Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Steward's enquiry

When I saw a tweet this morning flagging up an announcement on the CTFC website about the racecourse move, I thought 'at last, it's decision time' and that the plan was going to be abandoned for good.
At the recent fans' forum, Paul Baker seemed to be moving away slightly from the move, by showing some concern over the funding gap between the cost of the stadium and the value of the Whaddon Road site.
He told us that the club has costed the plan for an 8000 and a 10000-seater stadium, and we were told that it would not be long before we knew either way.
Then along came today's announcement, telling us that the move is on hold citing the 'general economic uncertainty', and also on hold is the possibility of redeveloping the main stand at Whaddon.
So basically, nothing has changed - no move, and no new stand for the forseeable future, so I would question the need for making the statement at all as it basically told us very little.
This saga was started by some freak gale force winds in March 2008, when high winds destroyed the tented village at the racecourse, meaning one day of the lucrative National Hunt Festival had to be abandoned.
That led the racecourse and football club, I believe at racecourse MD Edward Gillespie's bidding, to come up with the idea of permanent structures to replace the tented village in the form of a football stadium - bringing a home for CTFC and a solution to the racecourse's problems.
There in lies the main stumbling block to this plan in my eyes.
The racecourse need more permanent structures, and as the racecourse lies in the green belt, there are restrictions on the number of permanent stands they can build.
So therefore who does this really benefit? The racecourse.
Who are the biggest winners? The racecourse.
What is in this for the football club? Hmmm. This is the big question.
I understand that the plans include training facilities, so we would presumably give up Seasons and base ourselves at the racecourse.
There is also a plan for a sports arena, similar to the one at Cirencester, which clubs would be able to hire out and would be used throughout the week, with the money coming to the football club.
I assume we would get all the profits made from hospitality, bars and meals sold etc on matchdays, and the new stadium would, presumably, allow us to have more of these facilities.
At Whaddon Road, we have a 90+-year lease and have invested millions in rebuilding three sides of the ground - money which would be effectively wasted were we to move.
Any new stand we build there would presumably also have new facilities for hospitality etc, and we were being told how well we are doing with conferencing and business meetings recently at Whaddon Road - so where is the benefit in moving?
The stadium, also, would be right at the bottom of the racecourse site with no visibility at all - and therein lies the fear that we would be out of sight, out of mind.
The racecourse has a lot of parking, it is on a bus route, it is away from a residential area - but you can bet your bottom dollar that the residents of New Barn Lane and Prestbury will not let this happen without a massive fight.
Another argument is that it will attract new fans - maybe, to start with until the novelty wears off.
The only thing which attracts fans to a football club long-term these days is a winning team. I have never met a football fan who comes because the stadium is new.
I do not subscribe to the belief that we would fill an 8,000-seat stadium just because it has just been built. We all know that it would be the same 3-4,000 there every week.
If it happens, the racecourse will, effectively, get a whole host of new hospitality facilities to use for all bar about 30 days a year, and seem to be using the club as a marriage of convenience to get their redevelopment plans approved.
Yes, Mr Gillespie is a Robins fan, he comes to games regularly, I know all that - but his number one priority is the racecourse, and he is not going to enter into anything unless they are the winners.
People have said to me that the move would help us get more sponsorship, maybe from betting companies - maybe, but there is no guarantee of that.
We would not see a penny of the money from the lucrative Gold Cup festival, yet would have to vacate our stadium for the week - same for the meetings at other times of the year.
Effectively, we would go from being tenants of the council on a ground in which we have invested millions of pounds, which has a long, secure lease and a covenant on it which restricts its use to sport, to tenants of the Jockey Club.
Yes, we would sign a lease for an as-yet-undetermined length of time, but while at the moment we have a football fan in Mr Gillespie at the helm, that will undoubtedly change.
What if, in the future, someone takes over the racecourse who decides he wants the club out, and we are left homeless? What happens then?
Whaddon Road will be houses or whatever by then, so there would be nothing to fall back on, and I suspect that when we leave WR the council will wash their hands of us as well.
It could be out of the frying pan and into a very large, unfriendly fire further down the line.
There are benefits to the move, but I feel they are outweighed by the negatives and the potential pitfalls.
Paul Baker has the best interests of the club at heart as he has shown on more than one occasion over the past 13 years as our chairman, and I wish that he had shelved this plan for good.
Whaddon Road is our home, and that is where we should stay.