SUPPORTERS of the ‘Save the Camrose’ campaign gathered in protest outside the Camrose ground on Saturday, calling on Basingstoke council to act now to ensure the site’s future as home of the town’s football club.

More than 80 people attended the event, organised by fans including ex-players Adrian Donnelly and Steve Frangou.

People travelled from all over to hear them speak and remember good times at the site, including supporters from Alton, Andover and even the Isle of Wight.

Basingstoke Gazette: Supporters gathered to protestSupporters gathered to protest

Speaking to the Gazette, Steve said: “For our group of ex-players, our day is done, but this is a facility that our town needs for generations to come.

“When I was 15 or 16, being able to train on the ground under floodlights, it was brilliant. It’s incredible, and it just needs to happen again. That's what our goal is.”

Commenting on Saturday’s event, he continued: “We have had a tremendous response from social media and it's incredible the amount of people that have commented about how many good times they have had at the Camrose, and that’s not just the football it’s the club house as well. There’s people who met their other half there, or got engaged there.

“I have been pleasantly surprised, as we have been moving along, how many people have become interested in this. I was gobsmacked, especially considering what was forecast to be a very wet and windy day.

“You don’t have to like football. The clubhouse had a membership of 2,000 at one point, with a waiting list! There’s no reason why that can’t still be a focus, not just for South Ham and Brighton Hill, but for the town.”

Basingstoke Gazette: Ex-player Steve Frangou addressed the crowd.Ex-player Steve Frangou addressed the crowd.

The campaigners are calling on the council, which owns 29 per cent of the site, to buy the ground in its entirety from co-owner Basron and develop it into a sporting hub for both the football club and wider community.

“It’s gone quiet for a little while, and what we have done is just woken everybody up, even the councillors, and said we are still here,” said Steve.

“For those who couldn’t make it, they can still help by emailing councillors and our MP.

“My annoyance is when people put ‘It’s an eyesore, bulldoze it.’ They need to remember that you could end up throwing away something that has been given to the town, a recreational facility. The landowners have clearly and deliberately run the stadium down and that will attract our less well behaved teenagers and people to carry out damage.

“None of us can deny that at the moment it looks an eyesore, but there’s a reason for this, and there’s no reason why it can’t be cleared up!”

Basingstoke Gazette: John McGarvey, Kevin Miller & Pat McCarthyJohn McGarvey, Kevin Miller & Pat McCarthy

Five security officers and a police officer were in attendance at the event, which Steve described as “fair enough”, adding: “But it does make you laugh because no one was there before and no one has been there when the vandalism has taken place.

“Obviously we couldn’t go into the grounds and we made no attempt to. We gathered everybody together and I took an old ladder and I stood on that to speak to them about why we were there.”

A Hampshire Constabulary spokesperson said: “We were aware of a planned protest at Camrose Football Club that was due to take place yesterday morning (24 July). An officer from the local Neighbourhood Policing Team attended and the event passed peacefully with no issues.”

During his speech, Steve drew comparisons with other similar facilities, such as that of Crawley Town, who he often played against as a team member and where a brand new, council-owned stadium was built in a very similar area to the Camrose in terms of surroundings.

He also quoted statistics, including that since 1950 the Camrose has been used for 136 “extra” matches on top of Basingstoke Town first and reserve team fixtures, “to involve the community”, as well as that there are 25 football grounds in leagues above Basingstoke which are council-owned, some of which have arisen from local authorities stepping in to save the grounds from private owner development.

Basingstoke Gazette: Kenny James, grandson of 'The Camrose Scandal' author David GrahamKenny James, grandson of 'The Camrose Scandal' author David Graham

“The council is one of the richest councils in the country. I would like to see more people keeping the pressure eon councillors that this is imperative, that the ground comes back,” Steve said.

“It was taken away so underhandedly, [Basron] went behind everybody’s backs and sneakily did what they did and I think the ace card is with the council.

“They have the ability to stop this from happening and become sort of a Lord Camrose, develop that ground and give it back to the town.”

Sending a direct message to the authority he added: “Put something there that you will always be remembered for. History is watching you.”

All images: Robert Hall photogrpahy