Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of Scoop.it! Football Finance

Parallel realities and Worcester City

Posted by John Beech on November 3, 2009

As I update my club files daily, I often wonder whether the news items refer to one club, or to two, existing in quite different realities.  The stadium project is often the prompt for such thoughts.

I’ve written on the last forty years of Portsmouth’s plans for a new stadium, now on at least their fifth version (1), and the other day I noted that at Southend £1.9m had spent preparing for a stadium which hasn’t materialised, and where the club is under very serious threat because of a debt of one third of that sum due to HMRC (2).

Of course any fan expects his or her club to have ambition.  A recent posting on the Supporters Direct blog posed the question, with respect to Merthyr’s decision to cut its cloth accordingly, of a choice between bravery and foolishness.  I would perhaps rephrase this slightly – the choice is between hard reality and dreaming of funding dreams.

A case which has struck me particularly of late as apparently trying to do both is Worcester City.

On the one hand, the club is grateful to anonymous fans who have made it possible for a player to be taken on loan (3).  This is in the immediate context of the board struggling to release funds for player purchases (4).

On the other, the same club is, after twenty years, still dreaming the dream of a new £2m stadium.

Now, there is a logic in the plans for the new stadium, the usual one of selling the old ground for more than the new one will cost.  The difficulty lies in the bridging of the move and, er, a funding shortfall of £720,000.

I can see the sense of a Premier League club seeing a need to build a new stadium so that they can increase their currently constrained matchday revenues, but the further down the pyramid you are, the more this strategy becomes a high risk, and only hopefully high return, strategy.  The costs of a new stadium are to a large extent fixed, the capacity of the stadium being a relatively low variable cost.  It follows that lower tier clubs must make a much bigger gamble on the appropriate capacity.

For an interesting comparison, let us compare Worcester with Darlington.  Darlington has a population of 100,000 and faces local Premier League  competition for the floating fan. Worcester is only a tad below this population and faces both local Premier League and same-city Rugby Union competition for the floating fan.

Darlington, now in League 2, built a 25,000 seater stadium. Current gates are around the 1,700 mark (5).  Darlington has been in Administration twice since embarking on its new stadium.

Worcester, two tiers below in the Conference South, planned a 6,000 seater stadium, and the buzz word was ‘exciting’ (now scaled back to 3,800).  Their average gate last season was 637, a drop of 11.67% on the previous season (6).

The real problem that Worcester face is that the club is now committed to bringing its two realities together into one rather worrying reality.  The board planned to sell the current ground over a year ago to a residential developer (7).  However, planning permission for the new homes has dragged on, and last month was rejected, meaning a considerable drop in the price of the ground (8).  A revised plan is due to be considered this month.  The pressure to sell the old ground remains because of the club’s debt to the Royal Bank of Scotland (9).

Not surprisingly fans, and in particular the Supporters Trust, have become somewhat concerned by the situation (10 and 11).  They are right to be concerned – I fear there will be tears before bedtime, as there usually are when parallel worlds collide.

UPDATE – 8 July 2011

Good news – Worcester City and St Modwen have reached a new agreement for a scaled-down development at Nunnery Way. Budgeted cost is now down from the original to £600,000.  More details here.

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7 Responses to “Parallel realities and Worcester City”

  1. John Beech said

    The first cracks are appearing in the board’s obsessive stand on planning a move to Nunnery Way (1). “At the moment we are listing the various options that people are talking about and trying to evaluate them” says Vice Chairman Jim Panter, but don’t hold your breath. He adds “My view is that Nunnery Way is still likely to be the most viable… Given the right financial circumstances being in place, it’s affordable”.

    When will the board concede that a shortfall of £720,000 and taking on loan players through the generosity of fans don’t exactly constitute ‘the right financial circumstances’?

  2. John Beech said

    UPDATE

    The fans are flexing their muscles in an attempt to get the board to wake up and smell the coffee (1). A petition with 352 signatures has been presented to Chairman Anthony Hampson calling for the removal of Dave Boddy (Chairman until last November) from the board of directors. Boddy had commented that the opposition to the new stadium project at Nunnery Way was ‘a small minority making a loud noise’.

    Hampson has promised to take the petition seriously. More to the point is whether Boddy will take the petition seriously. He has been pushing for the move to the new stadium since at least 2002 (2).

  3. [...] Now, if the phrase ‘property developer’ automatically fills you with dread when used in a football context, you should think again with respect to St Modwen.  If you don’t take my word for it,check out their website. It will rapidly become clear that they are the Goliath in this dispute with Swindon Town.  Their high prestige redevelopments include the regeneration of Trentham Gardens, turning it into one of Britain’s most popular visitor attractions (10), and the MG Rover Longbridge site (11).  They are no strangers to redevelopment projects with football clubs – their Trentham Lakes project (12) includes, as a relatively small part, Stoke City’s Britannia stadium, and they are leading partners with Worcester City on the Nunnery Way project (13, and, for my thoughts on this particular project, 14). [...]

  4. Ron A said

    John

    As with many new stadium ‘issues’ the good news seldom lasts long !

    Here’s the latest – and it looks quite terminal.

    http://www.worcesternews.co.uk/sport/8445394.Board_can_see_no_way_to_Nunnery_Way/

    The club have got a season and a half to find a new home. This is a 109 year old club looking down the barrel. Another Bromsgrove ?

  5. Ron A said

    John

    Is this the silver lining that it looks like ?

    http://www.worcesternews.co.uk/sport/wcfc/news/9455922.WCFC_Nunnery_Way_plan_approved/

    Let’s hope Mr Pickles is as supportive to Worcester City as Mr Prescott was to Brighton.

  6. Ron A said

    John

    The good news / bad news cycle in football never ceases to amaze me. Just when everything seemed to be coming together for Worcester and their ground move the wheels start to fall off again.

    http://www.worcesternews.co.uk/sport/wcfc/read_article/9956623.Worcester_City_closer_to_Aggborough_ground_share/

    As you pointed out originally, the move away from St George’s Lane wasn’t overwhelmingly popular – but it’s got to be better than no ground at all. However, the combination of ‘difficulties’ with the development and the club pleading poverty does recall the history of many other clubs when getting in with non-football developers.

    And of course the irony of possibly going to Bromsgrove can’t be missed !

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