Paul Barry sets out his offer to the Supporters Club to fund & build a new facility…
Ahead of a meeting with the Supporters Club Committee on 7 August, Majority Owner Paul Barry wrote to Paul Mayes last week setting out five commitments from Cambridge United to the Supporters Club to fund and build a new facility located on the Thrifty Van Rental site on Newmarket Road.
As Paul writes, given the interest of all fans in this issue, its criticality to the redevelopment of the Abbey Stadium and some understandable lack of clarity to date, he is making the letter public to help inform everyone of the current position and how it can hopefully be resolved.
Dear Supporters Club Committee,
Re: Stadium Redevelopment
Like me and every Cambridge United supporter I am sure you are looking forward to the start of the new season. As you know I will be over for it and look forward to meeting up with you and members of the Supporters Club Committee.
Before we do, I thought it would be helpful to set out in a bit more detail where we have got to as a Club with the Stadium, our plans for it and why they are so important to the future of Cambridge United. It’s clear from different conversations many of us are having with fans and members of the Supporters Club that there is some confusion about what we want to do and why the current Supporters Club is so critical in enabling it to happen. I acknowledge that any confusion is perhaps a result of a lack of clear communication around this issue on our part, so to aid understanding and in the interests of transparency I will be making this letter public in the coming days to help address that.
Without wanting to go over recent history - which we both know so well as we have lived through it - Cambridge United as a Club and a community has gone through some very tough times, during which there have been moments where our very existence has been in peril. To get to where we currently have has taken a massive collective effort by countless people over several decades - and that includes the Supporters Club itself. ‘United In Endeavour’ for the Club we love.
With the Club now owning the Abbey Stadium, our future destiny is now firmly in our own hands for the first time in years. As a result, we have come to a crossroads where the path we choose for it is critical to the future of Cambridge United.
We can choose to modernise it, invest in it, keep its unique identity whilst at the same time making it an attractive, vibrant place used not just every other Saturday and occasional Tuesday but every day of the week. If we choose this path, it will of course mean a lot of investment, initially from the owners, but in time will give us the ability to grow our capacity and commercial revenues as a Club. That is the only way to keep pace with many other clubs, who themselves are raising their ambitions further, to move ahead and do even more for the city and community we serve.
Or we can choose the other path which is effectively the status quo. Make incremental improvements here and there - as we are doing, and which are important of themselves of course - but effectively stand still at best as a Club in terms of our Stadium infrastructure. This would inevitably mean we would be overtaken - not immediately but over time - by other clubs of a similar size with better, more modern facilities who can offer a better spectator experience and generate more non match day income which they can then reinvest on the pitch.
It hopefully doesn’t need stating - but I will do so anyway - that Adam, Mark and I are completely committed to Cambridge United. It is a genuine privilege to be its custodians not its owners and we want only the best for it. That means us continuing to invest in it so it can grow and thrive as can be seen from the Training Ground most recently where work is well underway on the Clare College site.
However, it is vital that everyone associated with Cambridge United recognises that, for all its charms and for all the recent improvements at the Abbey, we are almost at the limit of the commercial potential of the Abbey today. We are in also in a period when the amount of money being invested by Clubs in the leagues below us has never been greater and that clearly brings more future jeopardy if we simply stand still. Our love for the Club may be limitless but our pockets are not and the ability to increase our commercial revenue is essential to a thriving Cambridge United in the future.
Which brings me to the current Supporters Club site. In simple terms unless the Club owns the site, we can’t redevelop the Abbey Stadium. This is not only because of its critical location to the potential new NRE development but also its key point of access to the site more widely to allow us to develop the Habbin, for example.
I know our respective lawyers have been discussing this since last November. I also recognise the wider role that the Supporters Club plays for the local community outside matchdays which is valued by many non-Cambridge United supporters.
So, in a spirit of partnership and in a desire to break the current impasse, I want to set out in black and white the ‘Five Commitments’ that Cambridge United is prepared to make to the Supporters Club in exchange for the freehold of the current site. These build on what both parties have already discussed but can hopefully now reach an agreement.
A New Supporters Club Building
- CUFC would provide a new building for the Supporters Club on the existing Stadium footprint. The SC will be given a 99-year lease with guaranteed parking and access from the Newmarket Road. A new, modern purpose-built building will be constructed to meet its needs.
At No Cost
- CUFC would pay all the construction and internal fit-out costs. There would be no charge at all, for the lease. No initial payment and no annual charge. The only financial obligation on the SC would be to pay for the maintenance of the building – a liability that exists with the current building.
With Design Involvement
- CUFC would set up a working group with the SC to ensure that the SC is fully involved in the design of the new building.
With Continuity of Service
- CUFC would guarantee that there would be no interruption in service i.e., the current Supporters Club would not close until the new building could open.
With The Stadium Protected in Perpetuity
- CUFC will guarantee that it will legally protect the Abbey Stadium through a Golden Share. This would ensure that the Supporters Club will never have the need to see itself as the custodian of last resort for the football club through its site as perhaps has happened in the past.
I believe that these five commitments are fair to both parties. And importantly, as a body that represents the best interests of Cambridge United supporters, I hope your members will acknowledge it is a deal in the best long-term interest of the Club they obviously support, and we all want to see succeed. Our commitments in this letter are of course subject to reaching agreement on the details required to give effect to the Proposal and recording these is the necessary legal agreements’.
Forgive the length of this letter but given some of the confusion and Chinese whispers around this issue I felt it important to set things out clearly so everyone can understand what we are proposing, what is at stake and why this is now the critical moment to move forward.
Later next month we will be issuing the first outline designs of the Stadium and talking for the first time about these development ambitions in a bit more detail. Given the importance of the Supporters Club to this it would be great if, at the same time, we could announce the date of a future SC EGM that would be necessary to allow your members - hopefully- to give their approval to this and for us to fire the starting gun together on an exciting new chapter for Cambridge United. Supporters - United in Endeavour - for their Club.