Endangered: Ifield Edwards Youth could be left homeless if the club's home ground is sold off to developers 22114ak30 by Alec Kingham
IFIELD Edwards are facing a grim future after their home ground was put up for sale by its owners.
The football club, which has four senior teams and 12 junior sides, will be left homeless if the Edwards Sports & Social Club is snapped up by property developers.
If this happens, Ifield Edwards men's first team would be forced to drop out of the Sussex County League and this could spell the end for the club in its current form.
The seven-acre ground and clubhouse in Ifield Green is owned by BOC, a gases company with a base in Crawley, which wants to sell the Sports & Social Club to the highest bidder.
Desperate to safeguard their future, Ifield Edwards have called for an emergency meeting with BOC to put forward plans for opening up the sports club to the wider community.
But time is not on their side, with a commercial property agent already in place to begin selling the club in mid-January.
Ifield Edwards chairman Paul Richman said it would be a "crying shame" if the football club lost its home ground to property developers.
"Our major concern is that it is bought, by someone with no interest in the club, for land banking," he said.
"It could be left to rot until such time as they get what they are looking for (in terms of a selling-on fee). That could be a disaster.
"Crawley has lost lots of community sports facilities already and we don't want to see another one go that way.
"Our first team would have to give up their County League status because ground sharing is not allowed. We would have to look at alternative arrangements for them, and our youth teams would become homeless.
"All our work would go out the window. It's a crying shame that is has come to this."
The lease of the Sports & Social club is held by Edwards, a subsidiary of BOC that was split up in 2007 when part of it was sold to a private equity firm.
This firm, CCMP Capital, do not want to renew the lease on the ground when it expires in May, and with a dwindling workforce in its Crawley base in the face of the economic downturn, BOC are ready to sell up.
But this has not gone down well at Ifield Edwards, the bottom side in County League division three.
They argue the Sports & Social Club has never cost BOC anything and therefore the company has no money to recoup.
"BOC's original club at County Oak was built by Edwards Sports & Social Club members with their own hands and materials provided by the then Edwards chairman, so there was no cost to BOC," said Richman.
The Sports & Social Club moved to its current location in Ifield Green when Sainsbury's built their store in West Green. The supermarket giant gave £4 million to the New Towns Commission to help relocate the club and build a new clubhouse, and BOC was given the seven-acre site as part of the deal.
Richman hopes that BOC will realise how it came to own the sports club and will relinquish it to Ifield Edwards so they can pursue their goal of establishing a "community facility" on the site.
"We believe the club was built by local people who gave up their time free of charge to create a facility for the local people in an expanding working new town," he said.
"We want to continue do this and would like BOC to consider donating the club to the local area for community use and I would encourage BOC to have face to face discussions with us to explore this possibility."
Ifield Edwards want to make the Sports & Social Club so well used that it can be open seven days a week as opposed to three days a week as it is currently.
This would be made possible by offering it for use by local businesses for their employees and local charities, the football club say.
But if Ifield Edwards are unsuccessful in their appeals to BOC, the sports club will be auctioned.
A spokesman for BOC said: "When BOC was acquired by The Linde Group in 2006, Linde sold the Edwards vacuum business based at Crawley.
"As manufacturing was moved to the Czech Republic, the properties at Crawley, including the Ifield Sports & Social Club, became surplus to requirements.
"The decision has been taken by Linde to sell these properties. Linde would be happy to discuss options with interested parties but has a duty to ensure a fair market value is obtained for any assets it sells."
Ifield Edwards would not be able to compete with the financial might of the property giants but there is still hope as the site is not attractive to developers for several reasons.
The site is in the Ifield Village Conservation Area and outside the built-up area boundary. The clubhouse is also in Zone Three of a floodplain (the highest category), and the land's propensity to flooding was highlighted last week when the River Mole burst its banks forcing elderly residents of The Gables nursing home to be evacuated and damaging homes in the Ifield Green area.
"We have to be positive that we can achieve our ultimate goal and we are doing everything in our power," said Richman, who remains hopeful of a positive outcome.
"Myself and the other committee members are interested in the community and the football club - there are so many possibilities for it.
"We are looking for someone who might want to support the idea financially. If they are interested, they can contact us and we'll see if we can come up with something to take us forward."
Ifield councillor Alison Burke has confirmed she is working with several officers at Crawley Borough Council to see if it can assist the club in retaining their home pitch.
She said: "We are looking into various routes to assist them, and I remain very supportive to their cause.
"Ifield Edwards provide a valuable service to the youngsters of the town, not just those within the ward, and I would be very upset to see them cease to continue."
Anyone interested in helping Ifield Edwards can visit http://ifield-edwards-fc.fastfreenet.com for contact details.