As we get ready to enter Non-League Day, we are nearing the beginning of the end of a farcical ten month period in the history of football in the Worcestershire town of Bromsgrove.
Recent years have seen a number of long standing clubs cease to exist, and in most cases a new club has been formed to keep the interest of the fans, and the spirit of the club alive in the respective town or city. Most of these clubs have experienced teething troubles of one sort or another and a lot of these clubs haven’t been able to return immediately to their spiritual home (if they were able to return there at all). There have been a few exceptions to that rule, as clubs such as AFC Telford United and FC Halifax Town have been able to continue playing where their previous team “left off”, so to speak. Another one of those clubs, who appeared to have “retained” their ground were Bromsgrove Sporting.
Bromsgrove Sporting were formed out of what would become the ashes out of Bromsgrove Rovers, who were expelled from the Southern League earlier this month. Rovers have spent the last ten years with problems emanating from various owners, including the unpopular proposal to “merge” the club with Redditch United (which would have seen the merged side take Redditch’s place in the Conference North, wear Rovers’ colours, retain the Rovers name, and play Rovers’ Victoria Ground) to the club entering administration last October. Like a lot of non-league clubs who have experienced troubles in the 21st Century, Rovers did have a Supporters Trust (Bromsgrove Rovers Supporters Society), but unlike most “phoenix” clubs, they have not been involved in the formation of the new club, although the club has still been formed with a “Not For Profit” status. The original plan had been to acquire the Rovers club over the last year, but when that proved impossible, Bromsgrove Sporting were formed, with an application to join the non-league pyramid.
Rovers were in administration, and had seen the owners of the Victoria Ground, Bromsgrove District Council refuse to extend the lease to Rovers, in favour of awarding it in principle to Sporting, although Sporting had made the offer of sharing the ground with Rovers, in order to allow the existing club to continue running as a going concern. However, after the award of the lease the owners of the Rovers club essentially squatted past the lease’s end date of the 6th August. The chairman of the Rovers club, Mike Ward, claimed that Rovers have every right to stay on the site, due to the 1986 Insolvency Act stating that a company has a right to remain on land that they are occupying. Rovers had also previously denied access to Bromsgrove Sporting’s representatives, as part of a Health and Safety assessment – the Victoria Ground’s safety certificate expired in June, and as a result the legal agreement for the award of the lease to Sporting cannot be finalised.
The reason behind the squatting seemed to be the profitable social club attached to the ground although Ward, the proposed new owner of the club (who had no connection to previous owner Tom Herbert), also has taken the step of creating a new company called Bromsgove Rovers (sic), presumably with the intention of somehow keeping Bromsgrove Rovers running. With the lease expired and no ground share set-up in place (although there are suggestions that at least one other club was approached), Rovers were officially homeless, and as a result, the Southern League felt compelled to expel them. Rovers allegedly filed an appeal, only to withdraw it before the case was heard, and with no ground, no players, and effectively no club, Bromsgrove Rovers are likely to be liquidated when the first anniversary of entering administration arrives – a sad end to the 125 year history of one of the Midland’s proudest non-league clubs.
On the plus side, Rovers handed back the Victoria Ground site to the council last week, but not before damage had been done to the site. Towards the end of last month, allegations surfaced that Herbert had left for Alvechurch, taking numerous players, the bar furniture and the goalposts with him, in lieu of money owed to him by the club. However, where there is good news, there is also bad, as photos of the Victoria Ground taken on Tuesday show that the goalposts have been removed, the subsequent holes filled with concrete, and a substance that appears to be weedkiller applied to certain areas of the pitch. Significant work will need to be done before the site before the ground will be useable for football.
In the meantime, Bromsgrove Sporting continue their inaugural season in the Midland Combination Second Division, and are playing ten miles away in Studley, at The Beehive, the home of Studley FC, at Abbeyfields Drive. Tomorrow on Non-League day, they entertain Birmingham-based Chelmsley Town, kick off 3pm.