Tuesday, 8 January 2008

New Stadia: A Tale Of Two Very Ordinary Towns.

At the weekend, the injury hit Maidstone United lost 2-1 at "home" to AFC Wimbledon in the Ryman Premier Division. The inverted commas surrounding the word home are necessary punctiation. This is because although this was a home fixture for The Stones, it was played in Sittingbourne. Maidstone United, have been without a home in the county town of Kent since the original club sold their ground in 1987 to MFI. The club assumed that they would have council support to build their new ground and purchased land on which the proposed groun was to be built, however the planning permission never materialised and the club went bankrupt in 1992.

The club reformed at the bottom of the football pyramid in time for the 1993/94 season and since then have managed to haul themselves to the Ryman Premier Division, one division below the Blue Square South. However their home games have not been in Maidstone since the new club was created. There have been plans, and there has been a long, drawn out process to bring the Stones back home, yet progress has been lacking.

Planning permission for the ground was first given in 2004, and ground has been broken at the site at James Whatman Way, but funds have been the main issue, with £1.5m being the reported total cost of building the new stadium. The latest news is that investors have been in talks with Maidstone's chairman, who would be willing to invest in the club, but have the council done everything they can to bring the Stones back home?
Surely, the council could be assisting the club in their efforts. The match against AFC Wimbledon was a record attendance for Maidstone since the club reformed, although this could be partly to do with the attractive nature of the fixture. Maidstone however, have been consistently well supported throughout their tenure in the lower leagues and the demand for sport in the town is certainly there, as the Maidstone cricket festival showed, when it was still a regular fixture and the 2007 Tour de France was well attended. The money involved is a lot, but the town lacks a major sports team. The Stones need the money to ensure the long-term survival of the club and it looks as though the funds for the ground will come from private pockets.

The new proposed Eisstadion

This is contrast to another example. Zug, Switzerland is the home of EV Zug, an ice hockey side. It is a much larger club but the town of Zug is smaller than Maidstone. While The Stones' greatest moment came when they got to the Division Four Play-offs in 1989, EV Zug won their only league title in 1998. EVZ average about 4,000 - 5,000 fans every match and play in the Eishalle Herti. The Herti isn't exactly the most glamourous of sports arenas to say the least, but the plans are there to build a new stadium which can't fail to be an improvement on the current one. Zug, is one of the most wealthy towns in the world, with it's tax regulations appealing to rich companies and individuals, so funds are not the issue. While Maidstone have had to compete with the Maidstone borough council, Kent County Council and various environmental groups, Zug have had a relatively smooth passage for their new ground, even though Swiss regulations cause building projects to drag on for a bit. Of course Zug do have the advantage of having an existing stadium in the town they represent.

While the stadium at James Whatman way was pencilled in for completion at the beginning of the 2006/07 season, this has obviously not happened. Zug's stadium may take a while, but at least they will probably get it.

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