In the first of our updates from the April club press conference, held in the media room last week, chief executive Nigel Clibbens covers stadium issues in response to questions asked by our local media partners.
What’s the latest on the situation with the ground and the possibilities of looking elsewhere?
We’ve been talking to a few people around the town area about land that might be available for us. We had a discussion with the city council, and the next step is to go back to them and talk to them about what we’ve learned, having spoken to those landowners. It’s clear that the options and opportunities that are available now, as compared to when there was talk of a move to Kingmoor Park, are different. A lot has changed, and we need to have a hard assessment of where that leaves the club now, and what it means for the future.
Is that down to lack of enabling development opportunities and the impact of the floods, and things like that?
There are a number of factors, and clearly the flood impacted on the club in terms of what the site may be used for if we were to vacate it. It could restrict us in terms of time, as we know that type of catastrophic event could happen again. The other thing is that the retail environment has changed markedly since last time, and certainly in the last 18 months or so. That’s impacted on what developers are prepared to do and the risks they are prepared to take. At the same time, we’ve seen the emergence of a new approach to new stadiums where there are partnerships which mean the facilities are more ‘community use’ based. Oldham have health care facilities in their new stand, and things like that, so the market has changed quite extensively. What may have been doable before may not be doable now.
Clearly for any community project you need the support of the local council. At this point how supportive or encouraging have they been?
We’ve only had one meeting in recent times with them, on this, and we agreed a process with them as to what to do. The next step is for us to go back and speak to them. As you would expect they are very supportive, and they understand the role Carlisle United can have in the community, and what community facilities can bring to a city. They’re committed to improving the city for all of its citizens. We’ll see where the meeting takes us when we get back together. They understand the challenges we face but, equally, they have their own challenges. Life isn’t easy in local government, with cuts and front-line services under pressure, so everybody has their own issues to deal with. We’ll see if we can all move forward because the club needs to make progress on this, if not now, then very soon, because some of these issues aren’t going to go away.
Is there a concern longer-term that if the stadium issues aren’t addressed then there’s a threat to Carlisle United and their ability to move on and develop, or even exist further down the line?
I think that might be pushing it a bit too far as we sit here now, but there’s no doubt about it, with every year that goes by the stadium gets older. The demands of fans increase, and we have to be able to cater for that. We go to other stadiums and we see what they can offer their fans and, being honest, we need first class facilities for our fans. If we don’t do that it’s a hard challenge to ask them to part with hard earned money, and that’s the biggest issue. It’s a squeeze from both sides, one in terms of costs and the other in terms of our ability to provide facilities for fans to come and have a positive experience.
The club can’t exist longer-term from hand to mouth having constantly to pay out for repairs to an ageing ground?
It all goes around in a circle, because if you can’t keep up with repairs eventually people struggle to come and watch you, and that’s because you aren’t providing the facilities they need. That means you don’t get the cash to do the repairs or improve the team either. That’s why we have to do our best not to end up in a vicious spiral.
Are you able to say if the locations you’ve been considering are on the outskirts of the city or are you looking at the possibility of a more centrally based site?
I don’t really want to get into that at this stage. It’s more the principles of whether these schemes are actually doable in certain locations. The signs are that it’s going to be far more difficult than it was last time. That’s why we need a different kind of approach and we need to think about what that means to the club. We need to see if it’s feasible for this club to move from this site financially. If so, what might it look like. We’re nowhere near picking a site or location, a lot more needs to happen.
Any update on the Fan Zone?
Heineken are looking to support that, and CUOSC are looking to raise funds to help with bringing it together. We’re thinking about a location at the north end of the paddock, and we’re now finalising timescales and things like that so that we can make it happen. Obviously there are licencing issues to resolve, and health and safety considerations, so all of that type of thing needs to be bottomed off.
Phil King has left, but will there be a new appointment to fill that slot?
We’ve been reviewing the position and we haven’t gone out to make an appointment yet. We have an interesting option which could come our way, which we’re looking at, and we’ll talk more about that, probably at the next press conference. Phil had a sales and marketing role, but the actual responsibilities went a lot further than that. We have a better view on how it will work going forward because we very much have a view that we want it to be based on commercial sales.
Part two of the update from the club press conference will be online on Wednesday morning.