Gulls takeover reaches crisis point
The prospective takeover of Torquay United has reached crisis point with bidders Gaming International issuing what the Torquay United Supporters Trust has described as an ultimatum to Torbay Council.
It has now emerged that Swindon-based Gaming International, operating through their subsidiary Riviera International Limited, want to take ownership of Plainmoor and then build a new ground elsewhere. Torbay Council currently own the freehold of Plainmoor. It is quite an extensive site in a built up area of Torquay with development potential.
Former MP and now local councillor Adrian Sanders, who is a lifelong Gulls fan, has called on mayor Gordon Oliver to give an account of what is going on. The Supporters Trust would like a form of supporter/community ownership of the ground through a community share issue.
But would this raise the amount of money required? They also note that Plainmoor is listed as an Asset of Community Value, a status which many fan groups value, but I am not sure that it gives that much protection when a club is in financial trouble.
Riviera Stadium Limited's period of exclusivity ends on 31 July, and the club will seek investment elsewhere if a deal is not struck by then. However, there does not seem to be a long queue. A club statement refers to 'possible' purchasers.
The club itself takes the view that a new venue is required. Plainmoor might be described as 'homely' or perhaps even 'outdated'. They consider that a ground that could also be an event venue could generate new streams of commercial income. However, one has to consider how much demand there is for such a venue in the Torbay area and whether supporters would be keen on travelling to a location outside the town.
A more general question that arises is, do clubs flourish in seaside resorts which often attract elderly retirees who either are not interested in football or have allegiances elsewhere? Just under a quarter of the population of Torquay is over 65 and the 20 to 39 age group is under represented.
In such a debate, Brighton does not really count as it is a city with the status of 'London by the Sea'. Blackpool were a leading club in the days of Stanley Matthews, but have gone downhill along with the resort, although many would argue that mismanagement by the current owners has played a large part there.
Scarborough and Southport lost their Football League staus, although the latter is as much a commuter town for Liverpool as a resort. New Brighton lost its league club altogther as the resort went downhill, although the area has now moved more up market. Some resorts have become very depressed areas, e.g., Great Yarmouth and Skegness, although Hastings is experiencing something of a recovery. None of these towns have ever had league clubs.
Torbay enjoys a certain cachet and superficial prosperity, although the town's image was not helped by reality television shows depicting struggling hotels with out of touch owners and idiosyncratic managers. 'The Hotel' as the series was called was described as depicting 'a real life Fawlty Towers', the classic fictional television series starring John Cleese having been inspired by a hotel in Torquay. For me, the order given by the chef in one programme summed it all up: 'Tea bags, the cheap ones.'
Of course, there is another side to the coin. I remember watching an English langauge programme on Chinese television. The Chinese male actor had achived the much sought after prize of an English girl friend and they were planning a trip to England. 'We will stay at the Imperial Hotel, Torquay', he promised.
Like many seaside resorts, the prosperous veneer of Torquay hides a great deal of deprivation. In 2010 Torquay was among the top twenty per cent of most deprived local authority areas in England and Wales and the most deprived in the south-west. It's not a good socio-economic background for establishing a successful football club.