see.”
“But we have planned meetings with him here in person this week that will go through all the operational aspects of the club. We’re hoping by Thursday and Friday of this week that we might have more information from the Government which might advise owners how we can operate the football club going forwards.”
Is Marcus being quite hands on with this? He obviously has business interests around the world...
LON: “That’s true for lots of owners. At this time it’s probably tougher for some of the smaller clubs because the money they take and need from gate receipts is needed to continue the operational costs for their business is obviously not there at the moment. That then gets used to pay the staff and everything.
“It’s an ongoing situation where I and a number of other people at the club are in communication with Marcus. We’re really just waiting and we’re in a bit of a limbo period and don’t have the answers to the questions people are asking.”
One of those questions is about tickets, season tickets and things like that...
LON: “We’re having conversations about those kind of things but obviously they would be on hold.
“The first priority is for this season, how that is completed and how it ends. That has to be the priority really.
“We are having conversations about what next season might look like and that’s not ready to go out now. We’re having those conversations though because it’s an important part of the financial stability of the club going forward.”