Saturday 31 May ~
The majority of football supporters in South Yorkshire towns will have greatly enjoyed 2008. For Barnsley it has involved reaching an FA Cup semi-final after victories over two of the Premier League's big four. For Doncaster, the season ended with promotion back to the second level for the first time in 50 years. But these are bleak times for the supporters of the region's other town team, Rotherham United.
Rotherham remain in administration, which means there is a possibility of beginning next season with a 15-point deduction. And a few days ago, it was announced that they would be leaving the ground that has been their home for 101 years. Having failed to reach agreement on the terms of lease at Millmoor, owned by the club's former chairman Ken Booth, Rotherham are to move to the Don Valley athletics stadium in Sheffield. In the long-term, they hope to move to a community stadium back in Rotherham. For the next few seasons, however, home matches are to be staged in the unwelcoming surrounds of a 25,000 capacity sports ground that is unlikely to be much more than one-third full.
Ground issues affect clubs at all levels. Liverpool council leader Warren Bradley recently claimed to be "working behind the scenes" on a joint stadium plan for both the city's football clubs. As neither club board has indicated that they are prepared to consider such a plan, he would appear to have his work cut out. Both clubs have problems with their projected stadium moves, however. Liverpool have planning permission for a new ground in Stanley Park adjacent to their current stadium but there are doubts about whether the club's feuding owners can produce the necessary funding, or indeed whether they will even be the owners for much longer. Everton's relocation to Kirkby, outside the city boundaries, is being opposed by local residents’ groups and a significant section of the club's support – as well as by the Labour opposition on the Liberal-controlled Liverpool City Council.
At a time when they have their best team since the mid-1980s, Everton are hampered by playing in a stadium with a current capacity of just over 40,000 - they could easily draw another 15-20,000 spectators for major matches. Then again, if they move to the Tesco development in Kirkby they will be saddled with debt, which, as has happened with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, may hamper the manager's squad-building plans. But Rotherham fans would love to face such dilemmas. For now, just staying in existence is enough.