FOOTBALL fans gathered outside the council’s offices to protest against the plight of their beloved club.

Followers of Basingstoke Town Football Club (BTFC) joined together to urge Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council (BDBC) to help ensure the club will not be forced to play outside of the borough.

Last week, BTFC announced it would share Farnborough Football Club’s Rushmoor Community Stadium – which would involve a 32-mile round trip for fans wishing to watch their ‘home’ team.

In a bid to ensure this does not happen, a campaign group called Keep Football In Basingstoke (KFIB) launched a petition against outgoing chairman Rafi Razzak’s plans to move the club out of the Camrose – BTFC’s home for more than 70 years.

Mr Razzak announced in November he would be leaving the club, ending his ongoing financial support at the end of the football season.

As part of his departure, Mr Razzak said he wants to reclaim money owed to him.

This means the Camrose will be sold immediately after the club’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.

However the club’s two preferred options, building a smaller ground on the current Camrose site or redeveloping Hampshire FA’s Winklebury premises, have now fallen apart. Simon Hood, founder of KFIB, was asked to address the council at a meeting last Thursday.

He asked the council whether it will grant Mr Razzak planning permission to build on the Camrose site, if it would sell him its 29 per cent stake in the site and whether the council wanted a football club in the town’s name playing at a level appropriate for the town’s population size and at a modern stadium within the town.

Cllr Simon Bound, cabinet member for communities and community safety at BDBC, said: “I have had discussions with Basingstoke Town Football Club for some time and at an urgently arranged meeting on Tuesday of this week they told us of their plans to ground share with Farnborough for next season.

“While, as widely reported, I still do not understand the rush to vacate the Camrose Stadium, I share the fans’ concern about trying to understand a clear way forward to keep the club in the borough and indeed the town.”

Cllr Bound said he didn’t believe the club or the land owners had begun a planning process or that the council had not received any request to sell its stake in the land to Mr Razzak.

He added: “The club has put forward the ground share with Farnborough as a short term option while they fully investigate the future of the Camrose site. I believe every councillor would like to see that include plans for upgrading the stadium at the current site. I have always said that finding another suitable site is likely to take time and that there are no ‘easy option’ pieces of public land or indeed land in private ownership.

“On Tuesday the club did share with me that they are looking at other longer term locations in the borough and I urged them to ensure that they investigate these options through our planning team and gain local community support.”

The council said the matter would be forwarded to a community, environment and partnerships committee meeting.

Training is not affected by BTFC row

DESPITE Basingstoke Town Football Club (BTFC) being unable to use its Camrose ground next season, its academy, youth coaching and clubhouse will be unaffected by the ongoing row over the club’s stadium and future.

Last month, club bosses confirmed that if no alternative site in the town can be found to home BTFC, it would groundshare with Farnborough FC – a site that is over a 30-mile round trip away.

But in a statement released by Basingstoke Interim Management Group, which has been co-ordinating discussions about the club’s future, it said the only restriction at the club next season will be that no sports, including football, could be played on the ground’s main pitch. Use of the training pitches and astroturf will continue as normal.

Will Wilkinson, head of digital and marketing and a member of the IMG, said: “Every member of the IMG recognises that this is an extremely difficult time for the club and that our fans, players and the parents of children utilising the Camrose facilities are all seeking reassurances, so we hope that this brief statement helps to allay fears that the community may have.

“For the IMG, it is business as usual and we are 100 per cent focused on moving through this challenging period and becoming a stronger, united and community-orientated club going forward.”

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