Ole and Ed Woodward.

Woodward addresses fans on coronavirus impact

Ed Woodward has told fans that Manchester United will remain committed to supporting people and communities affected by coronavirus for as long as the pandemic continues.

United’s executive vice-chairman discussed the club’s response to the crisis - and its impact on football - in an address to the quarterly Fans’ Forum on Friday. With the lockdown in place, the meeting was held remotely via conference call for the first time.

Speaking on the call, Woodward said: “I’d like to reinforce that our thoughts are with everyone affected by the pandemic, and especially those who have lost people close to them. Our top priority has been doing what is necessary to help slow the spread of the virus, and that will remain our guiding principle.

“On behalf of everyone at Manchester United, I want to pay tribute to the heroic work being done by the NHS and all key workers in fighting the virus. We are proud to support those efforts, with club medical supplies, protective equipment and food donated to local hospitals, and gift packs to NHS workers.”

Woodward also indicated that United are working on additional initiatives with the NHS: “After discussion with local NHS trusts, there is more support to come from the club in this area.”

Food poverty across Manchester is another growing concern which the fans and the club are working to address. Woodward continued: “We recognise that this is an economic crisis as well as a health crisis and that many vulnerable members of our community will be affected. That’s why we have donated over 30,000 items of food and drink to local charities, and made a £100,000 joint-donation with Manchester City to the Trussell Trust for use by 19 food banks across Greater Manchester.

“I’d like to put on record our appreciation for the role of the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust in helping co-ordinate this latter donation, building on the excellent work that they normally do collecting for food banks on match days.”

Thousands of staff from across the club have been part of the response plan and Woodward said it was a “crucial priority” for the club to support them. He added: “Protecting our people is another crucial priority. That’s why we continued to pay them in full, without recourse to the Government’s current furlough scheme, and made goodwill payments to over 3,000 casual workers to protect their incomes while our operations are disrupted. Of course, everyone is grappling with the economic realities of the pandemic and we are no different, so the longer the crisis continues the greater the impact will be for every club, including ourselves.”

Many of those staff teamed up with club legends, including Bryan Robson, Andy Cole and Gary Pallister, to make welfare calls to over 3,000 elderly and vulnerable supporters.

“We will continue looking for more ways of supporting those in need for as long as the pandemic continues. This is consistent with our values as a club, our strong roots into our community, and the deep relationships we have with our fans,” said Woodward.

“It is also important to acknowledge the part played by our successful business in allowing us to fulfil our social responsibilities. We have always believed that our commercial model gives us greater resilience than most clubs and we are grateful for the enduring support of our commercial partners in helping us achieve that.”

Despite this underlying resilience, Woodward stressed the need for realism about the impact of the pandemic. He cautioned that: “Nobody should be under any illusions about the scale of challenge facing everyone in football and it may not be ‘business as usual’ for any clubs, including ourselves, in the transfer market this summer.

“As ever, the priority is the success of team but we need visibility of the impact across the whole industry, including timings of the transfer window, and the wider financial picture, before we can talk about a return to normality.

“On this basis, I cannot help feeling that speculation around transfers of individual players for hundreds of millions of pounds this summer seems to ignore the realities that face the sport.”

Woodward concluded that Manchester United remains hopeful of completing the current season and committed to continuing a series of measures to improve the matchday experience at Old Trafford.

“Like all of you, we are eager to see the team return to the field as soon as we are advised it is safe to do so, hopefully to complete a season which still held so much promise for us in the Premier League, the Europa League and the FA Cup, when it was suspended.

“We are in constant dialogue with our governing bodies about when and how that will happen and we will continue to engage with this Forum to keep fans consulted.

“And while it may be that games need to be played behind closed doors in the shorter term, we all recognise that football will not be fully back to normal until supporters are once again in attendance.

“As today’s agenda shows, we are pushing ahead with a series of initiatives to enhance the matchday experience at Old Trafford, including the expansion of the dedicated atmosphere section of the Stretford End, the planned trial of rail seating, and the completion of our expanded state-of-the-art facilities for disabled supporters.

“These matters pale in comparison with the immediate priority of fighting coronavirus. But they give us things to look forward to when we are eventually allowed back to Old Trafford to watch football. It will be a very special day when that happens. In the meantime, on behalf of everyone at Manchester United, take care and thank you, as ever, for your unwavering support.”

To read more about the above, please see the minutes of the Fans’ Forum meeting held via conference call on Friday 24 April 2020 -these will be published next week. The minutes of every meeting since February 2016 can be found at www.manutd.com/fansforum.

Follow www.manutd.com/liveblog for regular updates on how the club is responding to the crisis.

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