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Category Archives: Woking FC ground redevelopment plans

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ILLUSTRATION: WOKING COMMUNITY STADIUM

The deadline is Friday 10 January to register support or objections to dramatic plans to redevelop Woking football club’s ground, with the aim of increasing its capacity and putting the National League club’s finances on a long-term, stable footing. It’s a plan that has enraged many living nearby, and looks like becoming Woking’s biggest planning row in many years.

In the red corner (Woking play in red and white) are the football club, developers GolDev, and, arguably, Woking borough council. In the other – let’s call it the blue corner – is South Woking Action Group, a vociferous band of local residents who deplore the number of tower blocks of flats included in the plans, and argue that the Cardinal Court development is completely out of keeping with the area.

Back in the red corner, the Woking Community Stadium website is urging supporters to sign up to back the project: “Please help ensure the council make the right decision about the future of Woking FC, its role in our community and the need for more high-quality homes in the borough.” It claims that “residents of Woking want regeneration and want to put our town and football club on the map”. [Well, not all residents, m’lud].

The website goes on to say: “The planning application for Woking Community Stadium was formally submitted on 2 December 2019 and we expect a decision from the council in early 2020. It is time to stand up for our town, community and club, and demand the progress most of us seem to agree is wanted and needed.”

Fighting talk, you might say. Interestingly, there is little or no mention of the more than 1,000 new homes in the blocks of flats planned around the stadium – the blocks that are at the heart of the residents’ objections.

ILLUSTRATION: WOKING COMMUNITY STADIUM

The financial justification for the scheme centres on the club’s current plight. The club says that the existing stadium is no longer fit for purpose and it can’t afford to carry out repairs that are needed. It survives on a “threadbare budget” – Woking is the only part-time club in the fifth-tier National League – “ultimately relying on volunteers and goodwill. The club can no longer rely on handouts to survive. The football club has been losing money for years and this plan will put us in a sound financial footing.”

The plan to increase capacity to around 9,000 – Woking currently averages crowds of just below 2,000 – is aimed at eventually securing the club’s promotion to the Football League. It is argued that more success will increase gates. The redevelopment will include shops aimed at serving the flats, and it is intended that the regular income from these retail outlets will secure the club’s finances.

The South Action Group (Swag) was formed soon after the plans were announced. It has an active social media presence and a smart logo. It argues that it is not against the football club improving the ground, but would like to see it done on a piecemeal approach, and fears that this big redevelopment is over-ambitious, and could actually lead to the club folding.

South Woking Action GroupIn a series of social media postings, it has listed its fears and objections. These include allegations that the developer is indulging in “false advertising”, that the development does not include the right kind of housing, the sewerage system could not cope, and that Woking council is loaning £250m to the developers when it is already one of the most indebted local authorities in the country.

A few months ago members of the action group picketed Woking fans as they were entering the ground for a home game, handing out leaflets that explained their objections. Wokingmatters encountered one objector as he went in, who on inquiry turned out to be a former season-ticket holder at the club. In recent days the action group said that three of its protest placards had disappeared from residential properties. The developers have already reduced the stadium’s projected capacity from 10,000 to 9,000, and added a health centre, after councillors asked them to revise the plans following residents’ objections.

The developer GolDev headed by Wayne Gold has a mixed track record, according to the Surrey Advertiser, with a previous proposed development at Braintee Town FC running into trouble, for instance. The Non-League Football Paper reported: “Interestingly, and perhaps something that will make Woking fans cautious, is that Gold attempted a similar project with now National League South side Braintree Town in 2008 to move the club into a new stadium and build 500 homes nearby. The following year, Gold sought a second developer to help fund the stadium. Subsequently, the plans were dropped before another attempt to build housing was made in 2015 – without the football club – but every councillor on the planning committee voted against the proposal.”

If the plans are approved, construction of the new stadium might begin next year. The team would have to play its fixtures somewhere else for two years while building takes place. A decision on the planning application is expected in March or April 2020.

This feels like both an exciting and dangerous time for Woking FC and the residents, and maybe the council as well. Local pride in the football club and ambition, and a longing for things to stay as they are, are all involved. Can the circle be squared?

Woking’s 2,000-seat stand full to the brim before the FA Cup game against Watford

Woking’s footballers got back to winning ways on Saturday, beating lowly East Thurrock United 3-0 after a couple of recent home defeats that had dented their hopes of winning automatic promotion back to the Vanarama National League from the South division at the first attempt.

That much-needed win came a couple of days after more news was announced of far-reaching plans to redevelop the ground at Kingfield, and increase its capacity from the present 5,700 that squeezed in to see Woking take on Premiership Watford in the FA Cup third round at the beginning of January this year.

Woking never looked like beating Watford in that 2-0 defeat, but they were not humiliated and gave a good account of themselves. It added to the present feelgood factor around the club at the moment, boosted by a manager who clearly knows what he’s about, and a loyal following.

Two days earlier Woking’s splendid local paper, the News and Mail  –  whose coverage of local football, including Westfield, Sheerwater and Knaphill, as well as Woking is unsurpassed – reported more details of a plan to build a new stadium at Woking’s Kingfield home, involving Woking council and developers and the construction of flats plus retail space on land surrounding the ground.

That’s how new football grounds generally get funded these days. And it’s clear that much of Woking’s existing stadium – apart from its marvellous, 2,000-seater Leslie Gosden stand, built with council help in the 1990s – does certainly need an upgrade.

At first there was talk of making Kingfield an all-seater stadium, which would have destroyed the existing atmosphere generated by the covered terracing behind one of the goals, and another terrace area with the proud name of Moaners’ Corner.  But the club will take the views of supporters on board, and almost certainly there will be still some standing areas in the new plans, Woking’s chairman Rosemary Johnson, who is also a former mayoress of Woking, has indicated.

Wokingmatters stood on Moaners’ Corner for this year’s big FA Cup tie, and secured our place for the all-ticket affair by buying a season ticket for the remainder of the season. Money well spent, and not begrudged at all. It meant that we were there for the last three home games, the 0-2 defeat against Wealdstone, the hugely controversial 0-1 game against Dartford, which saw two Woking players sent off in the second half, and Saturday’s much-better performance against “The Rocks” (East Thurrock).  The crowd topped 2,000 against Wealdstone, dipped to around 1,100 on a wet and windy night v Dartford, and was back to 1,600-odd on Saturday. The variation can partly be explained by the fact that many young families attend Woking games, and tend to avoid the school-night, past-bedtime evening matches.

There is always a downside to huge new redevelopment plans – and that is the disruption faced by local residents, and fans, too.  Woking may well be forced to play their football away from Kingfield – somewhere like Sutton or Farnborough – while the ground is rebuilt. That will inevitably mean lower gates in the interim, and maybe a loss of momentum for the team.

Be that as it may, Wokingmatters has meanwhile rediscovered the joys of what we would call authentic football – turning up on the day to pay at the turnstiles, without having to fork out a fortune for a ticket online in advance, journeying a short distance from your home to the ground, walking through the park to get there – that sort of thing.  An away trip to Slough – admittedly not far away – earlier in the season proved to be great fun. We can only advocate that more residents of Woking come on down to Kingfield, and help to push a successful bandwagon further along the road. Come on you Cards!

Fans on Woking’s Moaners’ Corner before the FA Cup match against Watford. It is hoped that the spirit of this idiosyncratic bit of terracing can be retained with the ground’s redevelopment