Ipswich Town Football Club’s Portman Road Ground

The last generation has seen a common theme amongst a number of football clubs – a new owner arrives, acquires the ground from the local authority (if they need to), and then looks to sell the land for a significant profit, while either not building an alternative, or being financially assisted by multinational companies to build a replacement on greenbelt land, in an out of town location, in order for the multinational companies to capitalize on the land losing its greenbelt status.

This summer, Brighton & Hove Albion finally moved into their new ground, fourteen years after their owners sold the Goldstone Ground, without buying a replacement (the site is now a retail park), instead agreeing a deal to ground-share with Gillingham FC, over seventy miles away.

The last decade at Wrexham has seen a number of property developers look to acquire the club, purely with a view to being able to sell the well located Racecourse Ground. It has only been in the last month that their fans have been able to engineer a deal to buy their club in order to secure their future.

If we look at the current financial turmoil at Plymouth Argyle, we see a club that just two seasons ago were preparing to host Ipswich in a Championship fixture, yet today sit at the bottom of the football league, in administration, with the future of their Home Park ground as key as the future of the club itself. The Pilgrim’s largest debt is that owed to the mortgage company that funded the recent improvements of the ground, and attempts to sell the club have revolved around the future of the ground, with the original preferred bidder seemingly intent on passing the club on (but not the ground) for a nominal fee, as soon as they purchased the club.

Ipswich Town have always been a fortunate Club in terms that they own all of the buildings on the land that the ground is situated on, yet the land itself is owned by Ipswich Borough Council. Such a situation has always protected the club from property developers and asset strippers, because the value is in the land, and not the fixtures and fittings situated on that land. However, over the last 24 hours, news has surfaced that Simon Clegg has again confirmed that the club had offered to purchase the land that the Club is situated on. Such a deal would put us in the same situation as those other clubs who have been forced out of their homes in the past.

These words may seem alarming, but with an owner who has talked to the fans on just a handful of occasions since he acquired the club four years ago, it is impossible for us to know his intentions – and those of his successors. Marcus Evans may be looking out for the best interests of the Club, in light of the current disagreement between the club and Ipswich Borough Council, but having seen so many clubs lose their homes through the actions of an unaccountable owner, we have to consider all options, even if those options may not come to pass for years, or even decades. However, if the Club buys the land, any attempt to stop a future sale of the land for personal profit will be at best difficult – which is why we have to speak up while the land is still owned by the Council.

Instead of changing the ownership or freehold status, we instead call on the Club, having resolved the current rent dispute, to look to the long term future and withdraw from attempting to buy the ground. Moreover should the Club continue to pursue this avenue, we call on the Council to stand firm and refuse all offers, regardless the temptations to cash in on such an asset at a time of austerity.

In amongst this story, the comments we find most disappointing are those from Simon Clegg regarding the suggestion that he may need to increase the cost of season tickets to cover the extra rent. The Club already has one of the most expensive ticket policies within the division, and for a Club that has an annual turnover of around £15million, £111,000 per year rent is not excessive (we are aware of higher private rents for much smaller buildings on the edge of town), and is less than 0.7% of the staff costs for the last year of annual accounts. In the current climate, Ipswich Borough Council, like most councils up and down the country has reduced funding from central government, and at a time when local public services and jobs are at risk, the Council and local taxpayers should not be subsidising private business activities.

The Committee
Ipswich Town Independent Supporters Trust

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