Gloucester City's ground has been submerged, reports Tim Lezard
Trevor Howard climbed on to his roof to get a better look at Meadow Park. What he saw made his heart sink: the home of Gloucester City was underwater, the crossbars just visible above eight feet of flood water.
“It’s difficult to put into words what I thought,” said the long-term City fan, “but there was very much a feeling of ‘Oh no, here we go again’.” The sentiment was all too familiar for City’s loyal supporters: the Severn had flooded the ground seven years ago, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage and almost sending the Southern League club out of business. Saddled with historic debt and unable to play at home for six weeks until environmental health inspectors declared the stadium safe, the lack of revenue saw the playing budget cut, players leave and, ultimately, the club relegated to the league’s second tier.
“Those were our darkest days,” recalls Phil Warren, chair of the club’s supporters’ trust. “With our ground underwater, a group of fans held a meeting to see what we could do. At that stage the fans seemed to be the only force for change, and we realised we could either take action or sit back and watch the club disappear. So we pitched in.”
At that meeting, a new supporters’ club (now a trust) was born: an organisation that has since raised more than £210,000 to keep City afloat and promotion was achieved in 2004. But although this year the financial situation was looking more secure, the floods couldn’t have come at a more heartbreaking time, puncturing the pre-season optimism of fans who had given up their summer weekends to repaint and decorate Meadow Park and who believed, thanks to manager Tim Harris’s close-season signings, the team had a realistic chance of promotion to the Conference South.
But the floods came and as club officials desperately tried to save equipment as the waters lapped at the gates of the ground, they were moved on by the police. Once breached, the pitch took less than two hours to become submerged. The terraces are underwater, the clubhouse and changing rooms ruined and the club shop sodden, with the loss of this season’s replica kit and several hundred irreplaceable programmes.
The outlook is not good. Unable to find a company to insure them, the club faces an estimated £250,000 bill for the clean-up and, unlikely to play at Meadow Park until October, months without income. Long-term plans have to see the club move to a new ground, but whether or not City can survive in the short term is the key. “We believe we can, absolutely,” asserts Tim Harris. “Everyone connected to the club has been brilliant, we’ve rolled up our sleeves and we’re fighting. With the support of local businesses and the council, I’m sure we’ll be OK.” The defiant spirit that saved the club back in 2000 is evident again seven years on: supporters – and players this time – have been queuing up to offer their help in the mopping-up operation.
Fans have also been lifted by the generosity of others: Frome Town collected £300 at a pre-season friendly; Bath City switched a friendly to Twerton Park, with all proceeds going to the Gloucester club. Forest Green Rovers are set to do the same and Cinderford Town have offered City the use of their ground for competitive fixtures. Fans from several other clubs have offered support.
“We’ve been humbled by the sheer goodwill of other clubs,” says Phil Warren. “I hear people are demoralised, but we’re determined the floods aren’t going to finish this football club. We can have a good season, and we know we can make an impact in this league, wherever we play.”
Donations can be made to Gloucester City Supporters Ltd
From WSC 247 September 2007