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All things considered, life was always going to be difficult for Gloucester City. The football team in a city that is a rugby stronghold has always found shaking off the perception of being the junior of the two codes hard work, but this hasn’t been helped in recent years by a series of events that seems to have left the club fighting a constant uphill struggle. They moved to Meadow Park in 1986, but the ground was hit by serious flooding that led to the pitch being submerged under four feet of water four years later. During the 1990s, they had to suffer the frustration of seeing their bitter rivals Cheltenham Town suddenly propel themselves up and into the Football League.
The floods returned in 2000, this time leaving the pitch under seven feet of water. This time, the flooding crippled the club financially and they were, with the fact that the ground had now been hit by flooding so many times in such a short period of time, unable to afford any more insurance against another repeat of previous events. With depressing predictability, the floods struck again during the summer of 2006. The fact that the club had no insurance and that the water that flooded the ground was contaminated with sewage water meant that this time Gloucester City had to move away from Meadow Park to groundshare at The Corinium, home of nearby Cirencester City.
Such ill-fortune could have been the death-knell for the club, but they played on and won promotion into the Blue Square South in May of last year with a play-off win against Farnborough. Or so they thought. Worcester lies to the north of Gloucester, and Worcester City had been unhappily playing for the previous three seasons in the Blue Square North, with the colossal travelling costs that this incurred. The FA found in Worcester’s favour and moved them into the Blue Square South, forcing Gloucester City into the Blue Square North instead.
Any hope that their luck might change at last ended unhappily earlier this week with news that, having been allowed to stage Blue Square North football this season, The Corinium is no longer considered to be up to the required standard for this league. The club is required to put in extra seating and terracing. These are extra facilities that Circencester City, their hosts, don’t currently require and that Gloucester City can’t afford, particularly as they have been given a deadline of the end of March to complete the required work. Their search for a new home, therefore, begins again and one of the homes identifed by the club – Whaddon Road, the home of their bitter rivals of days gone by, Cheltenham Town.
There is no doubt that Whaddon Road would be a more than adequate facility for the clubs requirements in a literal sense (after all, it spent several seasons hosting League One football), but for Gloucester supporters that stuck by the club going to Cirencester, Cheltenham may prove to be a move too far, even though such a move would only be a temporary one, since work continues to get the club back to Meadow Park for 2012. The club’s crowds, obviously already affected by having to play in Cirencester, may be further affected by moving there. However, the question of what alternatives they might have starts to give the move an air of inevitability.
The most common name mentioned when alternatives to Whaddon Road are being thrown around is Kingsholm, the home of Gloucester RFC. There is no doubt that Kingsholm is an excellent facility, but even if Gloucester City could double their current crowds from three hundred to six hundred, the 16,000 capacity Kingsholm would leave them rattling around like peas in a tin can, and there can be little doubt that it would be expensive. Other alternatives, such as Forest Green Rovers’ The New Lawn would be even further away from Gloucester than Cheltenham.
The Whaddon Road move has hardly been welcomed with open arms by Cheltenham Town supporters either. Many of them seem to be failing to believe that their club will benefit significantly from having Gloucester City play there, whilst others are concerned about the effects on the pitch itself that two clubs using the same ground might cause. And the psychological stumbling block of sharing a ground with your local rivals remains anathema to as many Cheltenham supporters as it does up the road at Gloucester. Talks, however, have already begun between the two clubs and an arrangement may be confirmed shortly.
It took Gloucester City nine years to get back to being one division below the Blue Square Premier, and some supporters are concerned that a chance to consolidate at a higher level would be squandered if the club was relegated at te end of this season for ground grading rules. It seems pointless to go to the Football Conference and request, in view of the terrible couple of years that the club has had, a little clemency and the question of why it is so important that a club with average crowds of around 300 to meet the strict grading rules, other than to ensure that promotion to the Blue Square Premier could be guaranteed in the event that it may happen. Lenience over the rules only seems to apply in the Football Conference only seems to exist over small matters such as continuing to act as a company director when banned from doing so by FA rules and the law.
Gloucester supporters may be best advised to swallow their pride and go to Cheltenham until Meadow Park is ready again. Crowds will go up – Cheltenham is easier to get to from Gloucester than Cirencester – and the deal seems more likely to be signed at a rate that Gloucester can afford than any proposed move to Kingsholm would be. Ultimately, it’s only for a couple of seasons and, in the end, a return to Meadow Park should achievable and life at Gloucester City can maybe return to normal again. After everything that they have been through, this would only fair. They just need to make sure that this time the ground is as flood-proofed as possible.
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
Great article about our current predicament.
This whole debacle really goes out to prove how the FA treats smaller clubs in extraordinary need.
The amount of bad luck this club has had is just ridiculous. After Farnborough and 70 years in the Southern League system, we were bouyant. But being ludicrously placed in the North was a huge kick in the teeth, considering our limited funds anyway.
There must be a time in the not too distant future that our luck will change! Come on you Tigers!
I’m a Halesowen Town supporter, and have many memories of games against the Tigers. I personally was delighted for them when they went up, and quite stunned to see them in the BSN. What’s that all about?! As Simon says, it seems to just prove the ‘one rule for them, one rule for us’ attitude of the football authorities, especially when you consider the goings on at Chester City (for whose supporters I have the greatest sympathy). If the Conference & FA can ignore Steven Vaughan Snr continuing to effectively run the club, despite being banned from doing so, with impunity then…. well, it’s all been said many times hasn’t it. Our local rivals are Stourbridge Town, 5 miles down the road. They share their ground with the local cricket club, and for the first month or so can’t play there because the cricket season is still ongoing. So, they played at our place. As far as I was concerned, that’s fine. After all, we don’t play at the same time (though it was slightly odd to have our ‘away’ fixture against them played at our own ground!). So Tigers fans, go for Cheltenham. It’s temporary. it helps your club, and you won’t be playing there when Cheltenham are. You know it makes sense.
If we can share with W*tt*n, I’m sure Gloucester can overcome their emotions for a couple of years. And if it thus gets round the crazy ground grading rules, it will be worth it.
I went to Cirencester to watch the match v Vics earlier in the season – the ground is basic but perfectly adequate at this level for the size of crowds. I do wish the Conf Board would return to the real world – do they really expect a club to pay £40k for improvements to another club’s ground; or do they expect Cirencester to pay to have the continued ‘honour’ of hosting BS football? Crazy.
On the day that Chester were expunged because of financial difficulties, you could argue it odd that we hear a club such as Gloucester being forced to pay for ground improvements to stay at their level.
However, although Gloucester may get home gates of 300 now, at that higher level and if they were promoted to Conference National they will get crowds of 1500 plus for games against teams such as AFC Wimbeldon, Luton etc. Just ask Grays. Typical crowd around 300, until the bigger teams in the league arrive. From a health and safety point of view, the current facilities at Cirencester would be stretched to say the least.
“Worcester City had been unhappily playing for the previous three seasons in the Blue Square North, with the colossal travelling costs that this incurred. The FA found in Worcester’s favour and moved them into the Blue Square South, forcing Gloucester City into the Blue Square North instead.”
Worcester City were not moved into Blue Square South at the time of Gloucester City’s promotion. Worcester’s first three seasons in the reoranised league structure were spent in the North division and given the North or South option WCFC were happy to play in the North. Travel to other North clubs is generally easier than to those in the South. The relegation from the National division of four clubs more northerly than us at the end of 2007/08 meant an enforced transfer to the South. Worcester were given no choice in the matter.
The move caused Worcester some considerable difficulty as many of our players were northern based and had to be released as it would be no longer practical or affordable to retain these players for a southern campaign.
Worcester did have a choice at the end of last season as FA rules say that no club can be forcibly transferred more than once in three seasons. Having already been moved South it would have caused far too many difficulties again to move back North so soon so the club exercised its right to stay where it was.
I have every sympathy with Gloucester’s plight and hope they manage to find a solution to their current problems and continue to play at this level next season. Their problems which come from being placed in the North stem from the Football Conference ignoring the fact that there are clubs in the east of the country which are more northerly than Gloucester is, yet they chose not to transfer one of these to the North so that Gloucester could play in the South where they should be.
Gloucester City ground shared with Forest Green Rovers after the flooding of Meadow Park for 1 season. They then moved to Cirencester Town the following season and have played there for 2 seasons. They didn’t move to Cirencester straight away.
It’s an obvious decision to groundshare with Cheltenham, whilst there will be no doubts some bad blood other teams have done it. The rugby club obviously wont help you.
Although the FA come out of this with no credit, the big question I would be asking is what are the authorities in Gloucester doing with regards to getting them back? Not a lot it would appear. I would be livid if I was a Gloucester City fan and protesting. Meadow Park was always a decent stadium, with a cracking atmosphere that you wouldn’t find at many other clubs at a similar level. I find the way in which the local authorities and Gloucester public seems to have abandoned them very poor indeed.
Newport County supporters have good reason to be grateful to Gloucester after we spent two seasons there to prevent being trapped in the ultimate dead-end of the Welsh system. Meadow Park if it can be restored is a fantastic venue and if I remember correctly used to be well known for its great surface. Presumably all that alluvial soil! If it takes a couple of years at Cheltenham to make it possible to move back to Gloucester, just suck on it and do it. I’m sure everyone at Spytty Park looks forward to our clubs eventually being at the same level and in our own towns. Good luck.
Gavin, it isn’t ground improvements to go up to Conference National though (which are more onerous), it’s improvements to be allowed to remain at step 2 (ie Conf Nth / Sth level). This is because promoted clubs are allowed until March 31st of the following season to get their facilities in place. This is partly because grants are sometimes only available once you reach a higher level, and partly so clubs do not have to do the work before they know they will be promoted, when it probably is unnecessary for the level below. It is wrong to suggest March 31st deadline has suddenly been imposed – it’s been that way for some years.
I don’t think it’s right to expect an exception to be made, when they haven’t been made previously (Cammell Laird and Kings Lynn last year for example). However, current ground grading requirements are resulting in lots of unjustified or white elephant facilities – between step 3 and step 2 minimums for instance, floodlights have to be 50% brighter, dugouts 40% bigger, dressing rooms 50% bigger (what did for Kings Lynn last year) and a 250 seat stand (not allowed to be split across multiple stands and no longer benches, must have back rests) for those 300 supporters. Jobs for the builders?