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An English sixth-division club in crisis, the world-famous film director Ken Loach and one big idea. Bath could be the start of a revolution in English football.
Words by Gareth Phillips
If this conference room in the Bath Hilton were a film set, with its psychedelic patterned carpet, what kind of scene would be played out here? Would we witness a decisive moment, as events come to a dramatic conclusion and the little people join forces to stick it to The Man? In fact, that would be a scene typical of a film by Ken Loach.
The face of the club: Ken Loach
Indeed, it is Loach who is currently giving instructions for the evening’s events. Tables are being placed on the podium and chairs are being pushed around. Pictures have been taken down and replaced by a large Bath City flag hanging on the wall. But the softly-spoken Loach, who will soon turn 80, is not directing on a film set, or telling a camera crew what to do. No film stars are expected to make an appearance and Loach himself is not a director who has been weighed down with awards. Yet he made “Looking for Eric”, one of the best football films of all time – and discovered Eric Cantona’s acting talents as well.
Right now, Loach is primarily a fan of the English sixth-division football club Bath City. And his ambition as a fan is to buy the club – but not on his own. Loach is the most prominent representative of the “Big Bath City Bid”, and tonight is all about that bid. Those involved want to raise nearly one million pounds from as many people as possible and use that cash to buy a 75% majority share of the club. This would enable them to change the structure of the club to a democratic set-up where every member has a vote.
Decades of work in progress
While the feedback from the speakers is making Loach rather uncomfortable, tourists stroll through the crowded town centre outside. They are fascinated by the Roman baths and the famous sandstone Gregorian architecture. Bath is a beautiful city, deservedly listed as a cultural heritage site, but the football club is dying a slow death. City has always been a true non-league club, existing outside the four professional divisions and without a glorious history to look back on. But in common with many clubs in England, today’s modest existence does not seem to have much of a future to look forward to.
Just a few hundred spectators venture down to the stadium, which actually should be a tourist attraction in its own right. Anyone who fails to appreciate the charms of Twerton Park must have a heart of stone. The ground has been put together piecemeal over eight decades and harks back the time before the rise of interchangeable, all-seater arenas. The main stand contains sky-blue seats from Maine Road, the demolished former home of Manchester City. The dark blue seats opposite were originally used at Filbert Street, where Leicester City used to play. They were then bought by Chesterfield, before making the move to Bath for the princely sum of one pound per seat. Time has stood still elsewhere in the ground too. The dressing rooms could pass for the set of a football film from the Fifties and the VIP areas radiate the shabby charm of the 70s and 80s
Twerton Park is part of the overall problem
As magical as the cobbled-together surroundings may be, Twerton Park is part of the overall problem. Paul Williams manages the stadium from a dusty office underneath the main stand. Typically, the owner of a club is the bad guy in any story about a fans’ takeover bid, but Williams has as much in common with an Abramovich figure as the National League South does with the Champions League. Nine years ago, the former accountant paid about 65,000 pounds for nine percent of the club, and received a whole load of extra work in return. The pensioner is here five days a week in the summer and six days a week during the football season. The other owners are also local businessmen who would not be unhappy if the fans’ bid succeeds with their fundraising initiative
“That would at least show, that there is interest in keeping the club alive”, said a tired-looking Williams. He’s been keeping the club going for a long time and the figures just don’t add up. The top earners in the first team pick up nearly €2,000 a month, and most players are on €600-800. These are not enormous amounts, and no wages are paid during the close season. But running costs for the stadium are high and the club makes a loss of about €150,000 every year. The total debt has now reached one million Euros. The problem is not acute as the value of the land on which Twerton Park stands is worth a lot more than that.