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A San Siro For Everyone?

Maybe Welling were ahead of their time when they named their stand the San Siro. The stampede to have every club from Abbey Hey to Yorkshire Amateurs playing in stadia capable of hosting World Cup fixtures seems to be gathering pace. Fans are still digesting the implications of a minimum Conference requirement of 6,000 capacity and 1,000 seats being made compulsory in 2002 when further news emerges that the minimum League specifications appear to be set to change. As Ciderspace reads the words attributed to the Nationwide Conference chairman Bill King at the meeting to decide the fate of The Drill Field on Wednesday July 12 (read a report of the meeting on the unofficial Vics website The Drill Field Den), the minimum League specification will become a 10,000 capacity including seating for 2,000 as from 2004.

Whilst many Conference fans were beginning to feel cautiously optimistic that the frontier between League and Non-league football might be breaking down further as the noises about a move from one up and down to two up and down became louder this news may cause some to pause and re-think. The history of relations between the League and Non-league would certainly lead some to speculate that what is given with one hand will be taken away with the other. A large number of clubs in the League are short of these standards.

Our best estimate is three of those clubs in Division 2 and a dozen in Division 3 next season do not currently have a ground to this specification, or work in progress to meet or exceed it. Whilst some are only a little short, a significant number would need to virtually re-build from scratch, or even move site as they don't have the room for such expansion. The suspicion must be that those currently with League status will, if it comes to it, be given repeated dispensations and extensions to get their grounds up to standard. The case of Barnet sits before us, granted a few months ago yet another three years to get their facilities up to the present requirements.

But what of a Conference club winning promotion without the specified capacity? Few would have any doubts as to the outcome in those circumstances. No Conference club currently meets this new grade. It is hard to see how a number could ever hope to do so in their present location. We at Huish Park have a situation where we have the space and a ground that could be expanded to that capacity relatively easily. But few others are so lucky. Many clubs don't own enough land around their ground to make such expansion feasible; or have residential area adjacent to one or more sides of the ground that would pose all sorts of planning problems. No one would doubt that Rushden and Diamonds would find the money, but having to tear down and re-build what is a new and state of the art ground just a few years after it was built would doubtless not be greeted too cheerily in the Chairman's office at Nene Park. And of course Telford are busily pouring 9.5 million into a new ground that will be redundant as far as League football is concerned before it is even finished.

As was confirmed at a meeting at Hayes recently (and as Forest Green Rovers fans have been made acutely aware also) the Conference intends to make the 6,000 / 1,000 standard compulsory. The implication it seems is that clubs who fail to make this grade will be expelled, and clubs in the feeder leagues will be denied promotion. Will the demands be ratcheted up again for 2004? How far can the Conference go in trying to meet the ever increasing expectations in its belief that it has to prove to the League that every club could clear the barriers to promotion if necessary? Will we then have clubs in the Dr Martens, Ryman and Unibond told they must have 10,000 / 2,000 capacity to enter the Conference?

Whilst we would never suggest that the League could ever be duplicitous! it seems a remarkable chance that the possible expansion of promotion places between the Conference and Division 3 might coincide with a change to ground grading that no Non-league club could achieve without considerable redevelopment of its current facilities.

Ciderspace's concerns are two-fold. First: the lack of movement that has only recently begun to break down between League and Non-league was in our opinion unhealthy for both. Anything that increases the difficulty of such movement is a retrograde step. Second: if the Conference responds by increasing its requirements again (and again and again?) the whole concept that underpins football - promotion by merit and endeavour on the pitch - will be under threat. Outside of a few teams with multi-millionaire backers prepared to bank-roll any extravagance clubs will be faced with an inevitable choice. Failure to get promoted quickly will risk financial ruin as they try to develop and maintain Rolls Royce facilities on Trabant income. Or they could simply concede they are not at the races and voluntarily drop down to whatever level of football is still prepared to accept some pokey little ground: perhaps a meagre 8,000 in the Isthmian 3 or a humiliating 5,000 in the Dorset Combination the way things seem to be going! You might not be able to get a season ticket at a leading Premiership ground for love or a very considerable amount of money, but here in Non-league football you can generally already sit or stand all by yourself if you so desire. Agoraphobics beware when the day of the compulsory 10,000 stadium arrives.

Do you agree or disagree with our opinion? Whether you are a fan or a club or Conference official, contact us with your own alternative view, and we will see that your 'right to reply' is respected. Simply mail us at ytfcciderspace@yahoo.com to register your view.

Richard Walker replies :

As somebody who has been a lifelong supporter of Leek Town FC I can't even begin to make clear just how ridiculous I find these proposed regulations. Harrison Park has a capacity of 3,600 and during our time in the Conference the highest attendance we got was 1,365 for the visit of Doncaster Rovers, which set our record league crowd. So having spent two seasons in the Conference in which the ground never suffered any crowd trouble or incidents and never even came close to being full, it might have been logical to assume that we would be allowed back in the Conference on the same ground if we won the league. However, in their apparent quest to tear the heart out of football, the powers that be started to pass various decrees, such as the one that has made us upgrade our floodlights, even though they were perfectly OK the first time round. Then they decided that as soon as we finish the lights, we should increase our terrace capacity and/or add more seats, once we've done that, they will probably shift the goalposts once more and we'll be back to square one. However, if we somehow manage to find all the money to redevelop the ground, we will be able to take our promotion. Here we reap the benefits of having a 6,000 (or maybe 10,000) capacity ground as is bound to be packed out by at least 800 people, and they will no doubt be glad to have so much room to move about in.

The Conference and the League are going to destroy football if they continue with this ridiculous plan. I don't think they care about the lower levels of football in this country. What frustrates me immensely is that you get hypocrites like Tony Williams going on about how Forest Green and clubs like them are the soul of the game and 'like how football used to be'. Having said that he promptly goes and advocates changing ground regulations in the name of 'progress' even though he must know damn well that these spiralling regulations spell potential doom for such clubs. It really makes me feel angry that the Conference and the League are selling out the heart of football, and it seems that there is little we can do to make a difference.

Yours out of frustration
Richard Walker, Leek Town FC supporter and shareholder.

From John Martin :

Having just read the proposed ground requirement I find it absolutely amazing as you say how the goalposts appear to about to be moved.

I have been a supporter of Yeovil for over 40 years and it has always been the same, league chairmen have been frightened of losing their status.

Surely if theyare not good enough they should make way for some one who is.

I am sure they will do everything they can to bend the rules to suit themselves.

As you say at Huish we will not have too many problems, when (if!!) they cover home terrace if they go back they would nearly be up to 10,000.

Anyway is all we need is for Mr. Webb to win us promotion before 2004!!.

This Page Written By Hugh Gleave
With General Interference and Interjection from Martin Baker and Jon Morgan
©Ciderspace 2000
Last Updated 15th July 2000

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