CIRENCESTER TOWN chairman Steve Abbley has blasted “FA intransigence” after Gloucester City were forced to look elsewhere for a groundshare arrangement next season.
With their Meadow Park home the victim of repeated flooding, Gloucester City have been happy tenants at Cirencester’s Corinium Stadium for the last two seasons and wanted to continue the liaison until their ground was fit for use again.
But any thoughts Cirencester had of increasing their official ground capacity ahead of the March 31 deadline from 2,400 to the 3,000 necessary to achieve Grade B status – the level required for Gloucester City’s Blue Square North Division – have been scuppered by the estimated £40,000 costs of the project.
“We have already upgraded the press facilities and carried out some internal work necessary for Grade B status, but we were gobsmacked when even the lowest estimate for the terracing work needed to accommodate a 3,000 crowd came in at £40,000,” said Abbley.
“Had the bill been £15,000, Eamonn McGurk (owner of Gloucester City) and myself had agreed to split the costs down the middle.
“Understandably, Eamonn does not want to spend 50 percent of £40,000 on a ground where his side will not be playing in another year or perhaps two.
“The FA demand for a capacity of 3,000 is ridiculous when you think that Gloucester City’s average gate here is 318.
“I have a lot of projects on which I would rather spend £20,000.”
Equally ludicrous is the possibility that Gloucester City could be painted into a corner with regard to ground sharing at the Whaddon Road base of their sworn enemies Cheltenham Town. Plans for that scenario are already well advanced.
Abbley said: “That could be interesting because I have played for both clubs and I know they hate each other with a passion.”
The prudent Abbley prides himself on running a debt-free Cirencester Town FC and is staggered at the FA’s stance, especially given the parlous state of so many football clubs at every level.
“Gloucester City are in a temporary home through no fault of their own and our ground is more than adequate until they return to Meadow Park,” he said.
“The FA is being completely intransigent over this matter and would clearly relegate Gloucester City if they stayed here, just as they did with the former Kings Lynn FC when their ground was deemed not to be up to Conference North standards.”
Cirencester receives an annual rent from The Tigers and takes all bar receipts on Gloucester City match days, while the tenants take their own gate receipts.
“We had already agreed that Gloucester could play here next season, so losing them is going to be a huge blow and leaves a big hole in our finances,” admitted Abbley.
“These are tough times to say the least for all clubs, not just us. We did not have a penny of income for six weeks in the worst of the weather when matches were regularly postponed and we lost so many party bookings because of the snow that I thought about temporarily closing our doors.
“Prior to Gloucester City, Cirencester Utd used to groundshare with us and, though the lack of a tenant would not be a disaster, we are going to have to do a lot of soul searching about our budgets in the summer.”
It is not all doom and gloom, of course.
Abbley said: “Cirencester Town are still battling for a play-off place, even though two or three or our players have lost their form at the same time.
“Also, our experimental Development Squad of youngsters, which is in its first year, is top of its league.
“One of our Academy players, Liam Williams has been called up to the England Schools squad and we have contracts to play pre-season friendlies with the first XIs of Swindon Town, Forest Green Rovers and Cheltenham Town, all of whom have used our indoor arena this winter.”
Abbley, along with Town manager Brian Hughes, is also set to dust off his own football boots and turn out for the Cirencester Legends XI which takes on the Army Allstars in aid of the Help for Heroes charity at the Corinium on July 31.
“So far everyone, including me, has put themselves forward to play at right back, because we can’t imagine the Army will have a pacy left winger,” said the chairman.