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Closure threat to BTC Sports Ground in Southampton
IT has been one of the jewels in Hampshire’s sporting crown for more than 80 years.
The BTC Sports Ground, in Stoneham Lane, Swaythling , has played host to football matches for thousands of youngsters across the county since it was opened back in 1928.
Now its future hangs in the balance after volunteers revealed that running the ground is becoming “not financially viable”.
The situation has become so perilous that the 14-acre site, which is home to five football pitches, changing rooms and a clubhouse, could be forced to close in as little as six weeks.
Council chiefs last night ruled out a move to save the ground from oblivion.
Damon Brown, chairman of BTC Southampton Football Club, said the site, which is leased to the club by Southampton City Council, only had a “50- 50” chance of survival, unless it can secure vital funding.
Mr Brown told the Daily Echo that the club, which is one of the founding members of the Southampton Football League, had been trying to win grants for the past ten years, from organisations including the Big Lottery Fund and Sport England. The frustration at being continuously refused help has even led Mr Brown, and club secretary Steve Gray, to resign from their posts as of September 1.
The club, which has about 350 footballers on its books, ranging from the under-eights squad to its five adult teams, needs about £50,000 to keep up with rising energy bills and carry out vital work to the ground, including the conversion of old tennis courts into a new car park.
The recent torrential rain has worsened the situation, forcing Mr Brown to cancel matches, training sessions and tournaments because the club’s car park has only 25 spaces and the overflow field is too boggy for vehicles to park on.
It is a move that has cost the club up to £400 per match day in lost pitch rental income and food and drink sales.
Mr Brown told the Daily Echo: “Over the past few years we have got bigger and bigger as a club, but we are in a situation now where we need to increase the amount of sport we can have here and improve the facilities on offer.
“We have been trying to get grants but have been continually knocked back. People think that we have lots of money but we don’t.
“It’s frustrating that BTC, a club that’s been thriving on this land since 1948, has just been left to one side with the attitude that ‘they will always be there’.
“But now it’s got to the stage where it’s not financially viable anymore and no one seems to want to help.
“People won’t realise what a great job our volunteers do and what brilliant facilities these are until they are gone.
“In an Olympic year when it’s all meant to be about getting people into sport and leaving a legacy, it’s disheartening that we don’t fall into a category that people want to give money to.
“But I will do my absolute utmost until August 31 to keep the ground open.
“The future of the club is not at stake but in the long term it could be because the ground and the club go hand in hand.”
If the club cannot raise £50,000 it may be forced to end the lease, which would see BTC playing elsewhere and the land back under council control.
Mr Brown fears that civic chiefs may have the sports ground earmarked for a housing development or a park and ride scheme.
But city council leisure boss Cllr Warwick Payne said that he wanted BTC to remain on site for the remainder of its 25-year lease, which was handed to the club by the previous Conservative administration two years ago.
Cllr Payne said: “The city council is rather short on resources at the moment, so we couldn’t fund the scheme. We will try to help BTC get new streams of funding and make sure we are not a barrier for them in terms of doing that.
“BTC do a wonderful job. This is one of the best facilities to play football in Hampshire and we don’t want to lose it.
“We are on their side and will do what we can to help them get the grants they need.”