The evening began with an auction to benefit the Red Army Fund. Three match worn STFC shirts were auctioned. Premiership shirts worn by Fraser Digby and Shaun Taylor and a more recent rare shirt worn by John Sutton during his brief loan spell at the club. A pair of executive tickets donated by the club were also auctioned. A total of £342 was raised for the Red Army Fund
Matters then turned to the stadium development with councilor Justin Tomlinson addressing the assembled fans.
Justin started by referring to the "Strange Summer" with the council voting to block the clubs proposals for Shaw which left the future of the club looking bleak. He praised the efforts of the Trust in refusing to allow the issue to rest there and gathering signatures on a petition to urge the council and the club to work together for a viable stadium development.
This culminated in a vote of the council in November to explore all opportunities for a stadium development, starting with an assessment of the County Ground site.
In hindsight the club and the council should have consulted with the local residents in the Shaw area much earlier as that would have avoided the club wasting much time and money. They are determined to talk to local residents and other interested parties much earlier this time.
The plan is that if a County Ground development stacks up financially, the council will consult with local residents groups and as long as they are happy with the general proposals the club can then spend money on a detailed planning application hopefully by the Summer of this year.
So far progress since the council motion has been good with co-operation between the club and the council.
Bob Holt then addressed the meeting to give the clubs point of view.
Bob started by looking back to three years ago when the present board took control of the club. The financial situation was extremely serious and the club was very close to closure.
Since then yearly losses have been reduced but still stand at somewhere between £500,000 and £1 million. Without a stadium development it is unlikely the club will be able to support itself and will need to continue to rely on the generosity of the Wills family.
The club will put together a list of what they would like to do at the County Ground site. Possibilities mentioned included a Hotel, Conference centre, or some low density housing.
The response from the council to the clubs wish list will determine if it is viable for the club to redevelop at the County Ground. If such a development is not feasible the club will have to look elsewhere, possibly outside the county.
Sandy Gray then addressed the meeting to explain a little more on the clubs finances.
She re-iterated that the club is losing money on income of under £4 million per year, making a loss of between £750,000 and £1 million.
The club need to build up their external revenue sources and their ambition is to become "another Reading". A new stadium could also help to attract more people to the club
Mike Sullivan then addressed the meeting to explain about the marketing of the club.
Mike started by talking about his first spell at the club in the early 90s when the club was successful on the pitch and it was easy to market the club to local businesses.
When he came back to he club in the last few years it has been much harder to get local companies involved. Many companies felt that they had not been looked after well enough by the club in the past.
Last year the marketing department was ahead of budget, partly because of a successful season on the pitch. A winning team is the best marketing tool he could have.
They are looking to improve the package they offer on match days and a new stadium development would help them to do that.
Questions were then invited from the assembled fans. The answers reproduced here are prefixed with the initials of the person answering the question. (BH : Bob Holt, JT : Justin Tomlinson, MS : Mike Sullivan, SG : Sandy Gray, TN : Tony Norris)
Do you plan to bring in disabled supporters groups at an early stage of consultation
BH : Yes. We dont have particularly good facilities at the moment. Improved facilities would be incorporated, not just the minimum legal requirements.
JT : At the first meeting between the council and the club all the council representatives were there including disabled access. The council can give advice to the club and also help to secure grants for funding in this area
Bath Rugby club are rumoured to be actively looking for a new base. Would the football club consider a ground share
MS : We would welcome it. Other clubs do it already it would be a good move
TN : It is becoming more common and it brings new people into the Town. One concern would be the state of the pitch with extra wear and tear.
BH : If Batch are interested we would be interested provided we can get the pitch issue resolved. We want to make better use of the site so using the pitch 50 times a year instead of 25 would be good.
What other new facilities would be included
SG : One option is a retail park with various franchises.
BH : Any potential revenue streams will be considered. We will suggest a number of ideas to the council
What would the council like to see here
JT : Its not just the council, the local residents have to buy into it too. Part of the motion voted on in November was to include the New Swindon Company in the discussions. They have the ability to say yes or no to any development here. They can also give guidance as to whether any proposals will conflict with their own ideas for the Town centre.
Will safe standing areas be included in the new stadium
BH : Its not up to the club but the safety advisory group. We have to abide by the law. We are already under severe pressure over standing in the Town End.
As we design the stadium we will incorporate the facility to convert to safe standing should legislation be changed to allow for it.
TN : There is legislation going through Parliament now. We might be lucky with the timing as a redeveloped County Ground could be used as a pilot scheme.
Councilor Michael Dickinson who represents some of the neighbours of the County Ground then stated that the local residents mainly want the football club to remain where it is because that gives the best chance of retaining the existing open space on the site. If the club moves out the site may be turned into housing which they do not want.
At present the council own the stadium. What protection would be provided against a "Wrexham" type situation where the stadium could be bought by a property developer and the club kicked out
JT : As a councilor, I wouldnt support any measure that could lead to a "Wrexham" type situation.
BH : Legal instruments can be used to prevent any unscrupulous developers taking over.
Have the club got any plans on how they will develop the stadium itself
BH : We want to create a bowl with lower floodlighting, other than that no specific plans. St Modwen say they can do a lot better than Stoke or Reading for example.
Will you have executive boxes in the new ground
BH : 100% yes
After a short break there was then a second question and answer session involving assistant manager Mike Walsh, and Youth coach Iffy Onuora. Topics covered included the teams inconsistency this season, the possible swap deal involving Rory Fallon and Andy Burgess or Rushden, the structure of the youth development programme, and the present injury situation.