Sport

Gloucester City AFC is in a great place - but should we expect changes at the very top?

Written by: Alex Petheram, co-chairman of Gloucester City AFC | Posted 06 July 2020 7:45

Gloucester City AFC is in a great place - but should we expect changes at the very top?

Debt-free, a new ground nearing completion, mounting excitement for the new season - you can think of a few other clubs who would trade places to be Gloucester City AFC currently.

But as the club gears up for a momentous return to its home city after more than a decade since floods drove it on the road, those who have bolstered it financially, engineered its return to its Meadow Park home and are even building the ground, are in talks about their own futures at GCAFC.

Tackling his own future - and everything from detail in the construction of the new stands and pitch to responding to fan 'feedback', co chairman, Alex Petheram, says the club is in a great place - and it is now to time to wonder who should lead it from here on in.

AP’s MP blog (Alex Petheram is co-chairman of Gloucester City alongside Eamonn McGurk)

I’ve been writing these updates since January, so imagine my surprise when Eamonn calls me last night and says… “Hey, your blogs… I’ve heard about them, so read them this morning.

I was awake at 04:00, couldn’t get back to sleep… they are pretty good”. I’m not sure what I found funnier, the fact for seven months I’ve been sending him links to read, to which he clearly ignores… or the fact he’s only just found out about the Eamonn and Brian stands!

The two stands are finished, the wheelchair spaces are in along with the companion seats, this gives us 762 seats in total, with a capacity of around 800 in these stands… the circa 800 figure assumes every wheelchair and buggy space is used.

The reason it can’t be a fixed figure is purely down to the differing size of wheelchairs, mobile scooters, prams and kids’ buggies.

The concrete space in front of the clubhouse will be largely a terrace area for outside eating and drinking, the main viewing area I’m guess for the youth, ladies and county cup games.

Due to the size of the two seated stands, I doubt these will be opened for smaller crowd games, as their size means they needs to be stewarded. Before I started Soldi, around 2002 I worked on Wembley stadium…

I remember asking my boss why is the capacity 90,000 not 100,000…? The answer was simple, safety rules and distancing increase at 100,000… making the construction costs out of balance with the stadium overall profit and loss.

At the time I didn’t really get it, I just thought, that’s short-sighted… I was young and clueless in truth, not understanding the bigger picture of why things are done… now it’s my own money, as both the client and contractor, I 100 per cent get it!

I would love a bigger T-End, but not only can we not afford it, we can’t manage it. The green guide is what all grounds are measured on.

If you’ve an existing ground, unless you are changing things, you don’t need to bring them up to the new/ latest rules and regulations much like with cars… new cars needs emission testing to the current rules, older ones don’t… hence why cars are changing to hybrid, to achieve the new requirements.

One of the rules in the green guide is “it is essential that gangways, both lateral and radial, are kept clear”. The key word is essential. That isn’t a request, it’s a statement.

The guide also states “the available viewing area allowed when calculating the capacity of a level standing area should be no greater than 1.5m.

This is the equivalent of approximately four persons deep. Beyond this depth viewing is too seriously restricted to be considered as part of the viewing accommodation”.

The actual stand itself is much more ‘black and white’, “Tread depth: 350mm min, 400mm max. Riser height 75mm min, 170mm max”. This means old school standing banks like the old T-End cannot be built in 2020.

Ours are treads are 350mm x 100mm. As if you go with a larger size then this you need to introduce internal handrails which reduces the capacity. At the front of the very first tread we’ve a steel crush or lean barrier as some call it.

This only needs to 80mm think, but I’ve increased this to 150mm, why … I feel it is important in non-league grounds to have a place to sit your pie or chips on.

Now, back to the concrete area at the front of the barrier … the green guide states “gangways in standing areas should be a minimum of 1.1m wide (1.2m recommended for new construction).”

Now this recommended width becomes a statement later in the green guide under “exit routes to be 1.2m for new construction”. The reason for this is you can have a walkway of 1.1m coming down a stand for example, but it’s required to be wider at the bottom to reduce bottle necking.

That means from the very front pitch barrier you must have a walkway of 1.2m wide… because don’t forget the first point I made “essential that gangways are kept clear”, this is a statement, as when you read around the rules, it’s now fixed, 1.2m of clear open walkable space. Don’t forget, different rules for new grounds to old ground.

Even converted grounds have different rules to new grounds… and wait for it, different levels of gradings also have different rules…

So, we now know we must have a gap of 1.2m from the pitch barrier to the physical stand and if we want anyone standing on the front barrier it can only be a maximum of 1.5m… but hang on… there was another ruling that was a statement remember … “essential that gangways are kept clear” this “gangway” we also know is a gap of 1.2m …

So yes, you’re all right and I’m wrong, the concrete is too wide, let’s bring in the diggers and knock the ground down… but hang on a cotton picking minutes … that means we now need to police this area, as we’ve no circulation space, that’s four stewards full-time we now need to budget for… and wait, when we score, people cannot cheer at the front pitch barrier … when the players walk over to thank the fans, no one can be at the front barrier, kids aren’t allowed to stand at the very front to get a better view or collect autographs, no one can leave the area behind the fixed crush/ lean barrier… and that must be policed and regulated, as the rules are crystal clear “essential that gangways are kept clear” …

Well to me, that sounds rubbish, expensive, no fun and completely unrealistic.

So, what’s the solution?

You make an area for people to stand at the very front! We have deigned that area to be 3.6m as a maximum overall, but that’s the overall maximum… so takes into account the fence, the barrier and thickness of the front steel column for the roof etc.

What is the reality of that…  well, going by the rules that means a 1.5m wide standing area at barrier, i.e. the max allowed under the four deep capacity rules, 1.2m clear walkway, 150mm crush barrier, 300mm standing on the first tread … that totals 3.150m, we’ve got 3.280m, as we’ve taken into account the thickness of the painted lines on the floor.

The pitch is very simple to work out, the rules state “There must be a minimum of 1.83m between the touchline, goal line and the pitch perimeter barrier. NB for Grade A ground, a min of 2.25m is required. In the case of new stadium, the min must be 3m”. So our white line is 3m from the front barrier.

I didn’t write any of these rules, I don’t even ensure we adhere to them and sign them off, the league and council employ grading, fire and safety officers to undertake this role, this is on top of building control.

The reason for all these rules and sizes is also simple … the law states “the maximum emergency evacuation time for sports ground varies between two and half minutes and eight minutes”.

The reason for the “varies” statement is defined under capacity, which goes back to my very opening line about Wembley. We need to be able to clear Meadow Park in circa 2.5 minutes, based on a capacity of 3,600.

So, there you have it … I’m sure people will still stay I’m wrong blah blah blah … but now you know the reasoning and not only the reasoning, how many people have to approve this sort of detail before we can start building.

I use to go once a month to New York Pizza for a treat with my kids… it was great, as time went by and things changed, our locally ran New York Pizza changed hands and was bought out by Domino’s Pizza, with my… lets call it unique (I’m vegan don’t forget) eating, we stopped going.

Did I take to the streets and protest, call out the owners on the internet, bad mouth everything they did, call them liars about how much they paid the pizza topping staff?

No, I found Papa John’s pizzas delivered to my door and did the vegan one I wanted … I moved on. This is what some fans now need to do… accept the changes are happening/ happened or like others have written, just don’t come, move on, troll another club. As I’m sure they’ll be grateful for your ‘support’…

The floodlights are in…. well, when I say in, I mean the bases are in and the 20m masts are up. The lights themselves haven’t yet arrived, but I’m told unicorn air has them on route… We’ve left up a couple of the old flood lights to convert, when we can afford it, to become external and carpark lighting.

The pitch make-up is done, we’re now doing percolation tests to make sure the drainage works. Once we have completed our tests, an independent company tests the make-up of the pitch for strength, compaction, drainage and percolation, once this passes Tiger Turf will start. We have pressed the button on the 3G, Tiger Turf were meant to start at the start of June, but they are now aiming to start on the 27th July 2020.

With the play-off dates now confirmed and pushed back to reduce the costs to the clubs, along with the Premier League putting in a decent sum of cash to the play-off clubs only, this allowed the wheels to start turning again. The play-off costs where crazy, I told you the Gateshead cost in a blog below.

Luckily, common sense kicked in and the play-offs got moved back, meaning the players will finish the play-offs and start pre-season training straight away. We have also started planning our return to training in line with the other clubs, so by mid-August, providing there’s no new outbreak our lads will be back kicking a ball together.

The season is on track still for a mid-September re-start and with the 2m rule becoming 1m, our capacity has doubled over night, from 900 to 1,800 as a minimum. We’re going to open up the 1883 bar in August too… not going to commit to a date today, but we’re starting back on the road to recovery.

Buy a Brick is now closed, we sold 214, thank you all, please can you pay the Supporters Trust if you haven’t already. Season ticket sales are going well, I’ve not checked for a day or two, but sales are around the 300 mark now, thank you all! The early bird offer has been extended until the end of July, so ensure you grab a bargain before the price goes up!

Our conversations continue with restructuring the club for the long term, lots of conversations still need to take place, but for me it’s about becoming a business. People never talk about the budget in real terms, for example some love to write we’ve players on £800 a week or £900 a week, no wait, my mates milkman told me four figures a week… this is a statement, every player has taken a pay cut, every single player.

Why would I demand, and I mean demand a pay cut from an existing players, to sign a new one on more money than the new structure? That is thick! Not only is it thick, it is wrong! People also never talk about in 2018 when we changed manager around Christmas time, the fact I had to pump in £30k personally into the wage budget to stay up.

They also do not talk about Eamonn that season paying £2k a week into the wage budget. Or last season I put in £4.2k a week into the wage budget… Facts like that goes unnoticed… People just try and pick out headlines, not the overall story. I also fail to understand why people care…

This coming season I won’t be pumping in a penny to the wage budget, why… £1.2m has already gone in during 2020, Eamonn is in the same boat. This is why we need to restructure.

We need to plan for not just this season coming, but for the next 10 or so years… Regarding me personally, I’m here for now and I’ve enjoyed putting this club on the map a little, I’ve enjoyed the fighting for every penny and winning a couple of rounds on the way. But the long-term future and the day to day running isn’t me…

Now I can see the club is safe and on a good footing, I need to chat to the board and come up with my own fate…

As in truth I get bored quickly and my mind is onto the next big task job… Getting the club to here today has taken hard work, money and lots of fighting, but we’re debt free… other then to myself and Eamonn that is… and that money isn’t a gift, it’s a loan which we now need to look at repaying.

I’m not a good chairman, I don’t really enjoy the role, but I’m not sure a chairman is needed either, for me it’s a nothing role with a very old school title… I won’t be the club MD or CEO either …

I’m really not sure what my personal future looks like, I guess I need to work out what I do enjoy, as what’s happening now is not it… and the second I become bored, my natural tendency is to stop.

If I moved the club at the speed I’d be happy with, I’m not sure the fans, club or anyone for that matter would support me… But, I do appreciate the fans that have asked and that care!

Watch this space, see you soon!

Alex Petheram is co-chairman of Gloucester City and managing director of Soldi Construction.

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