Ground grading – by Glenn Moore
Balls, bibs, cones… hard hat, high-vis jacket. At most ambitious clubs in the Vanarama National League the builders are either in, or readying themselves. Each step up the pyramid demands new standards, off the pitch as well as on, and plenty has to be done before promotion is even decided.
Those clubs seeking to climb from the Vanarama National League to the EFL had to confirm by December 31 that they would be capable of meeting an exacting set of criteria covering everything from how many showers are required in the dressing room (six) to how many power points are needed in the media seats (10).
The most costly demand is usually spectator capacity, though there is a degree of leeway.
EFL stadia should have a minimum capacity of 5,000 with 2,000 of those being seated.
However, they have three seasons after promotion to attain that (similar to the deadline for Championship clubs to be all-seater) and need merely to have 1,000 seats by 30th April in their first season. That said clubs seeking to go up needed by March 1 this year to have a capacity of 4,000 including 500 seats, which most should as it is already a National League requirement. Seats, incidentally, have to be covered and have backs – benches or mere moulded bases, as seen on the continent at times, are not acceptable.
None of this should be a problem for recently relegated clubs like Leyton Orient, but those without a Football League background have work to do, especially if they have recently come up from step 2. Which is why Solihull Moors announced in February a process of rapid redevelopment of their Danson Park ground. By July 2020 three sides of the ground will be improved including a new 2,000-seat stand on the Car Park Side.
There is similar activity at Harrogate Town whose swift ascent from Vanarama National League North play-off winners to Football League promotion hopefuls has left them racing to match progress on the field with development off it. They are in a phased process of increasing the capacity of the Wetherby Road ground from 3,000 to 5,000.
The Sulphurites, however, have an extra problem. They have a 3G pitch, which may be good enough for Champions League and FA Cup, but is not accepted in the EFL. The club have thus applied for planning permission to either replace it with grass, or lay a grass pitch over the 3G surface. Sutton United, currently just outside the play-offs, would have a similar problem.
There are a litany of other jobs for promoted clubs to do by July 1 involving minimum standards for the brightness of floodlights, directors box seat provision (24 for home, 16 for away), medical back up, portable goals for pre-match warm-up, CCTV, turnstiles, public address, emergency lighting, facilities for disabled fans, and the training of stewards. Besides the six showers (or individual baths) dressing rooms must have heating, ventilation, a tactics board, fridge and massage table. Fans in each part of the ground should have access to refreshment and toilets with segregation of opposing fans.
It is a long list, though promotion also brings a decent financial windfall. Income from EFL central funds, Premier League solidarity payments, and a one-off payment from the Football Stadia Improvement Fund tallies around £1m. FSIF may also help with stand developments while EFL officials make visits and provide guidance. Nevertheless, one thing the executives and staff of any promoted club cannot afford to do is enjoy a long summer basking in the glory.