Grays Athletic supporters will currently be biting their fingernails down to their elbows, as tomorrow a group of local councillors will decide whether the club can move into Thurrock FC's former ground at Ship Lane.
As we advised you here just before Christmas, a developer has offered the club the freehold of the old stadium- subject to planning permission being granted for a car preparation site adjacent to the stadium. Highways England and Sport England have been supportive of this venture, but the local planning officers are less enthusiastic- but as they were similarly unenthusiastic about Tilbury's application to build a new ground only for the council to accept the Dockers plans, Athletic are undaunted and remain hopeful of a positive outcome.
Grays Director Glyn Jarvis has written to the planning committee on behalf of the club, outlining once more why an acceptance of the proposal would be good for the local community.
'The Club supports the retention of the private land, which was previously used as the Thurrock Football Club main pitch, for continued football use. As part of the planning permission, we will enter into a binding agreement for the land to be used for football purposes in perpetuity and sign a Community Use Agreement, prepared in conjunction with Sport England, to secure the wider community use of the facilities for football over the long term.
We will use the pitch for competitive games and training for our first team and Under 23 team, which will take about 50 per cent of available pitch time. The other 50 per cent will be devoted to a women’s team, boys and girls youth football, disability football, “walking football” (for the over 50s), “end of season” local youth cup finals and the staging of some charity matches supporting good causes. It would also release 120 hours at Aveley Football Club’s Parkside ground for other community football use, which our first team currently uses for our games.
It was stated in the officer’s report – page 21 paragraph 7.32, that “it is considered unlikely that the pitch could tolerate more intensive community use beyond the ‘primary’ use by the GAFC first team. Therefore, compared to a 3G pitch, community use of the existing playing pitch would offer very little benefit.” We feel this is an unfair assessment of our plans for community use at Ship Lane. Many other senior non-league clubs with grass pitches pride themselves on their commitment to make their facilities available in the community and we have every intention of doing the same as described earlier by ensuring that about half of the available pitch time will be for the wider community. We acknowledge that a 3G artificial pitch would be a better long term option and if funding became available, we could increase community involvement even further.
The Club is a full member of the Football Association and became 100% supporter owned and run in 2016, when it was granted permission by the Football Association to transfer our membership structure from a private club to community ownership. We are one of the first football clubs in the country to be owned by their supporters. We have been without a home ground since 2010 when the Recreation Ground in Grays, which we had occupied from 1906, was sold by the private landowners for housing and we have ground shared with other clubs since 2010.
Despite not having our own facilities, we have developed an open and inclusive community ethos with over 20 teams comprising more than 400 players, boys and girls, including many youngsters who had previously been associated with Thurrock FC before that club folded in 2018. The Club has players through all age groups from our girls starting at four years of age – our “Wildcats” – to our “Walking Footballers” aged 50 to 75, who all play under our name. Hundreds of local parents have been able to encourage their children to participate in football, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide affordable “football for fun” and competitive football for all our age groups, due to the unavailability of pitches and spaces in the Borough.
The Council recently adopted their Active Place Strategy which recognises the lack of good quality grass football pitches in Thurrock. The closure of the Thurrock FC facilities in 2018 has exacerbated an already difficult situation, especially for our younger boys and girls, whose wellbeing is being badly affected by being prevented from using football to help reduce obesity, enjoy a healthier life style and have important social interaction with other young people. The retention of the main pitch at Ship Lane, the £500,000 being made available for improvement to existing football pitch provision in Belhus Park and the release of 120 hours of the Aveley Football Club Parkside facility for community football use, will go some way to help to relieve some of the pressure on the very limited spaces currently available for community football in Thurrock.'
You can watch the Planning Committee live by heading to the Thurrock Council You Tube Channel, which you will find here. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6PM on Thursday 25th February.
The very best of luck to all associated with the club, who certainly deserve to be nomads no more!