In football terms, if I were to ask you the difference between the West Berkshire towns of Hungerford (population 5,767), Thatcham (population 26,217) and Newbury (population 41,075) what would you say?
Is that enough time? There are probably a few answers you could come up with but the big one is surely that Newbury is the only one that doesn’t currently have a football ground suitable to host matches in the English Football Pyramid.
In fact the town’s senior football team, Newbury FC – who play at step 7 in the Thames Valley Premier League, play out at the Henwick Worthy Sports Ground in Thatcham.
Things could be about to change if a proposal from West Berkshire Council to build a ground capable of hosting step 4 football at Newbury Rugby Club is approved to finally bring football back to the biggest town in the west of Berkshire according to a Newbury Weekly News report.
Jonathan Ashby writes: “West Berkshire Council and the rugby club have agreed terms on a deal to locate the ground at the Monks Lane site, and the proposals will be put to the council’s executive next Thursday for approval.
“If approved, a planning application will be submitted at the beginning of May, with the council hoping the ground can be opened in March 2022.”
‘It was heart-breaking when they locked the doors’
Newbury has been without a senior football facility for men and women since the decision to close Faraday Road and evict the football club by West Berkshire Council in 2018. The old ground currently sits derelict within the London Road Industrial Estate awaiting redevelopment and as striker and the club’s former manager Danny Langford says ‘it was a heartbreaking moment.’
Langford said: “I’ve been involved with the club as a manager and player. I was the manager when we were kicked out of Faraday Road, we were playing over at Henwick and could only play in Division One of the Thames Valley Premier League.
“Newbury was my first men’s club, it means a lot and it was heart-breaking when they locked the doors.”
The striker, who has played in the Hellenic League for clubs including Thatcham Town, Binfield and Royal Wootton Bassett Town, is hopeful about the new proposals which would see Newbury Rugby Club become the football clubs landlords: “Newbury should have a club at step 5. This new ground looks promising and it looks like it should go through, hopefully they’ll be able to meet the timeline proposed for completion and we’ll be able to start playing there at the end of next season.
We’re on side with the council now but that’s not always been the case. It’s been a tough road.”
‘It can only be a positive for Newbury’
There have been several teams carrying the towns name, but all of them played out of Faraday Road, and it was Langford who was in charge when the doors were locked at the ground in 2018 for the final time.
The club in its current guise had been playing in the Hellenic League Division One East and Premier Division between 2008 and 2015, but dropped in to the TVPL after two years finishing 19th of 20 and 18th of 20 in the Premier.
In the summer of 2018 the club found itself at its lowest point in Division One of the TVPL but Langford oversaw a championship winning season and promotion – scoring 10 league goals himself – back to the Premier Division – winning 17 of the clubs 20 league games and losing just once.
Now focussing on playing for the club he grew up at, Langford is clearly keen to focus on the future: “It’s Faraday Road is gone. We’ve got to move on and we know that as a club from our chairman Keith Moss down. It’s tough though, at the moment we play on a sports field, we have no bar, we have no revenue and we are living off what we have in the bank which obviously, as time goes on gets less and less.
“If this new ground happens, it can only be a positive for Newbury. The kids need a good facility to play at. I’ve been at Royal Wootton Bassett Town, they’ve got everything there, all the sports under one roof.”
The aim for the club, with the possibility of playing at a step 4 capable facility, is to move up the division’s and its something the striker knows is just as important for the sustainable future of the club: “We’ve got to get up, we can’t be in the Thames Valley Premier League for too long. It’s a great league, it’s really well run but significant sponsorship is hard to come by, we have no advertising boards or anything like that. Newbury, for the size it is, should have at least a step 5 club, that’s still a way off but we’ve also come a long way from when I had to cut the grass at Henwick and get my mum to wash the kit.”