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Bath seek answers on stadium plan



Times are changing in the West Country. Alongside junction 30 of the M5 in Devon, a gleaming new stadium with full conference facilities has sprung up at Sandy Park where Exeter Chiefs will stage their first game on Saturday against Coventry in National League One. Across the county border in north-east Somerset, by contrast, Bath remain stuck at the downbeat Recreation Ground, increasingly twitchy about the future. Twenty years of thumbtwiddling have come home to roost.

This stark role reversal may just be temporary. Bath's reputation as one of English rugby's premier clubs still lingers from their 80s heyday. The startling win over Leicester on Saturday demonstrated the current squad still possess pride and ambition. Exeter, meantime, lost at Birmingham/ Solihull which suggests their Premiership arrival is still a way off.

By the River Avon, though, there is genuine concern. Ever since the game went professional, and even before that, the club have been looking to upgrade the Rec's facilities to the satisfaction of the local council and various other interested parties. The club's chief executive, Bob Calleja said: "If you go down to the changing- rooms they're old and need to be replaced. Most of the ground is temporary and the rest is past its sell-by date. It's unfair on our supporters to put up with makeshift toilets."

The worst-case scenario, according to Calleja, is that Bath will be forced to move if the complex impasse is not resolved. Relocating to Swindon would be unthinkable. But if the club were to be relegated and could boast neither the minimum Premiership capacity nor primacy of tenure elsewhere, what then? Their whole future would be uncertain, particularly with Gloucester, Bristol and, maybe, the Chiefs growing in influence.

Hence the reason why, after years of debate, a frustrated Bath have decided to get on the front foot. The Charity Commission, which is responsible for the Recreation Ground after the receivers were called in to sort out the financial affairs of the previous administration, did not give permission until August for the 4,500-seat temporary stand which occupies the cricket pitch side of the ground. This has persuaded the club to launch a major campaign to "keep rugby at the Rec", timed to coincide with a council-funded independent strategic review being conducted. The club, keenly aware their current 10,300 capacity must rise to at least 15,000 by 2011, favours a "horseshoe" redevelopment of three sides of the ground without, crucially, raising the height of the existing main stand on the river side.

"We need a decision on the legality of developing this ground," admitted Calleja, who expects the review to be delivered in December and hopes the Charity Commission will announce their recommendations by February. "If the worst happened there would be a difficult decision to make. Either we stay here and Bath Rugby deteriorates or we would have to move.

"I know London Irish and Wasps have moved lock, stock and barrel but if we went to Swindon we'd have to start again with a different support base and different sponsors. No disrespect to Swindon, but Bath playing there would be a desperate last option. Bath rugby brings in millions to this city and, commercially, I'm sure the council would do everything possible to keep the team here. But I am concerned because there doesn't seem to be any sense of urgency. We cannot continue like this. We're standing still and trying to maintain a top team while other clubs are developing fast."

No wonder Calleja, speaking on behalf of his chairman Andrew Brownsword, admits he is "envious" of Exeter's swanky new home. The Chiefs' chief executive Tony Rowe remembers dining a couple of years ago with a high-ranking official in charge of Wembley's redevelopment who suggested the former get in touch if he ever needed advice on how to run a successful building project. Rowe should pick up the phone today and return the offer.

"Now is the time to make your feelings heard. We cannot afford to let this opportunity pass us by - it is very serious."

From BBC Sport

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</div>Would be a shame to see the end of the recreation ground and a massive loss for Bath itself, but for a Club to move on they need to develop and Bath have a small capacity in comparison to others in the league, but they always do fill their ground, and create an atmosphere in the stada and especially round the historic city... Hopefully the Charity Commision will sort this out and let Bath develop....
It's really crunch time. We simply cannot afford to carry on the way we have been for the next five seasons. For every game when we could be selling 15,000 tickets and can only sell 10,000, we are letting money slip away.

I want to stay at The Rec, but it's got to a stage where I would rather we move out of the city centre if we can't proceed any further. Even if we moved out of Bath for a couple of seasons (to Swindon's County Ground, as an example), the council would soon be asking us back as the city's economy would suddenly be down thousands of pounds every game weekend. The club easily brings 13,000 (fans and shoppers) into the centre.
Agreed there, Match Days in Bath are fantastic, walking along Putney Bridge, to walk down by the Riverside...

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