Clubs

wsc345With no communication about an apparent takeover and stadium construction work stalled, Tom Shepherd explains how Northampton fans started to take action

When Northampton Town fans arranged a protest for the club’s home match against Oxford on September 12 – holding up question marks and chanting “We want answers” during the 12th minute of the match – a large proportion of the media coverage centred on the lack of information surrounding the Cobblers’ apparent takeover.

Chairman David Cardoza, who was not at the game to receive the protests, announced in June to some surprise that he had signed an agreement to sell his stake in the club to an Indian consortium – the identity of which was being kept under wraps. Three months later, at the time of the protest, little had been revealed about the selling of the club, the identity of the prospective buyers still no clearer.

But the mystery surrounding the takeover isn’t the only question Cobblers fans feel needs answering. The club’s Sixfields Stadium has been a three-sider for more than a year now, as work on the East Stand redevelopment has stuttered then ultimately ground to a halt. Fans are beginning to wonder what is being done with the £12.25 million the club borrowed from the borough council for the work. As, now, are the council, who – at the time of writing – have given the club just three weeks to pay back the loan in full, claiming the last two repayments have been missed.

“Work on the East Stand has been repeatedly delayed and the takeover negotiations were dragging on and on. People are now asking where the money has gone,” said Labour group leader councillor Danielle Stone. The club have been threatened with legal action should the loan not be repaid, leaving some fans fearing the worst. Cardoza has responded with an assurance the money will be paid back to this deadline.

Plans to redevelop Sixfields were first mooted in July 2012, with a fully worked proposal released just over a year later. The scheme suggested the complete redevelopment of the East Stand, incorporating the club’s offices and a range of hospitality, as well as the renovation of the West Stand. It also included a hotel and small housing project on land adjacent to the ground. The new stadium capacity was expected to reach around 10,000, having previously stood at 7,653. Planning approval was granted in late 2013 – along with the loan from the council to part-fund the development. The target was to have the stadium ready for the 2014-15 season.

Work began in March last year. However, shortly after it had started Cardoza announced that the original plans would need to be scaled back. The new designs were met by a cold response from fans, due to the prominent position of corporate boxes creating seats with restricted views, as well as a reduced capacity of just over 8,000. Fans were starting to question whether the work was extensive enough for the money being spent.

The progress of the East Stand’s redevelopment took a further knock in autumn last year, when work on the site ceased completely – which was put down to a legal dispute. This was later revealed to be the company with whom the club had a contract to complete the stadium works, 1st Land, entering administration. Its top creditor was Buckinghams, the sub-contracters carrying out the work. Six months passed before Buckinghams returned to the site, but work was quickly wound up when talks with the prospective owners surfaced. So the Cobblers have started this year as they played their entire 2014-15 season – in front of a shell of a stand. 

For all the problems surrounding the development and takeover, it has been a lack of communication that has irked fans the most. Cardoza had enjoyed a healthy relationship with supporters since becoming chairman in 2002, but many feel that he has been too aloof during such a tumultuous period. Weeks after the initial Oxford protest, Andy Clarke of the supporters’ trust resigned as elected representative on the club’s board, having claimed he found serving as the link between board and trust too difficult to manage.

So far, manager Chris Wilder and his players seem relatively unaffected by the off-pitch drama. However, with the threat of legal proceedings looming, and more protests being planned, whether that focus is maintained remains to be seen.

From WSC 345 November 2015

wsc334Hitchin Town's historic Top Field stadium is under threat as the trust who look after the site want to sell it to a supermarket, explains John Carter

On October 8 a packed meeting at Hitchin Town FC heard the club’s managing director, Andy Melvin, reveal that their ground, which is due to celebrate its 150th anniversary next year, was to be replaced by a supermarket. He explained how the executive had been presented with a non-negotiable offer by their landlords, Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust. They were required to sign a 25-year lease containing a five-year break clause, invokable should a store be permitted on the site. In compensation the club would move to an as yet unbuilt stadium outside town, to face an indeterminate future.

wsc325A new owner usually brings promises of lavish spending but Charlton fans need only look at examples in Belgium to see how their club will be run, says John Chapman

At the end of last season, thousands of football fans marched through the streets of Liège protesting about the president of the city's major football club. The anger of fans, who forced their way into the stadium and interrupted a board meeting, was aimed at Roland Duchâtelet, the new owner of Charlton Athletic.

wsc319Both Cambridge clubs United and City have seen their requests for new grounds denied, writes Matthew Gooding

Earlier this year Cambridge City Council did a U-turn on plans to build a two-metre high statue of a Subbuteo referee on Parker’s Piece, a common near the city centre. An artist had been commissioned to design the work to commemorate Cambridge’s role in the formation of the laws of football; it is thought that the FA’s Laws of the Game were based on rules drawn up in the park in the 19th century by students from the city’s university.

wsc305Manchester City are the new champions but, as Tony Curran explains, their unethical hoarding of players has tarnished their Premier League victory

Harry Dowd was a goalkeeper who played for Manchester City during their glory years of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  He was a reasonable keeper but apparently an excellent plumber. Legend has it that he used to negotiate job offers with crowd members behind his goal, offering competitive rates for bathroom re-fits when play was at the other end.

wsc303Owen Amos on Airbus UK, the Welsh club just trying to go about their business quietly

Everyone knows the joke. The result pops up on Soccer Saturday and, within seconds, someone has cracked it. So, are they dancing in the streets of Airbus UK? They are not, but they are doing all right. The club, in the Welsh Premier League, are based at the huge Airbus aeroplane factory in Broughton, north Wales. The site, which employs 6,000 people, is a mile from the English border, and the ground is tucked away in the south-east corner.

wsc302 Alan Fisher on Tottenham Hotspur's plans for a new ground

Given the swingeing cuts in the Post Office over the past decade, the opening of a new branch is newsworthy wherever the location. But for the residents of Tottenham, it has a special meaning. Not only is it a valuable civic amenity restored six months after it was destroyed in the riots that tore through London last summer, it is also a significant symbol of recovery. The community in Tottenham is striving to rebuild its emotional strength as well as the bricks and mortar of a scarred High Road.

wsc302 Rangers are more worried about losing their previous titles than winning this season's SPL, writes Alex Anderson

First Minister Alex Salmond spoke to Sir David Frost on Al Jazeera on the need to keep Rangers going. While visiting Scotland, prime minister David Cameron made a painfully opportunistic plea that the club should not disappear. By the time Sir Alex of Govan demanded the club be saved, the sponsors pledged their continued support and the next fixture became a 50,000 Ibrox sell-out, it was difficult to imagine why Rangers had lurched into administration at all.

wsc302The assumption that Rangers are integral to Scottish football is both flawed and patronising, argues Dianne Millen

While the announcement of Rangers' administration on February 14 was initially an amusing distraction from compulsory romance for fans of other clubs, it did not take long for the souffle of schadenfreude to subside into tedium. The days of semi-obsessive coverage that ensued were perhaps understandable in a media market where the most banal acts of the so-called "Glasgow Giants" are reported exhaustively.

wsc302A new documentary about QPR makes or fascinating if not flattering viewing, writes Anthony Hobbs

The Four Year Plan is a fly-on-the-wall account of a turbulent period of QPR's history, following our takeover by wealthy backers, in particular one Flavio Briatore. Over three seasons, the film plots a path through boardroom-generated mayhem, destruction and chaos, before somehow delivering a happy ending with Rangers' promotion to the Premier League.

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