THE completion of Eastleigh’s new state-of-the-art clubhouse complex has taken chairman Stewart Donald’s investment in the club to a staggering £10 million.
And the Oxfordshire-based businessman says he would willingly spend that sum all over again to get the Spitfires established in the Football League.
Eastleigh’s superb new two-storey venue was officially opened last night with a champagne reception at the Silverlake Stadium.
The building – which includes a 300-person conference/hospitality suite, a 120-seater restaurant and a club shop - has been completed at a cost of £2 million, some £700,000 pounds in excess of the original budget.
The upstairs Brooks Suite – named after club founder Derik Brooks - was full to brimming for Saturday’s final game of the National League season and indications are that it will be sold out for the whole of the 2017/18 campaign.
That may sound ambitious for a club whose revolving door of managers and players this season has seen them wind up an underwhelming 15th in non-League’s top flight.
But it will take more than that to dampen the enthusiasm of their extraordinary chairman Donald who, in five years, has transformed the club beyond all recognition.
Despite a struggling season, attendances have risen to an average 2,245, the seventh highest in the National League.
And the Spitfires are already seeking planning permission for their next ground project – an extension between the Silverlake’s blue and green stands, providing seating and terracing for around 800 people, hopefully in time for next season.
Quite simply Eastleigh has become like a drug to Donald and he is thrilled to be addicted.
“£10 million is £9.5 million more than I expected to spend after five years, but I would do it all over again,” he said.
“If I had to put another £10 million in, I’d do it without hesitation to get us where we want to go.
“I love it and I’ve got to see it through now. If not, it will have all been wasted.
“People say it’s unsustainable, but £10 million has gone into the club with zero debt. It’s either been gifted or transferred into shares.
“All the debts the club had been and the bank overdraft have gone.
“We’re now sat here with record revenues, potentially season-ticket sales of 1,500 for next season, a fan base in the top-ten of non-league – and all without a pound of debt. We’re probably financially safer than any football club at this level.
“We’ve built a proper football club too. Sometimes when a club grows, it can lose the feeling of togetherness and community, but I think we’ve made it stronger.
“Yes, we’ve struggled this season (on the pitch), but the whole club has grown with disability, ladies’ teams etc. and we’re grabbing more of the community.”
Never one to do things by halves, Donald has hired five chefs for the new restaurant, Sherwoods – named after former chairman and manager Roger Sherwood - which will be open daily to the general public. Crockery and cutlery alone cost £35,000,
All told, there will be ten to 12 full-time staff looking after the new building plus a raft of part-time staff, subject to demand.
“We’ll have a bank of around 40 staff just for Sherwoods and Brooks so, from a community perspective, we’re providing a lot of jobs,” said Donald.
“The original budget for the new building was £1.3 million but we went over for two reasons.
"To get planning permission we had quite stringent standards to build to which led to additional cost.
“Also, we went for a higher-end finish which will be beneficial in the long run with more visitors and more opportunities to hire it out.
“The upstairs was sold out on Saturday and looks like it may be for the entire new season.
“It doesn’t look like we’ve built it big enough!” he smiled.