Football clubs plan joint stadium bidBy Adam Lee
October 20, 2011
The borough’s two biggest football clubs have announced plans to join forces in order to realise a radical vision for sport in Wokingham.
Despite providing football for approximately 1,000 boys, girls, men and women from the local area, both Wokingham and Emmbrook FC and Woodley Town FC have failed to gain permission from Wokingham Borough Council to establish permanent stadiums in recent years.
But by lobbying some of the major development stakeholders within local government, Wokingham president Mark Ashwell and Woodley chairman Mark Rozzier are setting their sights on providing a sporting facility that will benefit the entire borough.
The long-term vision is to see Wokingham & Emmbrook, Woodley Town, and all the other football clubs in the area collaborate in order to feed a parent team, Wokingham Borough FC, who could potentially go on to challenge in the upper echelons of non-league football.
By taking on the running of a community facility, they hope to gain the backing of other clubs in the area, as well as the council, so as to provide a sporting capability that would be open to anyone in Wokingham and also be in keeping with the government’s dream of a ‘big society’.
Mr Ashwell and Mr Rozzier envisage a football stadium capable of supporting a club through the non-league football pyramid, with the infrastructure that would provide playing and training facilities for many of the borough’s football teams of all abilities, from junior through to senior levels.
Ideally, they aim to breathe new life into the Cantley Park project, a venture that Wokingham & Emmbrook pursued unsuccessfully three years ago.
With Woodley Town’s support, and perhaps in time many of the other football clubs in the area, Mr Ashwell believes this could be a far more appealing proposition for the council.
But, should Cantley Park in Twyford Road prove to be unobtainable, then the duo will also look to pursue other avenues of development.
Mr Ashwell said: “The ‘localism’ issue is very much a national issue at the moment so why couldn’t we, as two football clubs, take over Cantley Park and run that as a business?
“We could take it away from the council and get the community to run it.
“To have two football clubs, who really cover the higher echelons of football in the Wokingham borough, aiming at one team to represent them at the top with other clubs feeding into it, is quite a nice vision.
“As a councillor, MP or developer, you really need to listen to that.
“These schemes have happened – it's about people getting together as a community and adopting a facility and making it work.
“That is what the government is all about right now – localism.
“Our vision is a team for the borough with the likes of ourselves, Reeves Rangers, Ashridge Park, Winnersh Rangers, Woodley Hammers etc being represented by a Wokingham Borough FC – that’s the aim.”
Both Wokingham and Woodley currently play in the Hellenic Football League, and in order to meet the league's ground standards, Wokingham rent Bracknell Town’s Larges Lane ground, while Woodley Town play at East Park Farm in Charvil on a pitch provided by the council.
Both clubs know that their respective long-term futures are not sustainable in the current situation, but by pooling their resources and joining forces with the other junior and adult clubs in the area, they believe they can set the standard for how community football clubs can operate in years ahead.
And Woodley chairman Mr Rozzier believes the local football community must act sooner rather than later.
“Whenever people hear the word collaboration, they automatically ask if it is a merger,” said Mr Rozzier.
“We don’t know what it is yet or what it may be in five, 10, or 15 years.
“What we do know is Wokingham & Emmbrook have struggled consistently to find a ground, while we at Woodley are faced with the same issue and we could soon find ourselves going backwards.
“You could have a tribalism view, with everyone having their own little clubs, but that is holding everyone back now. A lot of clubs in a small area are chasing the same players, the same sponsors, the same help from the council, and somewhere along the line something has to give.
“Us talking is a step in the right direction and once you have made that first step, the second step becomes easier.
“We now need to get the momentum going and convince people this does make sense.”
n Do you think this collaboration makes sense? Are you a representative from a sports club in the Wokingham area with a view on this proposal? If so, please contact us with your views by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visit getwokingham.co.uk.