Cash pledge for struggling U's

THE owner of Colchester United will ensure the club will not face a financial crisis if the team is relegated - by guaranteeing a £10million debt for the club's new stadium, it emerged last night.

James Hore

THE owner of Colchester United will ensure the club will not face a financial crisis if the team is relegated - by guaranteeing a £10million debt for the club's new stadium, it emerged last night.

The spectre of relegation hangs over the U's who are currently 10 points adrift of safety at the bottom of the Championship.

Next season will see the club moving to a new ground at Cuckoo Farm, to the north of Colchester - a project financed largely by a £10million loan from Colchester Borough Council to be repaid by the club over 10 years.

But concerns have been raised about the number of fans who will turn out to the 10,000-seat stadium if the U's are playing in League One.

The club has already confirmed ticket prices will be going up, even if the U's do go down, to meet the repayments to the council.

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But last night it was confirmed club owner Robbie Cowling would guarantee any shortfall on the loan payments to Colchester Borough Council.

Colchester MP and lifelong U's fan, Bob Russell, said: “My biggest fear is Colchester United will make history by having a new stadium but the gate numbers go down.”

He said he had not been invited to be involved with any part of the ongoing project to move to the new £14million stadium.

Dave Murthwaite, chairman of the Colchester Community Stadium Company, which runs the new ground, said Mr Cowling had agreed to guarantee payments to cover the council's loan, should the gate receipts fail to do so.

But he stressed the business plan on which the deal was based had been thoroughly modelled by independent consultants, allowing for poor performance from both the club and low ticket sales.

“The business case we put to show the project could wash its face was based on Colchester United playing in League One, not the Championship.

“We were very clear about that. There is an element of risk - but no more so than continuing to try and play at Layer Road.

“Contractually the club is obliged to pay the same amount of rent no matter what happens until the loan is repaid, and that figure has been agreed by Mr Cowling who, as owner and major shareholder, is quite happy to guarantee that.

“The ratepayer will not have to put his hand in his pocket. Even if the club was in the Premiership the amount would be the same.

“It is only when the loan is repaid - in 10 years or less - that the deal shifts to a percentage of money taken on the gate.”

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