After four years in enforced exile following the catastophic floods of 2007, Blue Square North club Gloucester City could be heading back to their home town. Jenni Silver brings up to date with the latest developments.
It’s the news Gloucester City fans have been waiting for – a planning application for a new ground is on its way, set for submission in the next two weeks. A public consultation event is planned for next week to reveal the design for the new stadium and the complex project to protect a whole community from flooding. For almost fours years the Tigers have been exiled from the city of Gloucester, banished by the waters of the River Severn. The club had been flooded before and was pretty much uninsurable by the time the waters started rising on July 23, 2007. The iconic picture of water lapping at the cross bar went worldwide (Have a look at TigerRoar for all the heartbreaking snaps).
The human cost from the 2007 floods was huge, hundreds homeless, hundreds of thousands left without drinking water for weeks on end but the cost to Gloucester’s football team has been almost as dear. Meadow Park, the lovely old ground in Sudmeadow Road (the name should’ve been a clue when they moved there really) wasn’t just home to the first team, the successful ladies team and the many youth teams played there, as did the Gloucestershire Schools sides. Post-2007, all the different strands which make up Gloucester City Football Club have been separated – the ladies play down the river at Frampton ( about 30 miles from Gloucester), the youth play in the Forest of Dean at Harrow Hill ( about 30 miles from Gloucester in the opposite direction) and the newly formed reserves side play at the Dowty Club in Staverton ( roughly 4 miles from Gloucester).
The first team, well they have spent the last four years touring the county – one season at the New Lawn, home of Forest Green Rovers (15 miles away from home), two long seasons at the Corinium Stadium in Cirencester (15 miles away without great transport links) and now they are calling Whaddon Road home. Yes its nice having a League 2 ground, but don’t forget Cheltenham Town are the historic rivals of Gloucester. Still, its better than the extortionate sums required to groundshare with the other team in Gloucester, who also wear red and white, have a different shaped ball to play with and wanted way more than the £45K to play in Cheltenham.
The latest groundshare (and the usual suspects of Sky, recession, apathy) seems to have had a worrying effect on the City’s attendances, just 205 people turned out to watch last night’s victory over Vauxhall Motors – particularly galling when more Gloucester fans travelled to Kenilworth Road to watch their team play on a Friday night at the beginning of the month. Yesterday manager David Mehew released two players because his budget has been cut – the winter freeze and a long run of away games really doesn’t help when your revenue is already so low it barely exists. Still, Gloucester have managed to overcome some of the bad luck which has swamped them in the past few years. The first year after the floods they narrowly missed out on promotion, the second year they did it – escaping the Southern League after 63 years with a play off victory over Farnborough. Then they ended up in the Blue Square North. Seriously.
But when your ‘home’ games are a 40-mile round trip away what’s a couple of hundred miles every other Saturday? City held on last year, just about keeping out of the drop zone. This year a revamped squad has gained a reputation for physical football and enjoyed a mini Trophy run which came to an end 86 minutes into a game against Luton. With more than half their league games left to play they are doing ok – two wins in four days has helped paper over a mid-winter wobble and there is confidence of finishing in a better position than last year.
There can no doubt, however, that this imminent planning application to return home could not come at a better time for the club. Its not just a new stadium – it is likely to involve significant flood defence work, not just to protect the club but also to stop other businesses and homes from being swamped by the river again. It is very ‘Big Society,’ which could win favour with the local Tory-led councils and the new blue MP. David Cameron did say that local communities would need to start funding their own projects – this is exactly what Gloucester City are doing, they need flood defences and are building them in a way that it will also protect other homes and businesses – with all the central Government cuts it is unlikely the money to protect this area of Gloucester would ever be found elsewhere.
Most importantly, though, will provide a lasting legacy for a club which has always had its heart in the city – and still has a local lad as its captain. Some of these homes will be in a similar position to the club – unable to insure their homes against what used to be an inevitable threat. And of course it will mean the club can be united again – games have been quieter without an army of youth team players running around the stands.
The owner has spent hundreds and thousands of pounds getting the plans right, working with the Environment Agency and making sure the flood prevention measures will work. Back in 2007 the area around the ground was on the cusp of redevelopment but now it sits close to a new bypass and a multimillion pound shopping centre, a huge supermarket, a brand new college and hundreds of new homes – so lots more potential fans for a Saturday afternoon.
The new ground will sit in a new area of the city – rather than being plonked on the outskirts as was the case when Gloucester moved from Horton Road (in the centre of the city, now a housing estate) to Meadow Park back in the 80s. With the application on it’s way to the city council by the end of the month, planning permission could be granted by the summer and Gloucester could be back at New Meadow Park (the real name is more likely to be the Keyway Stadium) for the start of the 2012 season. It’s a long way off but if you want a relevant metaphor – we can see the dove with the olive leaf in it flying back to Noah and its getting closer each day.
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