‘We’re too close that we can’t afford to walk away’

Ards chairman sets out state of play in bid to return senior football to town

SUPPORTERS turned out in their numbers at the Ards FC Sports Club last Thursday evening as Red and Blues chairman Warren Patton delivered an update on the club’s quest towards securing a permanent base back in Newtownards.

In August 2022, the Championship club signed a long-term lease to build a 2,000 capacity stadium complex on six acres of previously council-owned land on the Portaferry Road, known as the Floodgates land.

And last week, Patton told supporters the club’s board of directors remain committed to making their dream a reality, though he made no bones about the difficulties they continue to face along the way.

In a frank and honest address, the chairman revealed Ards have to date forked out in the region of £80,000 in survey costs for the £4m project. Many in the room were audibly shocked when the club’s secretary drew their attention to a latest survey requirement around bats, which alone will cost Ards £5,000.

Three weeks ago, Communities Minister Gordon Lyons finally gave the green light for the release of the £36.2m funding pot for football grounds in Northern Ireland, money which has been ring fenced since 2011.

While that announcement has been welcomed, NI Football League boss Gerard Lawlor has said that more than a decade later, the figure ought to be at least £100m in order to meet the needs of clubs here. 

“I can reassure supporters that our name is very much in the hat for that £36.2m,” declared the Ards chairman, adding that the criteria is based around attendance and need.

“We believe that Ards are at the top of the tree for need, along with Institute. Of course we would love £4m, but I would take a million tomorrow.”

On a positive front, Patton insisted that despite the crippling costs of site surveys as well as increases in pitch rental from current landlords Bangor and training facility hire, the club are not one penny in debt.

The chairman said that he runs the football club the same way as he runs his own business, Patton’s Bakery: “clean and proper.” However, he did concede that it has become increasingly difficult to balance ‘putting a competitive team on the park’ with the spiralling costs and demands of the ground project, and appealed to anybody that might be able to assist in any way – be it financially or with the day-to-day running of the club – to come forward.

It was also relayed during the meeting that work with Hamilton’s Architects around obtaining full planning permission is ongoing and that the club has the backing of local councillors and Strangford MP Jim Shannon.

In a previous interview with the Chronicle, Mr Patton highlighted the wider community impact that a stadium in Newtownards could bring.

“It goes beyond just football,” he said.

“This would generate footfall in the town centre for local restaurants, pubs and shops. It has a knock-on effect for the general public and businesses in Newtownards.

“The ground has been designed so that we can always build on it, and it would have scope for a four to five thousand all seater stadium, which is absolutely perfect for Irish League football.

“Anyone that’s involved in football knows there are highs and lows, and that attendances are driven by results.

“We are a club that’s played in Irish Cup finals and in Europe, a club with history, and hopefully those days can return.

“But it’s not going to happen until we have our own base. I have no doubt that if we have Ards playing back in the town, we could put 1,000 supporters in there. And if you can get the team going well, then that only increases.”