Whitton’s new stand comes too late for promotion

WHITTON United will officially open their new �30,000 stand when they play host to an Ipswich Town XI on Saturday.

But the club’s joy at declaring the McDonalds Stand open has been tempered by the fact that their failure to meet the deadline for its completion meant they had to withdraw their application for promotion.

Work started on the 113-seat stand in March, at which stage the Ipswich-based club were outsiders to finish in the top three of Division One of the Ridgeons League.

However, a tremendous run saw the club finish runners-up – a point behind champions Gorleston and five points clear of third-placed Diss Town.

Completion of the stand at their King George V ground on the outskirts of Ipswich by the extended date of June 25 – the day of the Ridgeons League AGM – was key to ground improvements the club was asked to carry out in order to be eligible for promotion to the Premier Division.

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Clubs in Division One are required to have covered accommodation for 100 spectators, of which at least 50 must be seated, and Whitton were asked by the league to bring their ground up to Division One standard by the AGM date.

After withdrawing from the Premier Division in mid-season two years previously, Whitton were told if they finished in one of the promotion places they would have to appear before the league’s management committee to convince them they would not do so again, in addition to completing ground improvements on time.

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Phil Pemberton, the Whitton United secretary, said: “We were given special dispensation by the FA and the Ridgeons League until June 25 to complete the stand.

“Club chairman Ruel Fox and myself gave a presentation to the league, who were happy with what we had to say, and they were going to recommend our promotion.

“On the Friday – the day before the AGM – I met Peter Hutchings, the Ridgeons League’s grounds standards officer, at the ground.

“He took one look at the stand and said he could not recommend our promotion to the league’s management committee because the stand was not completed.

“I then recommended to our own committee that we withdraw our application.

“And when I went to the AGM on the Saturday and spoke to the president of the league half-an-hour before the management committee were due to meet, he confirmed they could not support our application – so we withdrew it.

“I don’t think we had a choice; sometimes you have to be man enough to look at it objectively and do the right thing.”

Ridgeons League secretary Nigel Spurling praised Whitton United for withdrawing their application for promotion at the 11th hour.

Spurling said: “Ruel Fox and Phil Pemberton’s presentation six weeks earlier was one of the best presentations I had ever heard, so I felt desperately sorry for them when they then decided to withdraw their application.”

Spurling said Whitton’s ground improvements, which would have brought the ground up to Division One standard, originally needed to be completed by March 31.

He said: “We asked the Football Association to give special dispensation to Whitton, which they agreed to but only up until the AGM, which is in keeping with their standard approach.

“Special dispensation was given until June 25 – the day of the AGM – but the reason we couldn’t go beyond that is because the league constitution is officially recognised on that day, so if Whitton did not have not the work completed by then there would be all manner of problems.

“Peter Hutchings, the league’s grounds standards officer, visited the ground and saw the work had not been done. The league’s management committee were meeting on the Saturday to discuss the situation before the AGM, and we had to agree that we were unable to recommend Whitton’s promotion as we had done previously, but before we met to discuss it they withdrew their application.

“In many respects the league had no choice in the matter, so great credit goes to Whitton United for understanding the situation and coming forward and withdrawing their application prior to the AGM.”

Even if the league’s management committee had recommended the application, Whitton’s fate would have then been decided by the league’s 38 member clubs at the AGM on a majority vote. The result of this would not have been a foregone conclusion after the club’s withdrawal upset Premier Division clubs two years ago.

Spurling added that should Whitton win promotion next season, the club would have until March 31 the following season to bring their ground up to Premier Division standard, which requires covered accommodation for 200 spectators including at least 100 seats.

The stand will be officially opened at 2pm on Saturday - an hour before kick-off - by Russell Osman, who is now under-18 coach to Ipswich Town’s Academy, and Mark Richards, whose company Mardi Foods is a McDonalds franchise with several outlets.

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