Mainly, but not exclusively, bad news from various clubs at various levels in the pyramid:
Bradford City (L2; population 294,000; nearest higher Level club Leeds United 10 miles [city centre to city centre, not stadium to stadium])
Younger readers may be forgiven for not knowing that Bradford City was home to Premier League football, albeit briefly, ten years ago. In what was later described by their Chairman as ‘six weeks of financial madness’ (1), the club spent wildly in a failed attempt to stay up, and have been paying the price ever since. Stadium issues are complex, with an alternative under review as a possibility (see 2), and have been so since the club was forced to sell and lease it back in 2003 (3) in the wake of Administration – new owner: the then Chairman’s pension fund. At the time it was said “The aim is for the properties to return to the club’s ownership at the earliest opportunity when the financial strength allows.“
That has not happened, and the Yorkshire Telegraph has recently reported that the club cannot continue to spend on rent at the current rate (4). They are currently having to pay £370,000 a year in stadium rental, and a similar figure on office rental, which together with other overheads brings their costs of simply existing to £1.25m a year.
Brighton and Hove Albion (About to rise to the Championship; 256,000; Fulham 52 miles)
The only positive snippet. At long last, exile at the inappropriate Withdean Stadium is to finish and the brand new Falmer Stadium is virtually finished. This will bring to an end one of English football’s longest exiles. (Ian King has good coverage on this situation here)
Darlington (Conference; 98,000; Middlesbrough 16 miles)
Hopefully not the template for Brighton’s future. The saga of the Arena is well known enough to not need repetition in detail here. With areas of the stadium closed off on Health & Safety grounds and dwindling crowds, the club teeters on another financial precipice. Creditors are pushing for the sale of the stadium (5) and Raj Singh’s attempts to revive the club are in jeopardy.
Eastwood Town (Conference North; 18,000; Nottingham Forest/Notts County 10 miles)
Perhaps not the most familiar of clubs, but one that caught my eye some time back. The club joined the Midland League in 1971 and had progressed via the Northern League East to the Northern Premier League. It was the arrival of local entrepreneur Rob Yong as Chairman that prompted me to add the club to my list of those to track. He announced “Our target is simple, two promotions in the next four seasons including 2007/08. This will clearly mean additional investment in the team but we will not waste money by paying over the odds for players or being held to ransom.” (6) Yong held back from projecting Eastwood’s future into Europe, which is just as well as he clearly had no intention of pursuing a policy involving Financial Fair Play. So naked was his intent to engage in financial doping, he openly boasted “I personally pay the players’ wages and any other money that comes in from the fans through gate money and the like goes straight into the club. I’m very conscious that I don’t want to leave the club in any debt at any point – that’s the way it has been structured. There is no restriction on [the manager's] player budget but we must always be getting value for money.” (7)
Just over a year ago Yong was pledging his commitment to the club until 2017 (8). He had already clearly identified the need to upgrade the ground to Conference National standards.
The club is currently in the play-off places for promotion from the Conference North. Earlier this month however the Conference ruled that Eastwood could not participate in the play-offs, which the club attributed to “a difference of opinion in the interpretation of one of the play-off rules” (9). The FA rejected the club’s appeal (10). Yong has shown his commitment to the club when it faces some problems by putting it up for sale for £1 (11). Reading the statement, it is easy to sympathise with his frustration, but rather less so with his decision to walk, leaving the club debt free but paying wages that are not budgeted against revenues.
Farnborough (Conference South; 57,000; Aldershot 4 miles)
Farnborough is a resurrection of Farnborough Town, who went into liquidation in 2007, and has already managed to climb back to the Conference South.
In February 2009, the club signed a contract to develop a new South Stand (12), the club itself being committed to half of the £500k costs.
In March last year the club managed to beat a winding up petition brought by a coach company over an unpaid bill (13). In September it received funding of £30,000 from the local council for ground improvements, in spite of the fact that it was in debt to the council to the tune of £18,000 (14). As recently as December a transfer embargo was lifted after the club settled its debt to HMRC (15). Still the stadium improvement marches on – earlier this month the purchase of the East Stand from Darlington’s old Feethams ground was agreed in principle (16).
(Accrington Stanley fans will no doubt recall what happened when their club bought a second-hand stand from Aldershot, especially as there is talk currently of buying one from Blackpool or Morecambe (17).)
Fleetwood Town (Conference; 27,000; Blackpool 9 miles)
Fleetwood also have a bit of a stadium development fixation. A 1997 resurrection, the club is bankrolled by controversial (18) local businessman Andy Pilley.
Last week the new East Stand was opened at a cost of £4.5m (19)
Poole Town (Wessex League Premier Division; 138,000; Bournemouth 6 miles)
Yet another club suffering from ‘stadium envy’, although, it must be said, with good reason – they are ‘unable to get promoted with their present (temporary home) stadium (20). The fight to get planning permission for their new £2m stadium is edging ever nearer success, which would mean their first permanent home since 1994 (21).
Worcester City (Conference North; 94,000; Birmingham City/Aston Villa 30 miles)
Another club suffering from the result of over-ambitious stadium plans, albeit put in place by a previous regime. Their dreams of moving to a new stadium at Nunnery Way in a scheme with developers St Modwen having become increasingly unlikely to succeed (22), and even a scaled-down plan carries some very worrying costs (23). A good summary of the current situation is here.
Far too many instances of unrealistic over-ambition, and there are bound to be tears before bedtime somewhere. That said, I wish Brighton, the exception in this round-up, well in their new stadium – it’s been a long and painful saga since leaving the Goldstone so inauspiciously almost two decades ago, and they deserve a good break after all that has happened.
I’ve been trying to find out what is or isn’t happening with the redevelopment of Stoke’s old Victoria ground over a decade on. Does any reader have any insight?