2 February ~ "Our City Our Team" is the statement that greets readers logging onto York City’s official website. Sadly it seems inevitable that in the near future these sentiments will no longer be appropriate. After nearly 80 years of calling Bootham Crescent home, a planning application has been submitted to the council that would see City move to a new home three miles out of town, on the site of the Monks Cross shopping centre. Bootham Crescent, situated in the terraced streets of Bootham just a wayward free-kick away from the bustle of the city centre, is no longer wanted by the club’s directors due to its lack of corporate facilities and inability to provide income away from match days.
The proposal to build a new 6,000 capacity stadium to be shared by York City and York City Knights, the rugby league club, is just a small part of a wider expansion plan from the owners of Monks Cross shopping centre (Oakgate Group), which includes plans for Marks & Spencer and John Lewis department stores. The proposed "stadium for York" is merely a sweetener from Oakgate Group to increase the likelihood of their expansion plans being approved.
There is little doubt that the financial case for moving the club is strong. With Bootham Crescent having to be constantly upgraded to keep it fit for purpose, and with a new stadium being capable of bringing in outside income, many fans have reluctantly accepted the need for a move.
The unsettling part is the cost to the club in terms of the alienation of its supporters. Bootham Crescent is established alongside Gothic cathedrals and 11th century castles as one of York’s many landmarks. When the new stadium is given the go-ahead, fans accustomed to making a short walk out of the city walls to the match may resent having to trade their pre-match pub visit for a latte in Asda cafe.
City supporters have been here before and will remember how they nearly left Bootham Crescent nine years ago. Financial struggles made Bootham Crescent's maintenance difficult and in 2003 the club looked set to move out of town to Huntington Stadium, where the Knights play. Happily, a grant was received from the Football Stadia Improvement Fund to renovate Bootham Crescent and York was able to keep its football club in the city.
In 2005 a sponsorship deal was struck with the nearby Nestlé factory and Bootham Crescent was renamed "KitKat Crescent". This deal expired at the end of the 2009-10 season and everyone was pleased to be able to call York’s home Bootham Crescent again. Everyone except Sky Sports’ Jeff Stelling that is, who was robbed of his half-time line: "They’re taking a break at the KitKat".
This proposal represents the latest in an increasing number of partnerships between professional sport and development proposals. Doncaster Rovers, Hull City, Colchester United and Cardiff City have all received new stadiums in recent years as part of wider development projects. Each club’s loss of their traditional ground illustrates the high price clubs pay to accommodate corporate guests and maximise outside revenues.
A free stadium courtesy of Oakgate Group in an out-of-town location would undoubtedly be financially beneficial to York City. A decision on the development proposals is to be made by the council in the next few weeks and is likely to gain approval. Once approval is given, York City and its supporters may reflect that the statement "Our City Our Team" is no longer applicable to the football club. The stadium may be free, but its real cost will be paid by disillusioned supporters. Adam Leese