So, was today the day when the game was up for Nick Higgs and Bristol Rovers?
We learned today that not only had Sainsburys announced their decision to pull out of the Memorial Stadium project, the enabling financial device to allow Rovers to build the UWE Stadium, they told us last February – six months ago. And we, the poor supporters, knew nothing about it.
Perhaps the board decided not to say anything because things were bad enough on the pitch. We were dicing with the lower echelons of the Football League and the trapdoor to the Conference. Perhaps they thought it would make us even more depressed?
I accept, of course, that we cannot be told everything. There will be confidentiality agreements with various parties and the club sometimes has to be economical with the facts. But in the last six months we have been told repeatedly that the new stadium was on track and it was merely a matter of when the building work would start, not if.
By an incredible coincidence, director and former chairman Geoff Dunford wanted to leave the board last February but was persuaded to stay on. I am sure it was nothing to do with the Sainsburys situation.
But last week, Geoff finally does leave the board and this week. presumably as a result of another incredible influence, we finally hear that Sainsburys want out.
We have been told, repeatedly, that Sainsburys have a contract and it is unbreakable. The gist of it is that regardless of whether they build a new supermarket on the site, they still have to pay us. Financial director Toni Watola recently described the agreement as “cast iron” which I took to mean cast iron and for all I know it is. So nothing to worry about, right?
Rovers have issued a writ against Sainsburys, our erstwhile partner, alleging a breach of contract, so given the assurances we have received, (and I repeat) there’s nothing to worry about.
This is the problem of the society in which we live where the rich hold the power and the super rich do what the hell they like because they have even more power. By any measurement, the Rovers board of directors are rich beyond the dreams of most people on the terraces. They live in huge houses, drive flash cars and live a very different life from the rest of us. But the super rich, especially the behemoths of the FTSE, like Sainsburys, carry clout way beyond that. Even ordinary millionaires are meant to doff their caps to the big boys.
For Rovers fans, this news must seem like a dagger to the heart. Just seven years after trips to Wembley and Cardiff, and more recently a run to the quarter finals of the FA Cup, they find themselves in non league football. But through the gloom was always the light of the UWE Stadium which would be the answer to all our problems. The light at the end of the tunnel, as they say.
I don’t understand everything that’s going on, why it has happened at this very moment in time or whether it is the end of the dream of a new stadium. In short, I know what I read in the Bristol Post and the rest is speculation.
But I fear the worst.
Chairman Higgs says it’s still all systems go for the new stadium and he has no reason to lie to us or mislead. Maybe he knows something we don’t but he can’t tell us because of legal stuff.
But today’s revelations represent yet another low in the recent miserable history of Bristol Rovers. The worry for some is that there could be more lows to come.