Published: 19:00, 16 July 2021
| Updated: 21:10, 16 July 2021
Gillingham chairman Paul Scally admits he was surprised by the Covid outbreak that has rocked their pre-season preparations.
First team players and staff are currently isolating - having cancelled three senior pre-season matches - and he revealed that the youth team have also been hit. Covid issues have also been blamed for the late filing of accounts which led to the current transfer embargo.
Mr Scally, speaking to the club’s media as part of the first of a new weekly feature, said: “I am very surprised the Prime Minister has opened up the country (from July 19). This week at Priestfield has been a disaster in terms of positive Covid testing.
"We have seven or eight members of staff or players testing positive so the whole team has had to go home and stay at home for 10 days, the management and first team and coaches and that has put a real dent in our preparations for the season.
“I am really surprised we have had such an outbreak because our protocols have been really strict. One or two of our youth team have also tested positive, so we had to send them home as well.
"It is a bit like one step forward and two back but unless anything changes between now and August 7 (the season kicks off then at home to Lincoln City) we are going to have as many people in the stadium as possible and we will try and keep them as safe as possible.”
Masks won’t be compulsory inside Priestfield but Mr Scally is keen for people to wear them.
He said: “Of course the onus is on them to wear masks if they wish to, we can’t enforce it, I would hope they do because at the moment until we can get on top of this new variant it is the best way to go.
“I hate wearing a mask, I find it very uncomfortable. I get hot, I am sure everyone does, but perhaps it is what we should do in the short term, to respect each other and respect the fact we could spread the virus if we are not careful.”
The Gills played Welling United last Saturday but won’t be in action again now until next weekend, away at Colchester United. First team games against Dartford, QPR and Peterborough United were all cancelled because of Covid in the camp.
Mr Scally said: “We are where we are, kids are getting sent home from school, people are getting sent home from work, we are no different. We try and protect our players, to keep them in a bubble, try and do the right thing but they will go home at night and obviously mix with other people. We can’t lock them in a hotel for pre-season.
“It is a big problem, a big worry, the rate of increases is worrying, some of my family caught it and are isolating. It is very difficult to operate a business because key staff aren’t here, they are home because friends or family have it, how can we run the business on so few staff? But that is where we are and we have to deal with it.”
Mr Scally said he was “livid” to find out via the media that the Gills were being put under a transfer embargo after the late filing of their annual accounts.
He said: “Our accounts were finished but the auditors had a huge problem with their staff, they had to shut down. Because we hadn’t filed the accounts we have been embargoed, which is pretty annoying, unnecessary and shouldn’t have happened. They could have been more understanding and sympathetic.”
Work behind the scenes has been busy, despite the Covid issues, with season ticket sales taking place while implementing a new electronic ticketing system, where fans will gain access to the stadium using a card.
The Factory bar is also being refurbished and when reopened the restaurant will be up and running. The club hope to have that facility ready for the visit of Charlton Athletic on September 4. A new commercial manager has also been appointed and will oversee a new customer engagement team.
Mr Scally says ticket sales are going well, adding: “I have been very inspired by the amount of support we have received from our fan base, infact I have been knocked out by it, it has been over and above what I had expected. I think it has inspired everyone in the club.”