Friday, 9 December 2011

Jenner Park : help or hindrance?

It's been stated more than a few times over the years (and only last week on Twitter) that Jenner Park, purpose built for Barry Town between 1912 and 1913, is now a noose around the Club's neck.

Why is this?

On the face of it, Jenner Park has to be Barry Town's biggest asset - aside from the Club's long, if somewhat patchy, history. Now, let's not forget (how could we?!) the events leading up what would turn out to be Barry Town's final European appearance in the Champions League qualifiers in 2003. The Club, under Chairman Kevin Green, had not been paying the council for its use of Jenner Park.

This came to a head in the summer of 2003 when the Vale Council threatened to lock out Barry Town and therefore damage its Champions League chances. To the fans, it was nothing short of a distasteful act of spite by a Council (or elements of it) who had courted us since the 1990s. However, we did owe them a lot of money!

Nevertheless, it completely knackered our pre-season build up, and the disappointing defeat to Skopje over two legs seemed inevitable. As a matter of fact, we actually won the final European game on the hallowed turf, but we were out on aggregate. Worse was to follow, of course, because within weeks the Club had collapsed, the 'Board' had departed and so had the entire playing squad. Former players were seen live on BBC Wales News irritatingly rattling the padlocked gates to the car-park.
And then there was the District Valuer.

In a beautifully executed manoeuvre of desperately bad timing, the bill worked out by the District Valuer, on behalf of the council, was some £42,000. Apparently, the TV revenue, exposure and facilities put us up there with English League sides such as Ipswich Town. By now the Club had gone bust, and sold for around £125,000 to a 'local property developer and barrister'.

From the get-go of the new owner's tenure at the helm was the spectre of the Jenner Park valuation and subsequent rent bill. In fairness, it must have been a massive kick in the teeth. In he walks, saves Barry Town from extinction and as thank you receives a £42,000 rent bill after only just forking out a 6 figure some to buy the place. There was nobody left from the old regime to blame other than the Supporters' Club. When the football club collapsed, the Supporters' Club did its best to fill the void.

The new owner's flat refusal to pay any rent to the council led to the club being forced out of Jenner Park, temporarily. At first it was somewhat of a novelty, playing at Port Talbot. Then as the disagreement continued we were banned from the Vale altogether and, because of this, the various levels of youth structure were disbanded. We were now stationed outside the county, just outside Pontypridd. It was utterly utterly depressing. Relations between the owner and the handful of remaining supporters were non-existent, the football was poor, and the fan-base (which had always been small) was decimated.

But Jenner Park was still there, sitting idly. Waiting it out.

When rumours began flying around about the council eyeing it for possible housing land, or far worse, a home for rugby, the remaining fans further divided themselves by voting to create a new club, out of Jenner Park, that would take the 'ideal' of Barry Town with it - as well as it's history and original shirt colour (green). "Barry FC" was created in no time, it had became 'primary user' of Jenner Park, and soon entered the Vale of Glamorgan AFL. Ultimately, Barry Town returned to Jenner Park in a ground-share agreement.

And now, present day, the owner has withdrawn all support of the football team, and it's the new Barry Town Supporters' Committee that's footing the rent bill for our home games. It's not cheap. It's our number one drain on funding. Yet, it's my personal opinion that Jenner Park, far from throttling Barry Town, could still one day be its saviour.

Jenner Park is Barry Town and Barry Town is Jenner Park. Now, that's not to say that if we had some other purpose-built for European football stadium to move to I'd turn down the offer, because I wouldn't. As much as Jenner Park is our spiritual home, if we had the chance of bettering ourselves, be independent from the council, then I'd jump at the offer.

This is fanciful. We are where we are. I'm proud to say that all payments to the council are being met - often in advance. The sooner we get the council - so long a supporter of Barry Town - fully back on board, the better. After all, the club was created with the old Barry Council assistance (if not direct financial help), and ties have been close through the decades - including Barry Town being allowed to adopt the official council crest as the Club badge. This is often overlooked in the more recent era of cartoon dragons and vague King Arthur motifs as club badges. We actually share the same crest as Barry RFC.  However, look at any photo of Barry Town club officials and players in their shirts and blazers, and there is the official Barry crest right there.

We currently find ourselves in the unhappy position of being a tenant to two different landlords, of a sort. We pay (good) money to the council for the privilege of playing at Jenner, and yet the actual owner of the club, and therefore the clubhouse (and its takings), still sits in some kind residency above us. We need to pay rent, we need money to pay the rent, the money to pay the rent should come from bar takings and social club events, but this is not happening because the club is not a football club. We are in the ludicrous position of looking for a home elsewhere around the town to hold our meetings and events. It's just... wrong.

So, why not just move out altogether, set up somewhere else, gain independence and flourish eventually. Well, firstly, we already tried that with Barry FC - now dubbed Cadoxton-Barry FC after an essential merger - and, frankly, we have aspirations (some say delusions) of once again providing European football for Barry Town supporters. Not any time soon, granted. But surely that has to be the ideal? Otherwise, why bother? For a club that lived it large for a while and fell on shockingly tough times, we are still blessed with having the use of some amazing facilities that could still one day provide Welsh Premier League football to the town, or one day maybe European football once again.

We'd be bonkers to give that up.

What other club in our league, at our level, has such facilities at its disposal? Very few, if any. Yes, there are plenty of clubs who are in a much better financial situation than ourselves. In fact, maybe they all are. Even the lowliest of clubs possibly doesn't have our perceived disadvantage of the financial burden that is Jenner Park. Right now though, we are happily solvent - and that's not to be abused. We still have a terrific opportunity to progress. Give up Jenner Park, and we put our progress back years, if not decades. If progress at all.  Lose Jenner Park, and we lose Barry Town Association Football Club.

Now, if we could only get that pesky match-day rent reduced by the council.

We warmly welcome any investors or potential purchasers to understand the facilities at Barry Town that we have at our disposal.


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