Bairns planning to come home

26-11-2012. Picture Michael Gillen. FALKIRK. Stadium. Falkirk Football Club AGM, finance interview with club chairman Martin Ritchie and vice chairman Douglas McIntyre.
26-11-2012. Picture Michael Gillen. FALKIRK. Stadium. Falkirk Football Club AGM, finance interview with club chairman Martin Ritchie and vice chairman Douglas McIntyre.

Falkirk’s announcement today, on the club website and in The Falkirk Herald, confirms their artificial pitch plans - as detailed in November last year in The Falkirk Herald.

Chairman Martin Ritchie and vice chair Douglas McIntyre outlined the plans to sports editor David Oliver in a report which was carried in the November 29 edition of the newspaper and repeated here....

November 29, 2012

Falkirk Football Club wants to come home.

The Bairns’ ambitions to return to the local community and an attempt to “build bridges” over a sense of detachment from the town can be revealed this week.

That could see a community-interest company set-up, in a similar scenario to Stenhousemuir FC, with a synthetic pitch installed at The Falkirk Stadium for use by the first team stars, Academy prospects and recreational players.

Informal talks have already been held with members of Falkirk Council over the club’s vision to put the community back into the community stadium.

That idea was discussed at the shareholders’ AGM on Monday night and would bring the community back on board with the Bairns, according to chairman Martin Ritchie.

“The Falkirk Stadium is a tremendous facility, but we don’t utilise it enough,’’ he said.

“We have a stadium in the town but we don’t have the team here. Stirling is the players’ home, it’s where they train and where they’re based. The club needs to come back to Falkirk.

“If the Academy was based here we’d have parents and players at the stadium and in the town every night of the week.

“The club has detached part of itself from the community and needs come back in to contribute to the social and economic fabric of Falkirk.”

The Falkirk Herald understands the first team could return within a year, leaving the Academy based at the Craig Gowans Football Centre in Stirling.

But it’s not all about moving back to Falkirk, there is an economic benefit for the club too.

Overheads split between two sites are simply too high for the Bairns to maintian.

Property costs, including around £100,000 for Stirling each year, account for around 20 per cent of the club’s expenditure – and, with the pay roll already squeezed, it is the next cost-cutting measure that can be made to reduce the Bairns outgoings, which dwarf the reliable incomings on the balance sheet.

“We pay for the upkeep of Stirling, we pay rental costs, we pay for pitch hire - it all mounts up,” Mr Ritchie added.

“Yet at the stadium we have the parking, we have the cafes and the facilities – we just don’t have the ability to train and play games on the same pitch.

“That’s why we are looking at a synthetic surface – it will save for the club, and contribute something to the community.

“But we can’t do it by ourselves. We need the council on board, and we need help from the Scottish Premier League too.”

SPL rules do not rule out a plastic pitch in the top tier – but they do insist on assessing the surface. By then there would have been an outlay of more than £500,000 in replacing the Westfield surface.

Lottery grants are not available to the club as a limited company, but are to the stadium-based Falkirk Community Football Foundation, which has charitable status.

Stenhousemuir’s community interest model has turned a healthy profit for the Warriors since its inception and - ironically in the week Falkirk moot a plastic pitch - their synthetic surface will host the Bairns for Saturday’s Scottish Cup tie at Ochilview.

An alternative is to use some of the land that lies behind the vacant section of the stadium as a training ground, but conditions stipulate the ground’s missing stand would have to be built first.

That isn’t as desirable as utilising the main pitch – and the club’s other income avenue of concerts on the site must be factored in.

A new company is being set up, chaired by club director Andy Thomson and specialising in major events at the stadium, following the success of Elton John’s visit earlier this year.

The club profited more in goodwill from that gig than in money, taking only £50,000 profit from that gig, and claim £1.5m was generated into the local economy from one evening.

Mr Ritchie concluded: “It’s been nine years since we moved from Brockville, and aside from the South Stand, nothing has happened.

‘‘We want to get the site moving again for us and for Falkirk.

“The SPL is a stumbling block, but we hope they, the community and the council can see what we’re trying to achieve and support us.

“This stadium is too good a facility to be used just 20 Saturdays a season. The area was billed as the Falkirk Gateway. We want to bring Falkirk back permanently but need the support to do it.”