Non League Daily

Energy and enthusiasm fire Salisbury phoenix

After months of struggle and fighting, this week has been a landmark week for Salisbury FC, the club formed after Salisbury City was dissolved.

An agreement on a stadium lease has been agreed and the club are now ready to move forward and bring competitive football back to a city that director Ian Ridley believes has a demand for the game.

The club has secured a lease on the Raymond McEnhill Stadium, a move that is vital to their development.  Journalist and writer Ridley was invited on to the board of directors and the former Weymouth Chairman is enthusiastic about the future of the new club, something he attributes to the "energy and enthusiasm" of the supporters.

"I am originally from Weymouth and I have known Salisbury for a number of years.  I have been to a number of games and I was really shocked at their demise.  When you think their average gate in the last four years was 860 and during their time in the Conference it was over 1,000. 

That shows the demand for football in the area and to take away that from that many people and more who follow through the media is a shocking thing and very painful

At first they didn't know what to do, they was a vacuum. The old supporters club were virtually defunct and has used up most of its money trying to save the club and had all but disbanded.  So we had to mobilise them again and we did that at the forum. 

The energy and enthusiasm was overwhelming and in the last month we have had support from local politicians, the local MP, the supporters and other clubs and it has been really heartening.  With that energy and enthusiasm we can have a really good start to life as Salisbury FC"

Ridley became involved with Salisbury FC after manager Steve Claridge invited him to meet with three key figures at the newly formed club.  Former Leicester City striker and BBC pundit Claridge was set to become manager of Salisbury City before they were dissolved and is already in place to take over at Salisbury FC.

Ridley has taken up a position as a director at the new club and he explained what a difficult path the club had taken during the past twelve months.

"It has been a long six months for me personally but even longer for the people who were already involved.  There were all of the ownership issues last year and the debt problems meant they couldn't even start the season.  We tried to get hold of the club but it couldn't be done so the club went into administration.

I was invited down to the club in October, along with Steve Claridge.  Steve was going to manage the old club in the Conference South last season but they only played one friendly before the club went under.  But Steve liked the club, he liked the supporters and he liked the place.

The three guys who were trying to get the place going again were David Phillips the chairman, Jeremy Harwood and Graham Mundy.  Steve asked me to meet them, which I did and between the five of us we decided to make a bid for the assets of the club, which was all the administrator had because the ground was owned by a trust"

One particular stumbling block, and probably the biggest one the club had to overcome, was the situation with the Raymond McEnhill Stadium, or the RayMac as supporters affectionately call it. 

Ridley paid tribute to the hard work of supporters and local MP John Glen after agreement was reached for the newly formed club to move into the stadium in time for the start of next season.

"Raymond McEnhill was a football fan and wanted to give something back to Salisbury so he built the stadium and built housing nearby.  It was difficult because all we had were the assets and that meant things like kit, fixtures and fittings and so on but not the ground itself. 

We bid for the assets and got the nod in early December and then had a battle to get back into the stadium because it emerged that the trustees were keen on selling it for development

We tried to speak to them for two months but nothing happened.  We called a fans forum and the supporters mobilised very quickly by canvassing local politicians, who were all very supportive.  Then their local MP John Glen got involved and brought the two parties together ten days ago. 

That led to the agreement between the Trust and ourselves that we could move back into the stadium.  We do have to look for a new facility in the next two years but we are in there for now and we can make a fresh start"

The agreement is one that Ridley explained was "absolutely crucial" to the development of the club and admitted that, whilst they had looked at ground sharing, a home of their own and one where they could generate income was of the highest importance.

"It is absolutely crucial to be in there.  We looked at alternatives for ground sharing and some clubs were very welcoming and very accommodating but for the club we want to be, we needed facilities that could generate the revenue we need and this stadium will do that. 

We can now make an application for entry to the league pyramid to the FA and put together a budget and a business plan and the FA will place us wherever they feel is appropriate"

So now the club faces another big challenge as they look to find a league to play in.  Ridley believes a meeting with the Football Association is on the horizon and accepted that, whilst the club are mindful of other clubs, they do want to play as high up the pyramid as possible.

"We will be summoned to the FA soon to talk over our business plan and to give them our thoughts and ideas.  The leagues finish in May and the AGMs have taken place in early June, we will hope to find out our league before that in early May.  We believe we can be good for competitions, with a lovely ground and a big away support so we want to go as high in the pyramid as possible. 

It's a delicate thing because we are mindful and respectful of other clubs who have done things the hard way to get promoted, we are looking out for ourselves and want to go in at a reasonable level but we are aware of other clubs too"

Hopefully that will bring another piece of good news for Ridley and everyone involved at Salisbury FC, something that the journalist would be only too happy to report on.

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