The FA is all about supporting grassroots football isn’t it? Well not if you are Almondsbury Town FC and they evict you…
Almondsbury Town FC have been enjoying a great season. They are playing at the highest level in the club’s history with a decent squad of good local players.
Unlike so many clubs at their level (Zamaretto South & West) and even more in the leagues above they are debt free. They have a loyal following and are holding their own in the league. They play Cinderford Town on the last day of the season, and then that’s it. Almondsbury Town FC will drop out of the Southern League. They won’t be relegated, they are currently just outside the play-off places – the first team will just disband. Thanks to an off-the-field wrangle, which has seen the team effectively evicted from their ground at Oaklands Park the club have no home, and according it seems no future for the first team. The reserves will continue, for now.
The statement on the club’s website says it all:
“The harsh reality of fruitless efforts to secure a viable future for the Club came to an end today.”
And who are the landlords who have forced a club, with more than 100 years of history (in various guises), to withdraw from the league? Well that would be the Gloucestershire Football Association.
The same GFA which claims:
“Our purpose is to increase the participation, quality and enjoyment of grassroots football within the county.”
Now I’m not going to get into the fact that the Gloucestershire FA actually covers several counties (Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire are separate entities now, and Bristol too). But I’d say that a club folding, a club which is doing (relatively) well isn’t going to do that much for participation, quality or enjoyment for the players, fans or staff at Almondsbury Town FC.
What makes it all the more galling is the fact that the GFA were the ones who helped the Almonds back on their feet after they faced financial ruin in the early 90s. They bought Oaklands Park from the liquidators and negotiated a lease so the team could continue. The ins and outs of the lease will probably not see the light of day but it does seem somewhat counterproductive to the aims of the GFA to effectively evict a successful club from their ground. The organisation’s lengthy statement doesn’t really help matters. Basically the whole revolves around a clubhouse – the GFA, becoming more successful needed the space so gave the club 12 month’s notice that: “we could no longer offer them any space in our building, but were happy for them to continue renting the football pitch and changing rooms.” The club reminded the GFA that it needed a clubhouse to maintain its league position and the Almonds had the option to built one on site, but it proved to expensive. They installed a ‘temporary structure’ before looking for a new home.
The lease at Oaklands Park was extended for a season, to take it up to the end of this season, and meanwhile a new agreement was reached with Winterbourne Utd and Roman Glass St George FC – because both clubs needed a ground with floodlights and “there was a possibility that they would have been relegated from their leagues.” (sod the fact that it now means another club goes beyond relegation and simply folds). The statement ends with a lot of information about how the organisation wants to increase participation in football, how 17,300 kids have been coached across the county and how Oaklands Park is now a top facility, there is a concession that it is sad to see Almondsbury fold, but only just:
“We are disappointed that the club has not been successful in their discussions with other parties but we have been completely open with them over the past couple of years regarding our own plans and ambitions.”
It’s worth pointing out the club has a history dating back 114 years, formed when WG Grace president of the GFA and was still refereeing local games so to see it fold at the peak of its achievements (bar a 1979 FA Vase final against Billericay Town) is sickening.
Almondsbury Town Chairman Bob Jenkins admitted there had been an offer to groundshare at the Hand Stadium, home of Clevedon Town after news that a proposed groundshare with another local side, Hallen, fell through but he had not felt the Almondsbury community were wholly supportive of the club returning to the parish in the future, despite valiant fundraising efforts and long, drawn-out discussions with Hallen, the support from the local parish council wasn’t really there. He told the Gloucestershrie Gazette:
“With the negative vibes there, it seems pointless that we spend money at Clevedon or wherever if we never get back on our patch.
“We haven’t taken it lightly, we’re one of few clubs to fold not owing money, it’s purely because of facilities.”
Jenkins, said he felt especially sad about the Hallen deal falling through. He added:
“We’ve been to Wembley, we’ve got a super history but sometimes you put your hands up and say you can’t beat the system.”
I’m not entirely sure which is sadder, the lack of support and ‘bad vibes’ from the local community or the fact that the team’s demise has happened under the nose of the GFA. Whilst it is great that the GFA is coaching and ‘investing’ in the game, letting a club, a solvent, fairly successful club, fold is not helping boost the grassroots game in any way, shape or form.