DURHAM City AFC is reeling after a double blow – with its shirt sponsor pulling out after news that the club’s promotion chances could be blocked because of its artificial pitch.
The club, which has just started its campaign in the Unibond Premier League after two successive promotions, has been told that London-based Helios Properties is pulling out because the club’s progress through the non-league pyramid system to the Football League would be blocked.
The club, which two years ago was playing in the Northern League, was told it would not be able to use its plastic pitch, installed three years ago, if it won promotion to the Blue Square North, the second division of the Football Conference.
The club has had two hugely successful seasons in which it won the Northern League and then the Unibond League First Division North and did well in last season’s FA Cup – losing in the fourth qualifying round to Histon, who went on to beat Leeds United – and the FA Trophy.
It has been able to play FA Vase and FA Trophy games on the artificial surface but had to stage home FA Cup fixtures at neighbouring grounds with real grass.
The artificial surface cost almost £1m and is used throughout the week to host youth and community games, bringing in vital funds. UEFA allowed the recent Russia v England international game to be played on a similar surface.
The club, which was in the former Division Three North of the Football League from 1921 to 1928, says it will have to release the players it recruited to compete at the higher level.
Chairman Stewart Dawson said: “This is hugely disappointing news for everyone connected to Durham City Football Club.
“The recent success of back-to-back promotions has indicated the very positive management team involved at the club. All board members have worked tirelessly in recent years on raising the profile of the club, which has paid dividends with huge success on the pitch.
“We are a club that always prides ourselves on excellent housekeeping and working within set budgets and, in recent years, have spent substantial, six-figure sums to climb through the football pyramid system.
“To lose our major sponsor in the new season’s infancy means we will not be able to continue to sustain the club’s budgets set prior to season commencing, and continue at the level of football we are currently in.
“The board therefore feel we have no alternative other than to allow players to leave and, as a consequence, all players are available for transfer with immediate effect.
“We intend to fulfil our remaining fixtures this season, our first season in the Unibond Premier League, and will endeavour to compete within the higher tier to the best of our ability.”
The club is seeking local players interested in joining.
Dennis Strudwick, general manager of the Football Conference, which runs the Blue Square leagues, said: “We have a ruling that no matches can be played on artificial pitches without prior approval of the board and the board hasn’t approved artificial pitches yet.
“We would like to the Football League to give approval to them first. It is not on the agenda at the moment but it was considered fairly recently and we decided we would leave things as they are.’’ Mr Dawson added: “The club would like to thank supporters who have been part of the success in recent years. The gates have increased significantly over the past two years and we would like to thank our local business sponsors, including Esh Group, Giles Insurance and Ramside Hall for their continued support.
“The club sends a plea to the local business and community to rally round and support the city’s club.”
Nobody was available for comment at Helios Properties.
● The club will hold a fundraising ball featuring the King of Swing, Jason Isaacs, at Ramside Hall Hotel on Friday September 4. For tickets, call Ian Coulson on 07747-638690 and Ian Walker on 07976-005981.