Grounds for Change? Problems at Dulwich aren't an isolated case

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Grounds for change

At SD we are becoming increasingly concerned and frustrated about the detrimental effects of football stadia ownership to the sustainability of clubs. A new problem? Perhaps not. A problem that football could do without? We think so.

Why? Well the problems caused by the separation of stadia from their clubs are all around us. The loss of revenue/assets from the game to private interests when stadia are sold typically creates problems if not immediately then undoubtedly in the future for all clubs.

Sadly, there are multiple live issues at all levels of the game. At the top of the pyramid AFC Bournemouth are currently in a dispute with their landlord over increased rent after a sale and lease back deal in 2005 which could see them leaving Dean Court vacant. 7 levels down and things are more desperate at Basingstoke Town where the club’s existence is on the line following the likely eviction from the Camrose. With property developers so heavily involved at the likes of Dulwich Hamlet and Torquay United, disputes about valuations at York City and leases at Coventry City these problems are far from unique. The list does go on and on.

So, what can be done? Well there remains a lack of regulatory protection within football to mitigate against these threats,and perhaps outside football too. There are some protective statutory measures in place such as Sport England’s planning powers and from the Localism Act the Asset of Community Value legislation. There are some relevant rules within leagues and the F.A. around lending and relocation, however these protections seem insufficient as issues continue.

What we do know is football and football clubs cannot be allowed to continue this separation of sporting assets for personal gain. Land has never been as valuable and competitive in the UK with continued pressure on local authorities for new housing targets, which means if a facility is lost the chances of a suitable new site being identified becomes much harder.  Cubs who are forced to ground share inevitably lose out on revenue generating opportunities and often playing further away from their traditional supporter base, it’s no surprise that for some a ground share could spell the end of existence.

What’s more it can consume committees and Boards that have more than enough to keep a club playing. We’ve seen first-hand the monumental efforts it requires to get back to the neighbourhood. The likes of Enfield Town who moved back to the QE2 stadium in 2011 just a short walk from Southbury Road where Enfield FC played until 1999. Scarborough Athletic made it back last year after 10 years in Bridlington; Fisher FC played their first match in the right end of the borough of Southwark in 2016 almost opposite the old Surrey Docks stadium. These stories serve to inspire the likes of Hinckley, Northwich Victoria and Grays Athletic who continue to fight, inheriting nomadic clubs a long way from home.    

Having worked closely with the leaders at these clubs it’s probably fair to say the challenge has almost broken each of them at various times, and we have lost some great volunteers over the years where the work involved is simply too much to expect on top of just running a club. Not forgetting those supporters and communities who are outside of the disputes but care just as deeply that their club can play in their community stadiums that are as much part of their family history as any other local buildings.  

Does it really have to be this way?

We certainly hope not. Over the coming months we aim to commission research to provide a deeper insight into what is causing these problems and recommend what changes can be made to better protect sporting assets. If you are interested in supporting this research either as a sponsor or contributor with your own case study, please drop us a line.

NB: This is the latest article featured from our regular FC Business column.

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