Rugby chairman kicked into touch as community stadium row gets nasty

6 Jan 2015 @ 9.43 pm
| News, Sport
Trying times… an artist’s impression of what the stadium would look like on a rugby night

Its name suggests a city coming together to play, watch and enjoy sport. But York Community Stadium is fast running out of community spirit.

Work should start to build the 8,000 seat stadium and leisure complex at Monks Cross, Huntington, later this year. The idea is to provide a sparkling new home for both the York City football and York City Knights rugby league clubs.

But City of York Council announced on Tuesday (January 6) that it will no longer negotiate with York City Knights chairman John Guildford. Any future correspondence will be via the lawyers.

Why? In a statement Sarah Tanburn, the interim director for city and environmental services at the council, said that the council no longer has confidence in the working relationship with Mr Guildford.

She said that Mr Guildford has:

used numerous threats of litigation and formal legal process in an attempt to better his terms

lodged objections to planning submissions impeding the project’s progress

made a number of serious – and unfounded – allegations towards both the authority and individual staff members

made a series of misleading statements via the media.

Legal dispute

York City Knights’ 25-year home – council-owned Huntington Stadium – is to be demolished to make way for the new arena.

With their lease ended, Knights were to ground share with York City FC at their Bootham Crescent home until the community stadium was ready.

But Mr Guildford said this pledge was watered down to a promised stay of only two years at Bootham Crescent. That potentially would have left the Knights homeless in the event of a delay to the new stadium’s opening date of 2016.

The club took legal action and now the arrangement that the Knights could play at Bootham Crescent – and train at York St John University’s new sports facilities – has been withdrawn.

‘All is well’ – or not…

John Guildford, York City Knights chairman. Photograph: Twitter
As recently as December 1, 2014 John Guildford had assured fans that “all is currently well at the club“.

He said:

“If they now only want to give assurances for two years, that’s a breach of the planning conditions. It needs to be until the new stadium is built.

“I’m sure it will be fine, though. The council’s enforcement department have been advised of the breach and are investigating this and we are optimistic that it will be resolved satisfactorily.”

But then a friendly match between York City Knights and Hull FC – due to take place at Bootham Crescent this Sunday (January 11) – had to be moved to the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster.

In a statement, Homeless Knights forced out of York, the club said the move would cost it £10,000.

A club spokesman said:

“We are disappointed that promises and assurances have not been met by York City Council, but we will just bat on until we hear from the council on the reasons why they have not been in contact with the club since early November 2014.

“We are optimistic that the issues can be resolved very quickly once the council confirms when we can meet.”

Council breaks its silence

The council kept quiet until today’s unprecedented named attack on John Guildford.

This is their response:

“The council has developed a package of agreements in negotiation with Mr Guildford over the last two years to be part of the Community Stadium development, which included arrangements for interim fixtures at Bootham Crescent and training facilities at York St John University’s new purpose built sports village.

“These agreements offered the Knights a fantastic range of facilities and secured a commercially sustainable future for the Knights.

“In September 2014 Mr Guildford agreed to these terms, then did not sign the agreements, seeking further improvement of his position.

“He then used formal legal process to contest his vacation from the bar at Huntington Stadium in another attempt to improve his position. At this stage the council was forced to withdraw from negotiations to protect the financial and legal interests of the council.”

– Sarah Tanburn

The council said it was informed on December 16 that Mr Guildford had “‘unreservedly withdrawn’ all allegations made recently against the council”.

Despite this, given the frequent threats, change of position and brinksmanship, we no longer have the necessary confidence in the working relationship with Mr Guildford or trust in his good faith to enable negotiations with him on the community stadium development.

– council statement

Clubs at loggerheads

In response to the council’s statement, Mr Guildford told the Press that:

“This has confirmed my original concerns that there is a conspiracy to try to get ownership of York City Knights to York City football club.”

And he tweeted:

Last month York City FC agreed with City of York Council a long term tenancy at the new stadium.

That followed an August deal which made the football club responsible for operating and managing the stadium, and the conferencing and hospitality for the first 13 years.

That led to this tweet from York City Knights:

This is what Sophie McGill, York City’s community and communications director, said in response the latest developments:

“Following a meeting of the York City board of directors to discuss the issue, we have reached the conclusion that, like City of York Council, we also no longer have confidence in a working relationship with John Guildford.

“We have always planned for York City Knights to play at Bootham Crescent and this is still firmly our position. However, we are only willing to look at this option further if York City Knights are under different ownership.”

Fans’ fury

Rugby fans have not been impressed by the council’s approach to the Knights.

But the council says it “remains strongly committed to the success of professional rugby league in York and the use of the stadium for both rugby league and football”.