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“Devastating blow” as two clubs drop out of non-league

In a worrying development in non-league, two clubs – Abingdon Town of the Hellenic League at Step 6, and Whyteleafe of the Isthmian League at Step 4 – have given up their league status for the 2021-22 season in disputes over stadium rent.

In a statement on the club’s website announcing the decision, Whyteleafe explain that the club has “been forced to give up its Step 4 status after new owners of the Church Road ground refused to negotiate a new lease or licence agreement with the club for the 2021-22 season.”

“Home to the Leafe for more than 60 years, Church Road was purchased by Irama last year at auction after the previous owners went into administration.

“Despite numerous attempts by the trustees, current management committee and an independent fan-led group to discuss a way forward, Singapore based property development company Irama – the new landlords – activated a break clause to terminate the club’s lease on July 31st this year.

“Our withdrawal from the Isthmian League is a devastating blow to everybody involved at the club, the fans, players, local community and the wider football family.”

It is a similar tale at Abingdon Town, involving the same property company – Irama – who were unable to negotiate terms for a new lease with their tenants, who play at Culham Road.

The club’s statement on Twitter blamed the “ridiculous demands” of the new landlords, which made it “impossible to move forwards”, meaning they had to make the “devastating decision” to resign from the league.

According to The Athletic back in February (paywall link), Irama Sports, which are backed by former Liverpool and Wales striker Ian Rush, were also completing a deal for Brighouse Town’s stadium, and had attempted to buy up to eight further non-league grounds.

A supporter representative from Whyteleafe gave evidence in our National Game Network evidence session in front of the government’s Fan-led Review panel earlier this week on the situation, highlighting the FSA’s calls for greater security over the ownership of football assets.

What next?

We have been in discussion with the FA over the situation at Whyteleafe and Abingdon Town, and will continue to support fans at the clubs concerned as they look to the future.

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