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Whyteleafe FC and Abingdon Town leave non-league after losing their stadiums

calendario 17.06.2021
by: Zach
  • England
  • Isthmian
  • Uhlsport Hellenic League
Whyteleafe FC and Abingdon Town leave non-league after losing their stadiums

Two non-league clubs withdrew from their respective leagues following leasing disputes with the same landlords, the Singaporean property developer Irama.

Abingdon Town FC, formed in 1870, are one of the oldest football clubs in the world. However, according to a club statement issued ‘with regret and sadness’, the club ‘will not be playing in next season’s Hellenic League’. According to their statement, ‘the club has been forced to give up its Step 6 status after the new owners of Culham Road were unable to negotiate a new lease’. These ‘new owners’, Irama PTE LTD, bought Culham Road at the end of 2020. Abingdon’s ground had been for sale for years, but as financial difficulties escalated during the pandemic, the club found itself in a vulnerable position. 

Officials at Whyteleafe Town, the other club evicted from their ground, echo a similar vulnerability felt across grassroots football. According to Whyteleafe’s statement, their ground, Church Road, ‘was purchased by Irama last year after the previous owners went into administration’. Both stories follow a pattern, as the same overseas investors capitalised on financial difficulties exacerbated by the pandemic.

Whyteleafe’s statement paints a bleaker picture than Abingdon’s admits. The Leafes allege that the ‘new owners of Church Road refused to negotiate a new lease’, and ‘activated a break clause to terminate the club’s lease’. This concerning indictment, in the face of Whyteleafe having ‘believed Irama were acting in good faith’, strikes a ‘devastating blow’ to the club’s fortunes. It also raises worrying questions about ownership and capital in grassroots football, haunted by the ghosts of projects like the European Super League.

Basingstoke Town FC, a club similarly evicted from their historic ground, summed the situation up on social media. The club lost their Camrose ground in 2019 following a failed bid to sell the stadium for development plans. After the Whyteleafe and Abingdon stories emerged, Basingstoke reacted with ‘sounds familiar?’ They followed this rhetorical question with the statement that ‘enough is enough’, as ‘too many clubs are suffering at the hands of individual greed’. 

Perhaps, as Whyteleafe play(ed) in the same league as Boris Johnson’s constituency club Uxbridge, the government will take necessary steps to protect historic grassroots grounds from developers.

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