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.