Club aiming to reach League status
25 July ~ Prior to Basingstoke Town's friendly with Reading on Saturday it was announced that a minute's silence would take place. For whom it was unclear, as the loud speaker is muffled. Although perfectly observed within the ground, a few teenagers leaning over the wall on the other side of the A30 laughed their way through a high-pitched verse of God Save the Queen. It is just one part of the Camrose that is in dire need of a facelift. The club finds itself in a situation that is familiar to many within non-League circles. They play in an out-dated, run-down ground that is no longer compliant with the standards of the leagues they aspire to.
In Basingstoke's case that would be the Conference and perhaps one day the Football League. The club has the ground on a lease that the landlord doesn't plan to extend. Instead, club chairman Rafi Razzak wants to sell the option on the lease and use the proceeds to build a £10 million, 5,000 seat stadium two miles away in Black Dam.
In March, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council backed the club's plans in principal. Dissenting opinions have been voiced by local residents via online forums but the extent of the land's current use would appear sporadic. On a sunny day in July a remote-control plane enthusiast and some people on the way to the tennis centre were the only ones there.
Other objections towards the stadium were based on local residents' concerns about the development reducing the selling-on price of their properties. The club have been quick to state that their ambitions are not based purely on their own advancement. They want any new development to be of benefit to the community.
As well as their own stadium, they plan to build a new £500,000 all-weather training pitch at the nearby college, and an £85,000 games area for children. Having consulted the public, the club have reported that almost two-thirds of respondents are in support of the plans. They are now using the feedback gained from that consultation to further progress their plans.
Basingstoke is seen as somewhere the train stops on the way to London. People don't visit, almost certainly not for football. Towards the end of the last campaign they went the modern way and appointed a young manager, promoting Jason Bristow from his role as manager of the academy side.
At 32 he is eight years younger than their evergreen goalkeeper, Ashley Bayes. Last season Bristow steered Basingstoke into the Conference South play-offs places, their highest position in years – eventually losing in the semi-finals to Dartford.
Reading is signposted directly outside the Camrose's main stand, and is only 20 miles up the A33. But, once the minute's silence is over, there is no sign of any local rivalry between the two sides. It is worth noting that Reading's 28-man first team squad were in Portugal.
What we had here was the bulk of their academy side, which after getting thumped 5-0 by the hosts may well be left wondering what chance they have of gaining full professional contracts. That said Basingstoke couldn't have hoped for a better start to their season.
If all goes to plan the Camrose will be a thing of the past and by 2014 Basingstoke will be able to enjoy a stadium and facilities within the town that meet both the requirements of League One and the local community. If only all clubs could find such a diplomatic way to go about their business. Mark Sanderson