Durham City leaving club home is a ‘sad’ situation – but door not closed on return

Durham City (yellow) v Darlington 1883 (green) and New Ferens Park, Belmont, Durham on Sarturday

Durham City (yellow) v Darlington 1883 (green) and New Ferens Park, Belmont, Durham on Sarturday

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Landlords say they have not closed the door on Durham City Football Club returning to the ground they vacated last week.

And Stewart Dawson and Austin Carney, who co-own the New Ferens Park stadium and once owned the club, say the situation should never have deteriorated to the point where City chairman Olivier Bernard announced there would be a parting of the ways.

Olivier Bernard

Olivier Bernard

Ex-Newcastle United defender Bernard, who took over Durham in 2013 with initial ambitions of turning it into a feeder club for the Magpies, described the severing of ties between ground and club as “brutal” and “unexpected” in a statement on the club’s website.

But Dawson and Carney say their company, Sedd Leisure Limited, had “bent over backwards” to keep the Northern League outfit at the ground and said negotiations had been going on for months before a dispute over unpaid bills led to City’s departure last week.

Mr Dawson said: “It has been a massive wrench seeing Durham City leave New Ferens Park and we remain open to them returning one day if the situation changes.

“Durham City have played here since the mid 1990s – this is the club’s natural home in our view - and over the years Austin and I have striven to help it progress.

“We’ve bent over backwards in recent times trying to find solutions for Durham City and we are both enormously sad that it has come to this.”

Stewart Dawson of Sedd Leisure, owners of New Ferrens Park

“We’ve bent over backwards in recent times trying to find solutions for Durham City and we are both enormously sad that it has come to this.

“But as owners of New Ferens Park we have responsibilities to look after a community football ground which is also used by the Russell Foster league, Durham Ladies Football Club, the Durham and District Sunday League and Lumley Ladies.

“We eventually felt we had no other option but to serve an eviction notice. Even then though, we thought we had found a temporary way forward for Durham City this month when we suggested a ‘pay as you play’ deal which would ensure Durham City saw out its league commitments until the end of the season without having to cancel matches or re-arrange fixtures.

“But Mr Bernard chose not to turn up at the pre-arranged meeting to discuss that option, which meant that went by the way and subsequently turned down the offer of Northern League chairman Mike Amos to arbitrate.”

Sedd Leisure says it has spent more than £30,000 on ground maintenance in the last couple of years and that Durham City have benefited from rent-free periods and rent reductions during that time but has been unwilling to contribute a small percentage towards ground repair costs.

Mr Dawson added: “We’ve been a little disappointed at how this has been portrayed in some quarters because in our view we have been fair and good landlords and only asked for what the club were expected to pay as part of their use of the ground. But the door is always open to Durham City Football Club as far as we are concerned, should circumstances change.”

Mr Bernard argued it is not feasible for the club to enter into a pay as you play deal and that the ground’s owners need to be make a permanent offer as part of negotiations.

“We are just not on the same page,” said Mr Bernard.