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Ben Hayes - Charlton Athletic programme

When a new stadium is a liability


One of the problems of football finance is that the stadium is a capital asset which is used for its main purpose at most about twenty-five times a year.  Football clubs have made efforts to hire out their function rooms for conferences and meetings, but this is a competitive market and one that has been hit by the recession.   I have seen novel solutions abroad, for example at Utrecht in the Netherlands where there are shops and small businesses in the space available under the rising stands.  But there isn't much you can do with the pitch itself between matches if you want to keep it in good condition.  In ice hockey, the rink can be used for skating in between games.

'Ambitious' clubs, which is often a code word for those who want to spend money they haven't got, often signal their aspirations with new stadiums.  It was one of the main factors that led to Southampton going into administration, albeit they have emerged from it in good shape and with a splendid new stadium.   Moreover, Southampton are a former Premiership club with a large fan base whose development was held back by the cramped conditions at The Dell.

That sort of logic does not work in the case of Darlington which opened a 25,000 capacity arena in 2003 when the club has a fanbase that rarely peaks beyond 3,000.  Not surprisingly, the club went into administration last February with losses of more than £54,000 a week.   Even when the club was doing well, it was rarely more than a fifth full.  New owner Raj Singh not unreasonably sees the stadium as a noose round the club's neck, but solutions like closing parts of it down would probably not save that much money.   You have to be careful what you wish for.