05:56PM, Thursday 28 November 2019
Maidenhead United’s chairman Peter Griffin and chief executive Jon Adams outlined the reasons and potential benefits of a proposed move from York Road to Braywick Park at a fans’ Q&A in the football club’s Stripes Bar on Monday night.
Last week the Magpies released a statement announcing their intention to explore a move away from York Road – the oldest continually used ground in world football.
It met a mixed response from supporters on social media but, in front of 50 or so fans, Peter and Jon were afforded an opportunity to put forward their case for the move.
With York Road in a dilapidated state, and with considerable expenditure needed to counter this, they feel now is the right time to seek a new venue and have targeted Maidenhead Athletic Club’s (MAC) running track as their preferred location.
The club have held positive discussions with key stakeholders on the Braywick Park site, including Maidenhead RFC, SportsAble and MAC and have asked the Royal Borough to agree in principle to the move, something which will be considered by the end of the year.
“We know how important it is to you as supporters not to lose who we are as a club,” said Jon.
“It’s a difficult decision but we think it’s the right and responsible thing to do. We know the supporters hold York Road very dear and the history here will be difficult to walk away from.
“But, if we’re going to be a modern, progressive, football club that is viable, we think it’s our responsibility to explore this option.
“We have now made a formal request to the local authority to see if they will considerthe club relocating and building a new ground at Braywick Park. While we’re quite advanced in our thinking, looking at the feasibility of what could be achieved. It’s still very early days in terms of timescale. We can’t think about relocation until we’ve got a suitable site to move to, so we’ve engaged with the landowners, which is the local authority (Royal Borough) to see clarification from them early doors as to whether they’re supportive of the move in principle.”
Some funds from the sale of York Road would be used to improve and refurbish facilities of the other clubs – including the build of a new running track for MAC – with Jon insisting the club was working to find ‘a solution which worked for all’, not to bully their way onto the park.
The idea is to create what they hope will become a ‘Maidenhead campus’ for sport at Braywick Park, with the town’s sports clubs all in the same area alongside the new leisure centre, currently being built.
There are many planning hurdles and likely objections from residents to be overcome, but they feel they can lessen the impact of traffic congestion on Braywick Road by putting on shuttle buses for fans and encouraging others to walk there.
They believe, if planning hurdles are successfully overcome, they could move into their new ground in as little as three years and wouldn’t vacate York Road until the new stadium is completed. Peter and Jon also stressed their desire to take some of the character of York Road to the new development and insisted there wouldn’t be a running track around the pitch. It’s also possible for the existing – and recently constructed Railway side stand to be taken down and rebuilt to form part of the new ground.
Fans have also speculated on social media that the sale of York Road would generate a windfall for the club, but Peter insisted they would put every penny they receive from the ground sale into the new development – the more they get the more they will be able to do in terms of creating new facilities and associated astroturf training pitches.
Jon said “We want to secure the opportunity for us to be, not only a successful club but also a sustainable one, that’s not dependent on external investors. That requires facilities and not just sports facilities. It’s about creating a business model that has a range of income streams that would give us real strength going forward and would mean we don’t have to rely on a Peter (Griffin).
Peter added: “There’s no reason why we can’t secure a very nice deal here (for York Road) that secures us a very nice new ground (at Braywick) with its associated facilities.
Having already purchased the former Desborough Bowls Club land, Peter stated that Shanly Homes would ‘have an interest’ in buying the York Road site. And he admitted that Desborough BC’s move to its fantastic new facility at Green Lane had been something of an eye-opener for the club.
Pressed by supporters the pair said they’d explored every possible option for remaining at York Road, including turning the pitch 90 degrees and building homes around it, however, they couldn’t find one which would be in the long term interests of the club. Peter is keen to remain in charge for the foreseeable future and has been making up the club’s financial shortfall each season out of his own pocket, effectively keeping the club afloat and debt free.
He hopes a move to Braywick – with the attraction of a new stadium and facilities – will, in time, enable the club to become sustainable or better still profitable. He thinks it likely the move would also enable the first team squad to go full-time, thereby attracting a better calibre of player and opening the door for a potential push for league football.
Speaking at the meeting, supporter James Kopsch, 52, from Marlow Road, Maidenhead said: “The people who are really attached to the history thing. What I want them to realise is that history is still there. You think about Arsenal. They moved from Highbury, one of the most iconic grounds in the world.
"That history of Highbury is still there, it still exists. So the history of York Road, and no one has more history to lose in terms of time. It will still be there, it will still exist.
"The timing is only right if the right people are involved, and I genuinely believe that we’ve got the right people involved, and what they’re offering is the right thing for the club. I think we’re in safe hands.”
However, they were also keen to point out that no deal is better than a bad deal. If the figures don’t stack up, or they can’t find a way to make the move work with local residents or the other key stakeholders, they’ll remain at York Road.
A new Christmas light trail will open up at Windsor Great Park in November run by the same events company behind Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.