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© Basingstoke Town FC

Hope for Basingstoke in their quest to return to the town

It’s not unusual for clubs to groundshare at non-league level. While each set of circumstances is unique, it is always distressing when a club is torn away from its local community and left with no option to play away from their traditional home. 

Basingstoke Town of the Southern League Division One South are one such club, effectively homeless and playing their matches nearly 20 miles away in Winchester, having been evicted from their Camrose stadium at the beginning of the 2019/20 season.

The FSA began working with the club’s board last year, helping the typically small and dedicated group of fans who were doing everything they could to ensure their local football club survived.

Our support focused on ensuring the transfer of the club’s playing license to a new community-owned club, and assisting with their plans to move back to the town, with a proposed ground at the Hampshire FA’s headquarters at Winklebury.

Thanks to some excellent work from local jounalist Katie French of the Basingstoke Gazette, the full extent of the issues with the club’s original home for more than 50 years have emerged.

By way of background, the former chairman of the club, Rafi Razzak, bought the freehold to The Camrose in 2017 and subsequently stepped down as owner.

Part of his plan was to build the club a new 5,000 seater stadium in the town, with a hope of redeveloping the site of the current stadium. After the new stadium plans fell through, however, the club were evicted at the beginning of the season, and forced to look elsewhere.

For years there was talk of a covenant on the ground, signed by the original philanthropist who donated the land to the club in 1953, preventing development on the site for a period of 100 years. The covenant, however, could not be found.

Mr Razzak ploughed ahead with his planning application regardless, which was rejected by the local council.

In late January 2020, however, the diggers moved in to The Camrose to begin tearing up the pitch, and there have also been reports of stadium assets from terraces to toilets being sold off. Mr Razzak denies he is destroying the stadium to make it impossible for the club to return, but the local council are investigating a breach of planning.

Thanks to the work of the local paper the original covenant document has now been discovered, offering a glimmer of hope that the club could return to their own stadium in the town.

In response to the discovery of the covenant, the club said: “We will be working closely with the Gazette and a legal team over the coming days to determine our next steps and the implications this has on the future of our club.

“The news does, however, highlight the dire struggles and frustrations the club has been facing at the hands of others as we try to move forward as a community club.

“We welcome the attention that our club is rightfully receiving and together we will ensure that no stone is left unturned in ensuring a successful and sustainable future.”

We’ll continue to support the club in their endeavours to return home, and continue to help supporters at all levels of the game keep their local clubs local.

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