So many of the great non-league football grounds of London have been lost that it is becoming difficult to keep count of those that have been razed to the ground. Enfield, Wealdstone, Leytonstone, Ilford, Walthamstow Avenue, Hendon, Edgware Town, we could go on. It is starting to become quicker to name those that have survived. In a couple of years, another one seems likely to bite the dust as Hayes & Yeading United, currently of the Blue Square Premier, prepare to leave their Church Road home. Their old ground will be bulldozed and the club intends to move to its other home, which it intends to redevelop.
That Hayes & Yeading have two homes is the legacy of their origins. The club was formed as a merger of Hayes FC and Yeading FC in 2007 and since then has been playing its matches at Hayes’ former home, while The Warren, the former home of Yeading, has been used for reserve and youth team matches, as well as for training and its social facilities. However, at a council meeting last month planning permission was granted by the London Borough of Hillingdon for one hundred and eighty-three dwellings to be built upon the Church Road site, which opened in 1920. The football club has negotiated a deal for the sale of the land with Barratt Homes, and it is now expected that the club will leave its home in the next couple of years or so.
Football supporters are not, as a rule, as resistant to change as some would like us to believe, on the whole, and there haven’t been that many protests at clubs leaving grounds for pastures new over the last couple of decades or so. Indeed, when Hayes & Yeading merged there weren’t even that many complaints at the new club coming into existence. On the subject of this move, however, the supporters certainly don’t seem to be terribly happy, as this thread from the club’s Botwell Warren forum demonstrates. The club is reluctant to state publicly what the amount of money is that has been agreed for the sale of Church Road, and several supporters have stated their concern, that the money made from the sale of this asset will be frittered away on wages that the club wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.
The club states that plenty of money will be made available for redevelopment of The Warren, but to what extent will they actually be able to redevelop their other home? There are plenty of photographs of The Warren here, and if one thing is clear it is just how cramped The Warren is. Replacing the main stand would probably mean major alterations having to be made to the ground’s distinctive clubhouse, and the ground doesn’t have terracing along one side and behind one goal. Moreover, access to the ground only comes from one small road at the end of what is effectively a cul-de-sac. The flip-side to this, Church Road, is a vast ground of traditional non-league dimensions. In terms of space alone, Church Road would seem to be a much better prospect for development as a football ground for the twenty-first century, but it is also in a residential area and is, presumably worth more money.
The club finished in seventeenth place in the Blue Square Premier last season, three places above the relegation places. While they have lofty ambitions of competing “…as it does at the highest level of non-league and possibly to progress into the Football League”, the truth of the matter is somewhat prosaic than this. They are currently one place above the relegation places. Moreover, the merger of the two clubs and their surprise promotion through the Blue Square South play-offs in 2009 hasn’t drastically increased attendances at the club. Their average home attendance so far this season (although the club hasn’t yet played two teams that would likely push the average for the season up, Wimbledon and Luton Town) is just 323, which puts them, in the overall league attendance table for the season, in one hundred and ninety-sixth place, between Horsham of the Isthmian League and Halesowen Town of the Southern League – both clubs that are two divisions below Hayes & Yeading.
This is the reality of the job on the hands of those running Hayes & Yeading United FC. The temptation to spend the proceeds of the sale of Church Road on maintaining that Blue Square Premier status may prove to be strong, but if they fail to manage themselves properly and within their means, the fall-out could even end up endangering the future of the club. The people running the club need, if they are to proceed with this sale, to be completely open with their supporters about their plans for the club if they are to allay fears, however misguided they may turn out to be, that there may be ulterior motives behind the decision to bulldoze one of London’s more understatedly idiosyncratic football venues. Those running Hayes & Yeading United are entrusted with ensuring that the legacy of not one but two football clubs survives healthily, and the supporters of their club are right to ask the questions that they have been asking.