Wednesday 22 April ~
A football team sharing their home ground with a rugby union club is becoming a more common sight. Five Football League clubs – Watford, Reading, Stockport, Wycombe and Bristol Rovers – share their grounds with Premiership rugby clubs, and Wigan's JJB Stadium is also used by the town's rugby league team. One of the main aspects of a groundshare is that both teams carefully scrutinise the fixture list so that both have limited use of the facility over the same weekend. Easier said than done. In January last year, a Premiership rugby match was postponed at the Madejski Stadium, home of both London Irish and Reading FC, because of fears that rugby would make the surface inadequate for an FA Cup tie against Burnley two days later. But this was only after the football club had demanded the rugby game be called off.
Irrespective of what rugby officials may say in public, the incident raised concerns over the nature of groundshare deals – over who holds primacy of tenure and how the relationship works when the two sports have clear conflicts of interest. This week, Stockport County, who are dire financial straits, were facing the prospect of playing Crewe Alexandra behind closed doors because they couldn't pay the cost of policing the game. Then Sale Sharks, who own Stockport's ground, Edgeley Park, agreed to foot the bill.
So it seems to work then? Wrong. Sale play their games on Friday nights, leaving the Stockport groundstaff all of 18 hours to remark the pitch, remove the rugby posts and put up the football goals, rebrand the stadium (different advertising boards) and roll the pitch numerous times so that it is up to professional football standard after it has been churned up by scrums. And that isn't the easiest thing in the world to do.
Since their sport went professional in the mid-1990s rugby club owners have had to think about ways to extend their fanbase, and groundsharing with football teams has provided a means to reach out to a potential new audience. Those in favour of such arrangements would point to the extra income that tenants brings in for their football hosts. But all groundshares come at a cost that might not be worth paying. Sam Inkersole