NEW GROUND DEVELOPMENT: OUR VIEWS
The Aldershot Town Supporters Trust has been the “Voice of the Fans” for Aldershot Town Football Club since 2006. We have always tried to look out for the best interests of the Club, being part of the discussion about the Club’s future interests and raising money for the Club’s needs – over £60,000 since 2016, including £10,000 of Club shares. Most of you will, however, be aware that our relationship with the Club has become somewhat strained in recent times.
That is largely because we have been deeply concerned about the Club’s finances in general, and the implications of the Club’s new lease. We believe that the new lease is an opportunity to set the Club on a secure footing for years to come, exploiting the grounds, skills and experience of those involved to the benefit not just of the Club itself but of its many fans and the town of Aldershot. Missing that opportunity is something that fans, current and future, would struggle to understand or forgive us for.
This document sets out what actions we have taken to date and how we see the new lease benefitting us all.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SO FAR?
For many years now, the Rec (Recreation Ground, now known as the EBB Stadium) has deteriorated due to a lack of investment. It has become an uncomfortable, substandard place from which to watch football, with clear risks on the Health and Safety front, particularly for our older fans. This became very clear recently when two fans were involved in incidents.
On 29th March 2019, Rushmoor Borough Council offered a new, 118-year lease to the Limited Company attached to our football club.
Clearly, this was a very exciting development. In fact, the new lease and the potential new stadium is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for Shots fans to have their say in designing and developing the fantastic facility their dedication and enthusiasm for ATFC deserves. It is an opportunity to create a really attractive ground, which will help to ensure the future of the Club for many years to come and which can be enjoyed by home and visiting fans alike.
From the start, we at the Supporters Trust wanted to look thoroughly at the proposed lease, with a view to being prepared for engagement with the Club’s Directors. Top of our list of priorities has been to ensure that the new ground would contain all the features, where affordable, that the fans (indeed Patrons) of The Shots tell us they want – for example, better seating and lighting, an improved pitch, catering and community facilities. In short, we wanted to ensure that the Shots fans’ voices were heard.
WHY ARE WE CONCERNED?
For a number of reasons, those being:
- It seems that no attempt has been made, nor was ever intended to be made, to consult with the fans on how they would like the ground to be developed;
- On reviewing the original lease, we discovered that it did not include a covenant (or similar) to ensure that a new football ground MUST be built, with football being played on the new ground;
- The Supporters Trust approached the Council to insist that this should be included, and to get the Council to encourage the Club to speak and meet with us throughout this process. They minuted this request in their publicly-available meeting records;
- We also asked that the lease should be signed over to ATFCL, not the newly-registered Aldershot Town Football Club Regeneration Limited (ATFCRL). The Council agreed to both requests, so the revised lease (agreed with the Council in June 2019) will now guarantee that football is played on the grounds and that in no circumstances will ATFCRL be allowed to control the lease.
Despite these improvements, concerns remain around the timing of the lease being signed off. Nine months’ on from the revision of the lease, and despite it being announced twice, once by the Chairman and once by the Leader of the Council, the lease has yet to be officially announced. We fear that this is largely due to the precarious nature of the Club’s finances. Increasingly significant losses have been made every year since 2013 and it now seems that the Club is gambling everything on the lease rescuing them financially.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
It is clearly in the interests of the Club’s Directors to make as much money from the redevelopment as possible, in order to repay their loans. Our insistence that the changes had to be enshrined in the lease and subsequently confirmed by the Council, means that the grounds cannot now be sold off to investors to repay their loans and debts.
That is why the Trust has been so keen to have these guarantees, to ensure that the interests of both the players and the fans are adequately protected.
We have also been determined to ensure, where we can, that this development is designed properly and built within budget to generate the extra revenue needed for future investment in the team.
HOW HAS THE CLUB REACTED?
We at the Shots Trust Board attended all the public meetings where the lease was to be discussed. We were shocked to find that no Club directors attended, nor was there any representation from ATFCL, despite the intention being that they, along with Natta, should lead and manage the redevelopment.
On examining the lease in detail, we and many of the Councillors were extremely disappointed to find that little or no provision was being made for any community benefit within the development.
WHAT DO WE WANT?
We want the Club to be far more open about its plans, and to involve a broad cross-section of fans and the wider community in developing an exciting and financially viable future for the Club. We remain hopeful that we can engage with the Club soon; whatever our different perspectives may be, we must assume that both parties have the best interests of the fans and the Club at heart. Those will be best served by involving as wide a circle of interested parties as possible in amicable discussions.
Once the lease has been officially announced, we as the ‘Voice of the Fans’ will push for an early meeting with the Club’s directors. We will aim to understand what the Club’s plans and next steps are, at all time ensuring that the fans’ issues and questions are addressed.
ANY OTHER CONCERNS?
We remain deeply concerned about the state of the Club’s finances.
The latest unaudited accounts for the Club show a significant loss (over £600k in 12 months, at least £12k a week), continuing the trend of losses over the last 5 years. These losses are currently being supported by yet more loans from the Club’s Directors. This is not a situation that can continue indefinitely; we all remember the shock of the Club being wound up in 2013.
We’ll continue to monitor the situation at all stages of pre-construction. Rest assured, we will always have the best interests of you, the fans, at heart.
The key points are:
- We want the Club to be open and inclusive, with fans and members of the wider community, in amicable discussions on the future of the redevelopment of the Club;
- We are aware that the Club owes a lot of money to the Directors, who have been subsidising the Club’s operations in recent years. Significant losses since 2014 mean that there is no prospect of their loans being repaid in the foreseeable future through Club profits;
- We DO NOT want to see any profits from selling off land to go towards paying off Directors, if that means that we can’t afford a decent redevelopment of the ground.
We’d welcome any comments as to what YOU would like to see incorporated into the development. Ideas put forward so far have included bars; good quality catering outlets; better acoustics within the ground and more seating. Contact us at www.shotstrust.co.uk