‘Beyond a joke’ – Dismayed York City FC chairman blasts community stadium saga

Looking ’to build the best leisure, sport and health offer for the city‘
3 Feb 2016 @ 8.08 pm
| News, Sport

“Beyond a joke” – that’s how York City FC chairman Jason McGill has described the latest delays to the community stadium plans.

Clearly frustrated and angry, Jason took to the BBC Radio York airwaves to compare the saga to the “fiasco” of the Lendal Bridge closure – and said further setbacks could have a “terminal effect on the football club”.

But City of York Council leader Chris Steward said delivering the Huntington stadium was “an absolute top priority”, and blamed the problems on the previous administration.

‘This situation is unprecedented’

Under the original plans, the York Community Stadium was due to have been built in 2011.

The last official statement said it would finally open between April and June 2017.

But even that date has now been thrown into doubt. The York Press reported that a key meeting had been delayed by three months, sparking fears that the stadium wouldn’t be ready for the start of the 2017/18 season.

That followed the community stadium project manager Tim Atkins, appointed in 2008, leaving to take up another post down south.

York City are supposed to ground-share the new stadium with rugby league club York City Knights. At the moment both clubs are sharing Bootham Crescent.

Talking to Georgey Spanswick At Breakfast on Radio York, Jason McGill said there was a lot of anger among the supporters.

When I’ve spoken to people at the Football League and at the Football Foundation and the football industry in general, this situation is unprecedented.

They’ve never had a situation like this regarding a new stadium and a football club.

It’s getting beyond a joke.

Dismayed by council

‘Disappointed and dismayed’: York City chairman Jason McGill
‘Disappointed and dismayed’: York City chairman Jason McGill

Even after asking the council to clarify the latest developments the club hadn’t heard anything – and so were still assuming the stadium would be open by spring 2017.

“It’s come as a little bit of a shock to hear this from Cllr Steward via the media.

“I’m disappointed and dismayed really because I don’t believe it’s the right way to treat a partner, especially the football club that contributing £2 million to the project, and will be a major tenant at the new stadium.”

Did this put a question mark over the future of the club?

“Well yes it does,” Jason told Georgey. “The new stadium was supposed to generate income.

“The new stadium effect with increased crowds would allow the club to operate on a break even basis.”

“I believe that the delay will have a terminal effect on the football club.”

‘Increasingly difficult’

Jason compared the current state of the community stadium plan to the decision by the previous council administration to close Lendal Bridge to traffic.

“If people thought Lendal Bridge was a fiasco, I think the City of York council will understand the feelings of the supporters when the truth comes to light about this,” he said.

Jason, who took over as chairman in 2008, remained “fully committed to the club”.

But “it’s becoming increasingly difficult when there’s a City of York council that seem to not want to help and support us with new community-benefiting, aspirational, ambitious sporting facilities that the city deserves”.

And he added:

I said this in 2004, I said to the councillors: Please don’t make the stadium a political football, it should have cross party support. It does seem now to me that this plea has fallen on deaf ears.

Fans’ view

Malcolm Clarke, chair of the Football Supporters' Federation. Photograph: YouTube
Malcolm Clarke, chair of the Football Supporters’ Federation. Photograph: YouTube

Malcolm Clarke is a York City supporter – and also the chairman of the Football Supporters’ Federation.

He told Georgey that the current situation was “a bit of a sorry mess”

I can’t recall a similar case to this anywhere in football where a new ground has been apparently agreed, and then subject to these quite extraordinary delays.

It’s quite a disgraceful state of affairs in my view.

‘We will deliver’

City leader Cllr Steward said on Radio York: “It’s clear the council, as an entity, has let down the people in York over how long this process has taken.”

But he made it clear that the problems were deep-seated, and began much earlier than last May, when the Tory-Lib Dem coalition took over control of York council from the Labour group.

“If I was to start pinning at [Jason McGill’s] door the likes of the disgraceful goings on of [previous York City chairmen] Douglas Craig, the disgraceful goings on of John Bachelor, he would rightly take exception to that.

“York City was in an absolutely awful mess because of the actions of previous chairmen, and Jason McGill has found himself in a position where he is sorting that out.

“We are in exactly the same position as a council. The project is years and years late it is basically seven months into our administration.”

Cllr Steward added:

We’ve been absolutely clear as an administration that we will deliver this community stadium. That stands there as fact.

So people that say it’s never been viable or we’ve never liked it – we have said we will deliver it but we’re finding the best way to do that.

It’s an absolute top priority to get this stadium delivered, absolutely 100% focused on it.

He said there will be an 8,000-seater stadium, and an executive paper in March would set out “exactly where we are”.