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Wednesday 3rd September 2008 ko 19.45

Spartan South Midlands League- Premier Division

KENTISH TOWN 1 (Donoghue 68)

BRIMSDOWN ROVERS 1 (Farrell 87)

Att 48 @Barnet Copthall Stadium

Entry & Programme £4

Here’s one from the archives, or to put in another way, the “Before” shot as the ground looks radically different these days. And unusually for this blog, it’s the ground that’s more the subject than the club playing there.

Back in 2008 Barnet Copthall Stadium was a typical if well-appointed municipal athletics stadium, but I had one reason to pick this fixture above all others- for all the world it looked like Barnet FC were going to move there. It did make a lot of sense, the stadium was underused since London Crusaders rugby league played two seasons there ending in 1998. They metamophosed into the London Broncos, and rather ironically had a stint where Barnet ended up, The Hive. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

Barnet were in desperate need of a replacement for their charming, but unsuitable Underhill home, and despite Copthall being right on the border with Mill Hill it was in the borough, and could be made to be suitable for Football League games. The only real issue, was as often the case, the powers that be….

In 2001 Barnet put in for, and gained planning permission from Barnet Council to redevelop Copthall but the whole project was called in by central government in the form of then deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. To Barnet’s horror, he reversed the council’s decision citing the impact of Football League football on the local on residents and the whole process reached a dead-end. Nevertheless Barnet retained an interest in the stadium, and it still represented Barnet’s best chance of a new stadium.

7 years later I watched Kentish Town, formed in 2003, and who were using the stadium as a means of fulfilling Step 5 ground gradings, particularly the provision of floodlights and I watched a fairly dull draw in front of a meagre crowd, but with the expectation that the next time I visited the place I’d be watching Barnet. After all, all it was going to take was a change of the political wind.

Sadly the winds changed in way that Barnet couldn’t have foreseen. Saracens rugby union club had embraced professionalism but with their spiritual home, Bramley Road, Southgate being unsuitable in 1997 they moved their professional team into a groundshare with Watford FC at Vicarage Road. But in 2010 Watford opted to exercise a break clause in Saracens’ rental agreement.

Saracens then applied to Barnet council to redevelop Copthall as a 10,000 capacity rugby and athletics stadium. In a shape of things to come at the Olympic Stadium Saracens plans involved 3 removable stands, although a new permanent stand has subsequently been built on the far side. But as a principle, surely the crowd for a Premiership rugby game will cause roughly the same problems to local residents as a League 2 crowd? Well clearly those in authority found some difference as in 2011 Saracens moved in and are still there today with Copthall now rebadged Allianz Park.

To describe Barnet FC as unimpressed would be an understatement. But their protests fell on deaf ears, so in 2013 they moved to The Hive, to what in 2006 had been Wealdstone FC’s half-completed new ground. Wealdstone remain at Grosvenor Vale, formerly home to now defunct Ruislip Manor FC, but the lease ends next year. Wealdstone would love to groundshare at the ground that was going to be their home but Barnet seem resistant to the idea. The clock is ticking…..

But what happened to Kentish Town FC? They were forced out of Copthall Stadium in 2011 when Saracens moved in, and settled at Hillingdon Borough’s Breakspear Road. They folded when the money ran out in 2014. In footballing terms it really was a case of so near but so far for so many clubs…

 

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