Published 18th May 2012
.....next season due to grading issues.
Baldock won the Herts Senior County League Premier Division by thirteen points this season and take on Risborough Rangers in the final of the Anagram Records Trophy this coming Sunday at The County Ground in Letchworth.
Club secretary Lee Rusbridge outlined the issues behind the disappointing news: “Until the end of the 2010/11 season, the club played its home matches at the Herts FA's HQ, The County Ground, Letchworth. But after two seasons at the ground, we were given one-year notice to leave because they no longer wanted a resident side playing there. The only alternatives for us at the time were to either move to the North Herts Arena's 3G facility in Norton Road, Baldock or find another ground share outside of the Town.
"In March 2011, because of the club's passion to progress and if at all possible, move back to Baldock, the Spartan South Midlands League were asked to inspect the Arena to advise on its suitability for Step 6 football before we made any commitment to moving there. A report on the actions required was sent to us and included in the document was the need for an FA Performance Test Certificate for the 3G playing surface. All other requirements seemed pretty straightforward to apply so as a result, the Club took the option to move back to Baldock."
"Those who have visited the North Herts Arena this season will know that it is a first-class facility, but because it has a 3G playing surface it had to meet a certain standard for use at Step 6 and above. There are two companies nationally who carry out the pitch testing. Following further investigations and correspondence with one of these companies and the FA directly, it became clear the pitch would have to conform to something called a `FIFA One-Star Standard for Artificial Surfaces`. However, there was no definitive mention of this in the FA's Ground Grading documentation - only an FA Performance Test, which following research appeared to be very vague and outdated.
“The pitch was constructed in 2007 and the FIFA Standard, which is for a pitch deemed suitable to host international matches, didn’t come in until 2009. After consulting the FA, they informed us that there had been ongoing talks between themselves and FIFA to see if they can create a more realistic and relaxed standard in the lower echelons of the league ladder. Unfortunately for us, this wasn’t going to come about within our limited timeframe to gain promotion and it would transpire sometime later that this would only apply to Step 7 anyway!”
“However, the FA still encouraged us to get the 3G pitch tested to the FIFA One-Star Standard on the basis that it would assist them with gathering their data in finding this proposed lower pitch standard. All this seemed encouraging on our part, but once we were informed of the pitch failing the test, they told us it would cost a fortune to get the pitch up to standard should we wish to pursue with any rectification works.”
“On receipt of the pitch test report, it appeared that the surface had failed very marginally on three counts – Ball Rebound (bounce), Ball Roll and Surface Undulations. Having made some investigations, the costs being quoted were £5,500 to address the issues, but we were given no assurances from the contractor that the pitch would then pass to meet the FIFA Standard. This left us with a predicament of spending a significant sum of money on something that still may not put things right.”
“As the pitch was just outside the standard required and there being talk of a lower standard, we went back to the FA and SSML to plead our case to see if there could be any kind of movement on the pitch requirements. The FA then informed the SSML on 27th March 2012 that irrespective of the pitch issues, we could not be considered for promotion whilst we had a cage around the pitch! The report on the actions required to meet Step 6 football did not make any mention of the cage and at the time of inspection, it had been queried as to whether it could be an issue and the SSML officials replied `No, I don't think so`.
“This then put another ‘barrier’ in the way of our progress so to speak! It was almost the final nail in the coffin with regards to our promotion bid. In a final attempt, we asked the FA if we could get any dispensation to take promotion by groundsharing elsewhere. As a rule, this is not normally allowed, but with the misleading correspondence regarding the pitch and then the cage issue coming at the last minute, we felt we had a case as we would potentially not have moved to the Arena in the first place had we known all this information before committing.
“After consideration by the FA Leagues Committee, we were once again rebuffed – leaving us with little option but to throw the towel in. Everyone at the Club is obviously gutted and I feel particularly sorry for the 1st Team management and all the players, who have been superb all season.”
“Moving forward we are seeking a groundshare for the 2012/13 season as we face a similar scenario if we are in the same position this time next season should we stay at the Arena, so if any local clubs with a ground grading suitable for Step 6 football are reading this and seeking a potential groundshare, we would be pleased to hear from you.”
“The fact that things have conspired against us on the promotion front this term is bad enough, but I think the most disappointing aspect from my point of view is that to progress we are being encouraged to groundshare outside of the Town again. We have made great steps this season following our return to Baldock and we have been getting some decent attendances for this level of football and now that hard work on and off the pitch has all seemingly been for nothing. Playing outside of the Town also loses part of the club's identity.
“Our set-up on and off the pitch is geared for a higher level of football and I am confident we will eventually get to where I feel we should be, but only a dedicated facility within the town for our senior and youth sides will allow us to reach our full potential. We have been crying out for support from the local authorities for some time now and I don’t know how much more we can achieve before they sit up and take notice.”