A GOVERNMENT minister has waded into the “regrettable” mess which is threatening to force the town’s football club away from the borough.
Sajid Javid, secretary of state for communities and local government, said the “relevant support” must be given to Basingstoke Town Football Club (BTFC) after it announced contingency plans to groundshare with Farnborough FC, if a new home for the club could not be found for next season.
At present, the club has found itself homeless for next season after its outgoing chairman Rafi Razzak announced in November he would be leaving the Southern Football League Premier Division outfit, ending his ongoing financial support at the end of the football season next month.
The Camrose, the club’s home of 70 years, is due to be sold after BTFC’s final home game on April 22, in order to allow Mr Razzak to apply for planning permission to build on the site and pay off loans he is owed by the club.
The club had two options to ensure the club stayed in the borough – including building a smaller ground on the Camrose site and redeveloping Hampshire FA’s Winklebury premises – but both have fallen through.
It leaves fans facing the prospect of a round trip of more than 30-miles to see their ‘home’ team. But speaking to The Gazette on a visit to Basingstoke, the former secretary of state for culture, media and sport said towns should always have their club at home.
Mr Javid added: “Football is an important part of town culture and something to be enjoyed.
“It helps make a town.
“It has to be given the relevant support and we have to make sure football clubs play in their own town.
“I know this council will do its best to support it and Maria has also been important in this.”
Last week, fans protested outside Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council (BDBC)’s offices to urge the council to help ensure the club will not be forced to move out of the town.
A petition launched by campaign group Keep Football In Basingstoke has also gained hundreds of signatures. Another protest is scheduled at the Hampshire Senior Cup Final. But following developments, dignitaries have had their say.
Nick Bitel, chair of Sport England, called the situation “extremely regrettable” but it was something the nondepartmental public body “has any ability to directly control.”
He added: “We would hope that the local council and the IMG may still find a solution which will not be detrimental to the community.
“It is certainly in Sport England’s interest to ensure all towns and cities have adequate programmes and facilities which meet the needs of the local people.”
Maria Miller, Basingstoke MP, said she would continue to fight for both the men’s and women’s club’s future after holding meetings with Mr Razzak last month.
She added: “We have the Hampshire FA who have been doing so much for the woman’s football team, which are so successful, playing in the league.
“We have to find a way to ensure their good work is continued and the hard work they have carried out not just given up.
“Now we have to make sure that the teams that play in the borough are protected and the men’s team can become as successful as the women’s.”