Chichester City are entering a huge period in their history as they prepare to find out which league they will be in next season – and whether they will remain in control of the lease on their ground.
City are on a high after winning the Southern Combination League premier division title and being promoted – for the first time in their history – to step four of non-league football. Now they hope Chichester District Council will give them a further boost by allowing them to remain as leaseholders of their Oaklands Park HQ.
There have been moves to hand the lease to another operator after past problems with how the club has been run, but those in charge of City now say they’re doing things the right way and are keen to continue.
Andy Bell, joint general manager of the football club, said: “If it is safe to say this season has been one of, if not the most successful in the club’s 146-year history, then this week is possibly the most important.
“The men’s first team will find out which division we will play in and more importantly we will submit our tender against other interested parties in the hope of winning the lease of Oaklands Park for the foreseeable future.
“Our club’s playing future at Oaklands has been guaranteed but we may no longer be in control of the site and buildings. The recent history of the club has been well documented and unfortunately the council, quite rightly, had a responsibility to step in and get things back under control.
“The good to come out of this was the formation of a management committee made up equally of members of the men’s, ladies and youth sections. The council granted us a short-term lease last season and the new committee, with a lot of us being new, have tried our best to move the club forward.”
City won the SCFL title last month with three games to spare and are hoping to move into the south-east division of the Bostik League. But other sections of the club have also been prospering.
City Ladies won the Sussex Women’s Challenge Cup and have finished in their highest legue position, third in the FA Women’s National League southern premier. Youth teams have also had success this season.
Bell said: “Retaining the lease is vital to our vision. Part of our tender is a commitment to move towards a 3G surface. This will not only benefit Chichester City FC but the community as a whole. The club have around 300 junior players and we want them to think of and use Oaklands Park as the focal point of the club.
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“Last weekend we had the boys’ section presentations and it was great to see everyone out on the pitch and having a good time. We have a fantastic facility that should be seen as the home of the club by everyone.
“We believe we are moving in the right direction and have seen increased crowds this season, with a lot of youth players being mascots and coming to games using our free-entry scheme for players and a parent, Chichester University students and 16-and-unders.
“We have received great comments this season but it is only fair to share the praise with everyone who has previously run the club because a lot of people have either rescued it or started the process of enabling us to achieve our goals this year.
“The club is now on a sound financial footing and effectively ring-fenced. The senior teams are run purely on fundraising and sponsorship and the management teams of both deserve great credit.
“We’ve proven this year the club and facilities can be run on a sustainable business model and we will strive to improve on this in the future. By August, we will have cleared a scary amount of debt and still be in profit. This is mainly down to the community supporting the club and using the facilities again.
“The city finally has a men’s step four club and the ladies and girls’ section is the envy of Sussex. We are hopefully just at the beginning of what we want to achieve. We all see running a football club as the whole package –running the bar, burger bar, functions, cutting the grass, everything that goes with a football club.
“The flip side (if the lease is awarded to someone else) is we effectively turn up, pay and play. It will save a lot of work but I doubt it will give the same sense of achievement.
“If I’m honest I think it will feel soulless and as though we have betrayed 146 years of history but we will keep going. The youth players will still need a pathway and we are the now the people responsible for that.
Bell’s message to local people is simple: “We will put in the best tender we can and keep our fingers crossed. The club is there for the local community and your support is vital. Anyone who wants to get involved is more than welcome. All we can promise is that if we get the lease, the club will continue moving forward.”
* Chichester City are running a sponsors’ draw with a main prize of men’s first-team shirt sponsorship. Entry is £150. The draw will take place after the home pre-season friendly with Worthing on July 27.
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