BERWICK Rangers Football Club are looking at the possibility of buying back Shielfield Park from stadium owners Northumberland County Council.
The club were reluctantly forced into selling what is their ‘home’ due to financial difficulties back in the early 1980s. But speaking at the annual general meeting of the Berwick Rangers’ Supporters’ Trust on Saturday, club chairman Brian Porteous revealed that their fortunes had turned around to such an extent that they were now investigating ways to gain back what would be their primary asset.
Shielfield was sold to Berwick Borough Council for a fee of around £100,000, but at this stage it is not known what value is likely to be placed on the ground. In the mid-1990s plans were drawn up to restructure the stadium with the provision of offices and a museum, but these were eventually scuppered after it was discovered there was a sporting covenant on the land.
Losing the ground, in the manner in which they did is still seen by some as a stigma, for they are now forced to ‘rent’ the stadium from lease-holder Berwick Rangers Supporters’ Club.
But Mr Porteous said that over recent years the club’s financial position had been stabilised to such an extent that the current board of directors had made approaches to the county council to discuss the stadium’s future.
He warned, however, that discussions are at ‘a very early stage,’ and a long way off from becoming reality.
“We have written to the county council asking them about the possibility of buying back the stadium,” he said, “but it hasn’t even been valued yet so we don’t really know what sort of figures we are talking here.
“When the consortium took over and I was appointed chairman the main aim was to secure the future of the club,” he said, “and obviously owning the stadium would go a long way to achieving that.
“We put a business model in place and gave ourselves a five year plan to become debt free, but thanks in the main to last season’s cup tie against Celtic, which was broadcast by Sky TV, we are ahead of schedule.
“At this moment in time we are financially okay, and there can’t be many other clubs in Scottish football who can claim that.
“We have cleared our debts, a number of directors’ loans have been repaid and a bank loan we had has also been cleared.”
But whilst the situation remains healthy, Mr Porteous said the club could not afford to become too complacent.
“We have been informed by the SFL (the Scottish Football League) that the payout we receive from them annually will be cut by 30 per cent this year,” he said, “and whilst that might not be too devastating for us, it is still a financial blow, and is one which is certain to have a bigger effect on a number of other clubs.”
Mr Porteous said he had been disappointed by the circumstances surrounding the departure of former manager Jimmy Crease following the Scottish Cup defeat at non-league Deveronvale. But with new manager Ian Little in place, having been joined in mid-week by his assistant Robbie Horn, he was confident the team was heading in the right direction.
“I see us as a second division club,” he said. “We have the structure in place, and if we don’t make it through the play-offs this year I would like to think that we could win promotion to the second division within two seasons.”
News that the club is looking to buy back Shielfield signifies the remarkable improvements following the consortium take-over.