With things back on track on the field at Wycombe Wanderers, a long rumbling issue has erupted off the field, and the ramifications could spread far and wide for some time.
On Tuesday 29th September, Chairman Steve Hayes announced his proposals for a new ‘Community stadium and sports village’ to be built, and shared by Football League’s Wycombe Wanderers and Rugby Union’s London Wasps at the site of Booker Air Park in High Wycombe.
Both clubs are owned by Hayes, but the latter currently rent Adams Park facilities from the football franchise.
Hayes took full control of London Wasps in December 2008 and followed the acquisition up by taking full control of Wycombe Wanderers in July 2009, writing off £3 million of debt owed to him.
The rumblings of the move have been bubbling near the surface for some time, and by late September it was clear an announcement was imminent. Liberal Democrats' Cllr Steve Guy spoke of distress that the consultation process, in which local communities were to give feedback on any shortlisted sites, was merely a ‘sham’ to cover plans already laid.
Cllr Guy had voiced concerned opinion in July about the potential use of Booker, but was quickly reprimanded by Wycombe District Council leader Cllr Lesley Clarke.
Mr Hayes announced the preferred site at the end of September, before the process was complete. This caused a flurry of angry Blues fans to air their frustrations on internet forums and in the local press, with many worried that the move favours the commercially fruitful Wasps and will severely hinder Wanderers.
Wycombe Sports Developments Ltd, which was set up to oversee the project, believes the site will give Wycombe a “state of the art stadium at the heart of a wide ranging sports village.” But many fans fear the size of the stadium, expected to have a capacity between 17,500 and 20,000, will swamp the football club, with average gates currently around 4,000.
Further to these fears come the outraged residents, who believed they would be consulted. They have questions on how the project will be funded; whether it will be a private venture or a scheme paid for by the local government.
Mr Hayes, who will profit considerable from the sale of the land currently occupied by Adams Park, has fought back at the negative comments, by claiming they came from ‘the noisy few as opposed to the majority’ and believes most fans are ‘happy’.
The saga looks to continue, as fans site smbu.co.uk has retaliated with an open letter to Mr Hayes. They suggest the club would lose vital non-match day incomes to a ‘hotel operator’ as well as paying rental costs, while this is currently a revenue stream at Adams Park.
Despite the queries the venture appears to be going ahead, and only time will tell of its true impact on Wycombe Wanderers.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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