In non-league football, things are moving and plans are afoot. It looked for some time as if we were heading for a rash of grounds being sold, demolished and converted into luxury apartments. Indeed, over the last ten years we have lost some of the best known non-league grounds, including Hendon’s Claremont Road, Scarborough’s Seamer Road, Aylesbury United’s Buckingham Road, Enfield’s Southbury Road, Slough Town’s Wexham Park and Edgware Town’s The White Lion. There are plenty more, of course. Probably too many to mention. It’s not all doom and gloom, though. You get enough of that on here. This evening, we’re going to take a quick look at four clubs that look as if they may be moving into new facilities or returning home in the next couple of years or so.
Slough Town: The falling into disrepair of Slough Town’s Wexham Park became a symbol for the interminable wrangling between clubs and landlords which often threatens to drive clubs to the wall. Slough were evicted from Wexham Park in 2003 and have been trying to find a permanent new home since then, managing to share a ground at Windsor & Eton and Beaconsfield SYCOB as they tumbled down the divisions and out of the Southern League altogether. Last season (after being reprieved thanks to the collapse of Halifax Town) they stabilised somewhat in the Southern Division One South & West, and there was further good news for the club this week with the announcement that they have the full support of their local council to build a new 3,000 capacity stadium on the outskirts of the town, along with eighty-one houses. They will now submit a full planning application before the end of this year, but there is quiet optimism that after six years (and counting) of a nomadic existence, they could soon be returning home.
Scarborough Athletic: The old Scarborough ground at Seamer Road is another that continues to sit and rot. Follwing the collapse of Scarborough FC in 2007, two clubs – Town and Athletic – have emerged, with Athletic (who owned and run by their supporters trust) being the homeless ones. Town played in the amateur Wearside League but in a ground within the town, while Athletic were forced to play their home matches twenty miles away from home at Bridlington Town. With Seamer Road now in a state of disrepair that seems to preclude its use in the forseeable future, Athletic have been looking for a home of their own back in Scarborough for some time, but their search may also be appoaching an end. They confirmed a deal last week to ground-share with Town at the Pindar Sports College, back in Scarborough. The ground is only a basic one, but Athletic plan to bring it up to scratch to reach the Football Association’s Grade D (which includes the installation of such basics as floodlights, hard standing, turnstiles and a perimeter fence), which would be enough for them to compete in their current division, the North East Counties League Premier Division and the Unibond League Division One, which is the one above. It’s only a short term solution – the club’s ultimate goal is to be back pushing for a place in the Football League again – but it’s a start.
Enfield Town: The sale of Southbury Road in 1999 proved to be the catalyst which led to the formation of AFC Wimbledon and the other clubs that came about because their supporters had had enough. By 2001, Enfield FC were still ground-sharing and the club was making no effort to find a new home back in the London Borough of Enfield, so the supporters broke away and formed a new club, Enfield Town. Town have shared grounds with nearby Brimsdown Rovers since then, but in October 2008 they confirmed a plan to move to the QE2 athletics stadium, barely half a mile from their old home. The club is desperately raising £50,000 towards paying for this move, and remain optimistic that they will move home for the start of the 2010/11 season. The solution of playing at an athletics stadium isn’t an ideal one and has caused some disquiet, but a home of their own would be a massive step forward towards reclaiming the place near the top of the non-league table that they held from the 1960s until the end of the 1980s.
FC United of Manchester: FCUM’s hopes for a ground of their own are possibly the most intriguing of the lot. Since their formation in 2005 they have, in no small part due to safety considerations brought about because of their 2,000+ crowds, played their home matches at Gigg Lane, the home of League Two club Bury. However, the cost of renting Gigg Lane is almost prohibitively expensive and the club needs a home of its own. Last month, however, the club announced an open tender to build a sustainable new stadium in Manchester (no definite site seems to have been indentified yet) whilst Manchester-based architects, Judge Gill, are working on a 7,000 capacity stadium for an unnamed club which some believe to be FCUM. The club signed a new ground share deal at Bury earlier this summer, but the fact that it was only signed for two years has also been taken by some as being a further sign that the club is preparing to move to a home of its own. Nothing is guaranteed yet, but if any club is capable of building a unique stadium with the best interests of its fans at heart, it has to be FC United of Manchester.
It’s not all good news, of course. It never is, is it? Gloucester City remain stranded in Cirencester following the ruination of their Meadow Park during the terrible floods of 2007. Aylesbury United will be groundsharing at Leighton Town next season, with a move back to Aylesbury seeming as far away as ever. There are plenty of others. This is a battle that isn’t over yet, and the economic downturn may prove to be a short term blip before the vultures start hovering again. Football grounds may yet prove to be prime real estate again in the near future.