AFC TOTTON have confirmed they are in preliminary partnership discussions with Totton College which could result in the cash-strapped club selling their Testwood Stadium ground.
Although talks are still in their infancy, club members liked what they heard in Monday’s members-only meeting and have given the Stags their blessing for discussions with the college to continue.
With £170,000 of debt still to clear, the Calor Southern Premier Division outfit – who teetered on the brink of extinction last summer – are seeking the best way forward.
“The partnership would be about us working a lot closer with Totton College with them being able to use our ground, us using their facilities and whatever else comes out of the negotiations,” confirmed chairman Andy Straker.
“AFC Totton members were given a briefing on Monday on how we want to go forward and not a single one voted against us continuing our discussions with Totton College.”
When the Stags moved into their new £2.9m home in Salisbury Road in February 2011, it looked like the dawn of a bright, new era.
But the facilities have become a millstone round the neck of the 128-year-old club who, despite their best efforts this season, are still weighed down by debt and have already seen league rivals Hinckley United go under this season with reported debts of more than £200,000.
Asked whether Totton selling the ground to the college and renting it back was a possibility, Straker said: “It may well be an option, yes, with a peppercorn rent and them using the ground weekdays and us using it weekends and evenings.
“We’ve got £170,00 of debt to clear and, if that meant selling the ground, it’s something we might look at provided the agreement is watertight and we can be a successful club going forward.”
Straker, however, stressed that any sort of agreement is still a long way off.
“Both sides would need to be happy and understand the full implications of where we are going with it,” he said.
“AFC Totton would need to speak to the council and legal advisers and Totton College would need to get agreement at management and executive level.
“There’s loads of talking to be done and it’s not a foregone conclusion in any way, shape or form, but it was agreed by our membership that it’s the best way forward for the club.
“We’re hopeful, very hopeful, that we could come to an agreement that they (the college) would be happy with, we would be happy with, and would see Totton College having better facilities for their students and a full, proper future for AFC Totton.”
When the true extent of Totton’s financial problems came to light last summer, Alf Peckham – one of four trustees charged with safeguarding the Testwood Stadium for the benefit of the community – stated that the ground ‘belonged’ to the people of Totton and would not be sold.
But Straker said: “That was the view at the time, but times change and we have to do what’s best for the club. It’s all very well saying we own our own ground, but the bills for gas, rates, water, etc come to thousands of pounds a month. How can you get the debt down and still run the place? Without a massive injection of cash, you can’t.”
If any sort of partnership does goes ahead, it could open up the possibility of Totton College using the Testwood Stadium as an academy base similar to the one Aldershot/Sparsholt Colleges are currently setting up at the Portway Stadium, Andover.