AFC TOTTON have voted to sell their Testwood Stadium ground in order to clear their mountain of debt.
Two proposals were put to the membership at a full members’ meeting last night and the vote went unanimously in favour of finalising a deal with one of the interested parties.
Since selling their run-down, old Testwood Park home and moving to a brand new, purpose-built £2.9m stadium in Salisbury Road, the Stags have struggled to keep their heads above water financially.
The cost of utility bills has been crippling and things came to a head towards the end of last season when it emerged that the 128-year-old club were some £200,000 in debt.
The top priority this term was to pay the money owed to last season’s playing staff but, having just experienced one of the wettest winters on record which forced several postponements, chairman Andy Straker admitted: “The debt is still substantial and has not come down as much as we wanted.
“There were two propositions put forward last night, both involving the sale of ground to clear the debt and to leave us with money to kick off next season in the Southern League with a playing budget.”
Back in January, Totton confirmed they were in preliminary talks to sell the ground to Totton College and rent it back.
But it is understood that, due to government cutbacks, the college could not finance the deal.
Straker was unable to confirm the identity of either party now interested in buying the ground, but said: “The members voted in preference of one over the other and we hope to take that forward in the next couple of weeks, negotiating price, rent and so on and sorting out the legal side.”
Until recently, Totton’s membership had been loath to sell the ground but Straker said: “They’ve realised it’s one of the only options left.
“We were left with astronomical debts by the last executive and we have been fire-fighting with creditors. But the fact is that we still owe money and we have to pay it. The quicker we can pay the players, the better. They’ve waited far too long.”
But he stressed: “Selling the ground is about more than just buying us time, it’s about making sure the club thrives. “We’ll tie the new owners down to a lease to keep us here for the foreseeable future and make sure we survive as a football club. The average supporter won’t see a difference. “We will remain a members’ club and we believe we can cover our debts going forward and put money into the team. It’s the only way.
“It’s not just about us selling the ground and becoming a tenant. The interested buyers want to assist the club and help take it forward.
“Finally I can see an end to what’s been a vile, horrible 18 months for this football club.”