This article was originally written in March 2017 for the excellent North Ferriby Utd fanzine ‘View from the Allotment End’.
Once again we get to this time of year when ground grading becomes a hot topic across non-league football. This year, it could impact promotion hopes as well as increase relegation fears, throwing playoffs into confusion and chaos.
It’s a well known fact that clubs newly promoted to a higher level will have until the end of March of that first season to make sure any ground grading upgrades are in place. In the majority of cases, clubs will be able to make up those small adjustments to meet the requirements, but there are cases where the club’s infrastructure has not been able to keep pace with the rise in fortune on the field.
It’s a difficult subject at Grange Lane as I am only too aware, at least that isn’t only about financing, just physical room as well but in the National League South, ground grading issues could seriously affect the division’s play off programme.
Both Poole Town and Hungerford Town have just entered the NL South, and for each of them this is the highest level of football they have ever played at. Both of them at the moment (09/03/20017) are either in the playoff places or within striking distance – Poole Town in 5th, and Hungerford Town in 6th – but if they do not get their ground infrastructure up to the standard required be the end of March deadline, there is real possibility that neither club would be allowed to enter the playoffs, or even stay in the NL South.
Hungerford Town has played at Bulpit Lane for many years, as far as I know, but Poole Town were forced to leave their old ground of the Poole Stadium, groundsharing before being able to settle on what once was a school playing field in 2000.
Both clubs have resorted to crowdfunding the extra amount, Hungerford have costed their upgrades at £35k and Poole Town at £75k. Admittedly, Poole have been trying to get permission for a new ground for some time now, given as how they feel the current Tatnam ground would clearly not be sufficient.
It’s obvious now that for both clubs, success on the field has left the grounds behind, and although you want to play football at the highest level, sometime you have to make plans to keep up off the field as well.
In some respects, the clubs must take on a little of the blame, apparently not budgeting for such an eventuality. It may be that they had, but from all the announcements coming out of both clubs, you can’t help get a feeling that they didn’t believe it would be a problem.
Hungerford do have an extra burden in that they are a community club, and are completely self funded, but if they do not find the means to upgrade, then its back to the Southern League Premier they would have to go. The same would go for Poole Town as well.
Poole Town, given their location, well, you would expect they would be able to find sources of funding from somewhere without having to resort to crowdfunding drives. I’m more than sure they would have been made aware of the need to start the upgrade to the Tatnam ground almost as soon as their position in the National League was confirmed, but you almost get the impression that they might not have done so.
If it should turn out that a demotion back to the Southern League ordered, this would effectively mean all their efforts on the field of play would be worthless. This then would create a merry-go-round in June/July at the FA to decide who will be placed where.
In addition, if either club ended up in the play off places, then effectively, the clubs in 6th and 7th would then be eligible to enter for promotion to the National League itself, making a mockery of the system, all thanks to a little forethought and planning.
Admittedly, as a supporter of Hampton & Richmond Borough, currently in 7th, we would benefit from this if we hold onto our 7th place, but it shouldn’t have to be like this. Both clubs would have been well aware of the need to upgrade – Hungerford do have planning permission in place for the works thankfully – but this panic and hunting for finance, well, for the want of a little advance planning, it could so easily have been avoided.
Recent reports coming out of the south coast club is that they believe they will be able to make the deadline, despite still needing some £25k to complete the task, which they are hoping to raise through sponsorship of the new terraces. Personally, that’s always a bit of a shot in the dark, but good luck to them.
Hungerford, well, there’s been no recent word on how their programme is progressing but, they need to get a move on…
As it turned out, they both completed the works in time and gained the grading for the National League South but were denied entry to the playoffs, Hampton took their place as they ended the season in 7th place.