A Decade On, Boston’s Rehabilitation Nears Its End
You can still find the plans on the internet, lurking out there hidden with all the other forgotten, abandoned detritus. There are images, architectural conceptions. There’s a picture of the plans being delivered, folder by folder, to the local council. I have a copy of the blueprints somewhere, gathering dust in a long forgotten heap of paperwork in a drawer I haven’t ventured into for years.
It is all that remains of Boston United’s aborted stadium plan of nearly a decade ago, a plan that would have seen Boston United move to a new ground on a cabbage field two miles out of town in the Boardsides area and the town’s second team, Boston Town of the United Counties League, flytipped down the appropriately-named Cuckoo’s Land, where the residents simply didn’t want them.
It was all for property development, of course. Jon Sotnick was chairman of the club and of Lavaflow, the consortium that owned the club. Everyone seemed to have their fingers in the Lavaflow pie, including the then-manager Steve Evans. York Street, Boston’s home since forever, had always been eyed enviously by property moguls. First by supermarket chains and, when that sector outgrew the footprint afforded by the compact ground, those in the luxury flat market. Similarly, Tattershall Road, Town’s quaint little ground, occupied land just ripe for sixty-odd houses with a broom cupboard for a ‘third bedroom’.
So plans were readied and bold statements were issued. “WE MOVE OR WE FOLD”, boomed Sotnick from the pages of the Boston Standard. He took to Radio Lincolnshire to reiterate the point. If Boston weren’t granted their new stadium, the club would cease to exist. Supporters were dubious, never quite feeling the case for the new ground was ever made properly and more so that the plans were far too complex to ever succeed.
It never happened, of course. Boardsides remains a field. Cuckoo’s Land residents never got to burn a Boston Town shirt in front of a bemused photographer from the Lincolnshire Echo. Boston’s chairman, Jon Sotnick, never got his remuneration. He quit, leaving Jim Rodwell to pick up the pieces and Steve Evans to try and engineer Boston’s League survival. But whatever could go wrong, did. The stadium plans fell through and Boston fell through the trapdoor; first to the Conference, then the Conference North, then the Northern Premier League. Rodwell left. So too did Evans. Then all the players. It was only a last-minute intervention that saw them saved from vanishing altogether.
And so York Street, a decade older and rustier, still welcomes Boston United fans every other weekend. The fans still moan and grumble, of course, but at least they’re grateful for the opportunity to do so.
But now, years on from the near-death of the club, there are a whole new set of mock ups, plans, concepts and blueprints. Boston United are on the move again. Bold statements, illustrating the stark future that awaits the club if it doesn’t move, are again creeping onto the back pages of the local press. Except, where there was widespread incredulity at the Boardsides plans, this time the town seems broadly supportive. There is even, whisper it quietly, a quiet sense of excitement at the plans. This is important. People in Boston are quite hard to get excited.
So, what’s changed? In many ways, it’d be easier to say what hasn’t changed. The Boston United of 2013 is a vastly different club to that which entered the Football League so contentiously all those years ago, rode its luck for five painful years before departing in even more acrimonious circumstances. Under the ownership of David Newton and Neil Kempster, the club has been slowly but steadily rebuilding bridges with the community the old club so spectacularly shafted in pursuit of sixth place in League Two. It has a thriving youth set up and a number of community initiatives that were never a priority under the old regime. It is a club that has the humility you only get from having flown close to the sun and survived. But the main difference is that the Boston United of 2013 are shortly going to be made homeless.
The lease on York Street expires in four years and the landlords – the Malkinson family, who used to own the club until the early 2000s – have made it clear it will not be renewed. Time is running out. It is an issue that has been at the very top of David Newton’s to-do list ever since he saved the club from liquidation.
Newton, a Lincoln City fan, has been trying to orchestrate a move for years, something that has proved exceptionally difficult in the current economic climate. With precious little spare cash flowing through United’s accounts, it is a scheme that has depended on enabling commercial partnerships for financing, and convincing large businesses to invest in a town like Boston can be a thankless task.
Nevertheless, two weeks ago David Newton promised an update on the new ground at the Fans’ Forum, and he left the majority of Boston fans stunned with the scale of the scheme he has been plotting. Although the new plan is still to move the club out of the town centre, it is vastly different from the original Boardsides scheme. Termed ‘The Quadrant’, the plans involve the large scale redevelopment of the town in two phases. Q1 will include the new stadium, as well as commercial property, a new link road and a large housing development.
On Wednesday, the club held a ‘Stadium Workshop’, in which fans were invited to discuss the stadium blueprints directly with the architects, an exercise that illustrates how embryonic the whole scheme is at this moment in time. Nevertheless, in going public with the plan now, Newton has reached a major milestone in his project. It’s now out there. It is now up to the town to decide whether they back it or not.
There is a long way to go, of course. A scheme of this size will encounter hiccups and obstacles, and the commercial partnerships are yet to be revealed. It is both a worrying and exciting time for fans, who will, over the coming months and years, watch the plans progress with nervous anticipation.
Meanwhile, Boston sit in the top places of the Conference North, striving for a return to the top flight of non-league football for the first time since they cheated their way out of it. It is a different club now, but there are plenty out there who have not forgiven them for the sins of the recent past. Rehabilitation takes time, but it is happening. Boston fans no longer wave tenners at struggling clubs. Those who danced on Dagenham’s grave have long since gone back to their Sky Sports subscriptions. Elsewhere, Jim Rodwell has been promoted to the Football League board and even Steve Evans seems to be enjoying something of a character makeover at Rotherham. Well. A bit.
And what of Sotnick?
Well, he’s in the Ghanaian mining investments industry now. Obviously.