Ground issues leave York City Knights’ future hanging in the balance

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York City Knights have been sharing Bootham Crescent in 2016

AS the Kingston Press League One Super 8s got underway this weekend, there was one match which ominously had ‘P-P’ next to it on the fixture list.
The game in question was York City Knights’ home encounter against Doncaster, with the postponement brought about by stadium issues which are threatening the immediate and long-term future of professional rugby league in the city.
The City Knights have been effectively homeless since leaving Huntington Stadium at the end of the 2014 season and, after splitting last year’s home games between York RUFC and Heworth ARFLC, currently find themselves sharing Bootham Crescent with York City FC.
This was set to last until the long-delayed York Community Stadium is finally built – latest estimates for completion are 2018, although construction is still yet to start – providing a home for both the rugby and football clubs on the site of the former Huntington ground.
Indeed, the first rugby match at Bootham Crescent was something of a celebration of the 13-man code in York, with a four-figure crowd showing up to see the City Knights facing amateurs York Acorn in the Challenge Cup back in February.
However, nearly six months later the City Knights are on the verge of extinction due to financial problems caused by the move and allegations of the terms of their tenancy agreement not being adhered to by City of York Council.
The final straw came when the City Knights were informed they would not be allowed to play their Super 8s match against Doncaster at the venue due to concerns about overuse of the playing surface, particularly as York City had arranged a pre-season friendly for the day before.
That led to the club’s directors issuing a statement last Thursday stating they were closing it down and laying the blame at the door of the local authority.
“It is the belief of the club that the training and playing venue contracts which are in place with City of York Council have neither been adhered to by third parties or enforced by CYC which has made even the simplest of tasks an arduous process,” read the statement.
“This has left the club in a worse position in terms of the training and playing facilities available to them than either what had been agreed in the interim period or when at Huntington Stadium.”
The City Knights have a somewhat unusual agreement with regards to playing at Bootham Crescent as their contract is with City of York Council, which in turn has a contract with ground owners York City to allow the rugby club to play there.
Part of the deal states football and rugby matches cannot be played there within 24 hours of each other. As a result of City kicking their friendly with Bolton Wanderers at 1.30pm on Saturday, the City Knights therefore proposed their game would kick off at 3.30pm.
This was subsequently knocked back by City of York Council, who insisted to local newspaper The Press prior to Thursday’s announcement they had made it clear the City Knights would not be able to use the ground for these dates as far back as May.
The club responded by stating it was only “likely” rather than certain they would not be able to play these matches at Bootham Crescent and received no response from either the council or football club until after The RFL had published the Super 8s fixtures.
Not only that, but the City Knights insist the council has reserved the use of the ground for rugby every Sunday under their contract with City.
Financial problems caused by being unable to exploit certain revenue streams after leaving Huntington Stadium have contributed to the club’s plight too, but, more worryingly, the planned move to the new Community Stadium might not be enough to secure the City Knights’ long-term future.
“The financial situation within the club shows no promise of improving with a move to the new stadium as the club faced additional overheads and a very limited scope for generating meaningful new income streams,” said the statement from the City Knights.
“This has and will leave the club financially disadvantaged from its position when at Huntington Stadium in 2014.”
Not since the old York Wasps were forced to sell their Clarence Street ground for housing in 1989 has professional rugby league in the city had a proper home – Huntington being a multi-use athletics stadium.
There is some hope the club will at least be able to finish the 2016 season and head coach James Ford hinted in an interview with BBC Radio York there were parties interested in coming forward to take over the running of the City Knights.
If they do and the club are able to continue beyond this year, the new owners will still face the conundrum of where they are going to play.
It seems it could be possible for the City Knights to extend their groundshare at Bootham Crescent for next year. But if moving to the Community Stadium is not viable, then the search will be on to find an alternative venue – either existing or new.
Given how slowly the wheels of local government have turned in regards to the current plans though, any possibility of York City Knights having a home to call their own seems even more remote than ever.

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