One of English football’s most desperate races at present is that to avoid the drop from the Blue Square Premier at the end of this season. There are just four points separating Cambridge United in sixteenth place and Altrincham in twenty-second position and, with Eastbourne Borough and Histon already all but condemned, this means that any two from seven could join them, with just five or six matches – depending on which club we are talking about – left to play. One of this seven, however, could have more pressing matters in its mind at present. Hayes & Yeading United, currently two places and one point above the relegation zone, could yet be ending this season without even knowing where they will be playing their home matches next season.
Since the merger of Hayes FC and Yeading FC in 2007, the club has arguably out-performed on the pitch whilst under-performing away from it. They managed promotion into the Blue Square Premier in 2009 through the play-offs and managed to keep their heads above water against the odds last season, but crowds have not, on the whole, increased with their higher status (the average is at present swollen by large travelling contingents from the likes of Wimbledon and Luton, but the average for a run-of-the-mill home match seems reasonably consistent at just over three hundred people) and, from the relative comfort of being, effectively, a club with two home grounds, they now seem likely to have to start next season, whether in the Blue Square Premier or in the Blue Square South, ground-sharing elsewhere.
We reported towards the end of last year on the club’s planned move from the old Hayes ground at Church Road to a redevelopment of the old Yeading ground, around a mile away. Planning permission was agreed by the London Borough of Hillingdon in September of last year for the Hayes ground, but delays ins receiving money from the buyers, Barratt Homes, has meant that work has as yet been unable to start on the redevelopment. This means that a temporary arrangement for the club to play elsewhere needs to be agreed by the summer in order to comply with Football Conference ground rules. The club states that, “Hayes & Yeading United will have a vibrant, multi-purpose complex at the centre of which will be a brand new stadium built to the specifications which allow the team to achieve it’s full potential”, but perhaps the more immediate concern is what will happen regarding its already threadbare support for next season.
The two grounds that are being mentioned with regard to discussions for a ground-share next season are Kingsfield, the home of Woking FC, and Cherrywood Road, the home of Farnborough FC. Kingsfield is closer, certainly, but Farnborough, although further from Church Road, has arguably better transport links. These two options, however, feel a little like a rock and a hard place. Neither can be realistically regarded as nearby and, for a club that has had serious problems attracting crowds to a higher level of football since its promotion into the Blue Square Premier, it seems inconceivable that “home” (such as they are) crowds will not plummet with any move away from their immediate surroundings. In addition to this, they will presumably be required to pay rent wherever they end up next season and that they will miss out on bar money and other peripheral sources of income until they back at Yeading. With the economy showing no signs of improving and costs in British football continuing to increase, how will the club be able to manage itself? Even in the short term, something doesn’t quite add up.
It could, presumably, be argued that the money from the sale of Church Road leaves the club cash rich. However, the issue of what effect the costs of ground-sharing could have upon the redevelopment of the The Warren is a real one, and this is not something that the club has chosen to make public in any way. In addition to this, the club turned fully professional at the start of this season (a decision which, based on what we can reasonably presume of their annual turnover, based on their home attendances, could have been regarded as something of a folly in itself), and how these competing pressures will affect each other is undoubtedly something that the club’s supporters should be questioning.
There have been plenty of examples in recent years of clubs that sold their grounds, only to find themselves in an ultimately nomadic and fundamentally enfeebled position – the likes of Wealdston . The club should address any such concerns that the supporters have, but so far the signs that they will have not been encouraging – the first that their own supporters seem to have heard of the negotiations with Woking came from the Woking FC website. The need for a degree of confidentiality in such negotiations is entirely understandable, but the supporters of the club need to be kept fully abreast of the current situation regarding such a critical point in the history of the club.
At a practical level, the biggest issue facing the club is how many of the club’s support will follow it to Farnborough, Woking or wherever and how long it will take to redevelop the new ground and get back home again. Hayes and Yeading United are on a sticky enough wicket on the crowds that they attract at present and there can be little doubt that their big opportunity to finally increase these to something like a sustainable level comes with the move into their new ground. However, the costs of ground-sharing can be significant, and if the clubs current hand is played badly by the club it could lead to any number of issues more serious than the matter of whether they will be starting next season in the Blue Square Premier or in the Blue Square South. The short term may feel secure, but the long-term sustainability of Hayes & Yeading United is dependent upon the club increasing its support. Whether a period away from its locality will be a minor obstacle or the start of something more troubling is something that we will find out over the next few months or so.
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