The big issues affecting clubs in the Football League

The principle that clubs should not leave their ground unless they are certain of being able to return to a site in the local area is one that was meant to have been established after Brighton left the Gold­stone Ground. How­ever, it shows no sign of being universally ac­cepted. Ron Noades, for one, is keen to move Brentford out of Griffin Park, despite the fact that no new long-term home has been secured.

No one disputes that Griffin Park cannot be redeveloped as a football ground. But the fans, represented by the Brentford Independent Association of Supporters, are resisting Noades’s abrupt demands. In Oc­tober the chairman told the Hounslow Chronicle: “For BIAS to say we can’t move unless we have another ground secured is an impossibility unless the local authority offers us a ground we don’t have to pay for. I won’t fund the club to stay here – it’s a total waste of money.”

The steps required to secure the club’s fut­ure in Hounslow are clear, but negotiating them is full of hazards. Cash from Noades’s company is currently securing the club’s over­draft. He is keen to release that money and so agreed to sell the club to the supporters’ trust for £1. The plan then was for Griffin Park to be sold (it should fetch around £13-15 million), leaving enough money, after settling the over­draft, to make a start on a new stadium.

However, the trust needed the Griffin Park site to be granted planning permission for re­development in order to raise finance to take over the overdraft. This has now been granted (in outline), but the option to buy from Noades ran out in September and he is reluctant to renew. Then, of course, there is the perennial problem of finding a new site within the borough. Brentford have taken out an option to share at Kingstonian as a fallback, but while Noades may be keen, the fans are not and King­ston borough council is far from certain to grant the ground a licence for league football.

The current tenants at Kingston are AFC Wimbledon, whose “parent” club (it’s a fairly dysfunctional family) are having their own problems in securing a new ground. They were supposed to be in a temporary 12,000-capacity stadium at Milton Keynes Bowl by Christmas, prior to building a brand new 28,000-seat ground by 2004. However, it now transpires they will not be moving at all until 2003 (“Hopes of a classic opening match between Wim­bledon and Wat­ford on Boxing Day have faded,” said the local paper sadly); that they have not even applied for plan­ning per­mission for the final stadium; that the permission they do have for the “temp­orary” ground may not be valid; and that the club is losing so much money at Selhurst Park that the owners may pull the plug at the end of the season. But apart from that, it’s all going terrifically well.

The same principle that applies to Brentford is also under examination at York City, where the hiving off of its Bootham Crescent home by the former chairman Douglas Craig (see WSC 181) still threatens the club’s future. While new owner John Batchelor has prom­ised the club will not have to leave its old home any time soon, the ground’s owners, Bootham Crescent Holdings, may have other ideas.

BCH, owned by Craig and other former City directors, have a contract with the developers Persimmon to sell them the ground, subject to planning permission being granted for housing on the site. Persimmon have now made a planning application that refers to “vacation of the ground at the end of the 2002-03 season”. Craig and his fellow BCH directors have already profited from the alienation of the ground from the club, selling some of their shares to Persimmon for a sum est­imated at around £450,000. The ball is in the court of the coun­cil’s planning department, who have received num­erous objections to the plans to oust the club from its old home. Meanwhile the sup­porters’ trust, Batchelor and the council are in talks to find a new site.

Chelsea are not normally considered to be at the sharp end, but their fans who rile Ken Bates sometimes are. One member of the Chel­sea Independent Supporters As­soc­iation sued Bates for libel after he described the CISA as “a spiv organisation” and accused its leaders of personally profiting from fanzine sales.

In October the case was settled just before it went to court, with Bates’s lawyers agreeing to an acknowledgment in his programme slot that the money actually went to the club and various related good causes. It appeared in the column for the game against West Brom on October 26 and is a contender for the least gra­cious apology in the history of apologies (see Chelsea site for the link). Bates also chides CISA for not “producing accounts on a regular basis”, a charge that will raise a hollow laugh with those who follow the tortuous affairs of Chelsea Village plc.

From WSC 190 December 2002. What was happening this month

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