Rye United: Rother grabs the keys

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The arson attack on Rye United’s clubhouse in 2010 has finally, it seems, reduced the football club to ashes: United’s lease was surrendered to Rother District Council on Monday.

Speaking to Rye News, Richard King, who has been involved with the club since 2001 and who has filled almost every role off the pitch at the club from chairman to staffing the tea bar, talked of how people involved with the club are hurting. “Some are licking their wounds, others are lashing out verbally at all and sundry.”

The club, he said, has always been hamstrung by the nature of the lease it held on the clubhouse at The Salts from Rother –  “the local authority was the freeholder, though the club built and maintained the building”.

Following the 2010 arson attack on the Sidney Allnutt Pavilion, the building was rebuilt by the football club. “There was no contribution from the local authority, nor from any other body to my knowledge. Grant applications were unsuccessful – due to the nature of the lease, I am told.”

When rebuilding was complete, the club remained in debt to the builders. It tried unsuccessfully to raise the shortfall, put at about £37,000, and withdrew from the Sussex County League in April this year. “Over the summer, efforts continued to save the club but all came to nought and at the AGM, ownership of the stand and floodlights were passed to the builders in lieu of the debt.”

With the cricket season complete, the football club surrendered the lease to Rother. But says King: “Members were surprised to discover that the local authority insisted on all the fixtures, fittings and furniture remained with the building – in spite of the fact that the football club were not in debt to the local authority. There is to be no financial compensation to the football club for the nice, new, shiny building now in possession of the local authority.”

Over the past four years, he continued, he knew of no elected representatives at county, district or town council level to “have shown any interest in offering any support, advice or assistance to this essential part of the local community. To be fair, neither did they jump on the bandwagon to show their support when the club reached the Quarter Final of the FA Vase in 2010-11.”

Following the arson attack, local MP Amber Rudd gave a bottle of House of Commons Whisky for a raffle but, said King, the “most pro-active” was Sarah Owen, the prospective Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Hastings and Rye. “Owen attended a vegan fundraising dinner at the club early in 2014 and worked hard with the club to find a solution in the dying weeks . . . engaging the help of Labour Chief Whip in the House of Lords, Lord Bassam of Brighton along the way.” Although ultimately unsuccessful, “her efforts were appreciated”.

Significantly, feels King, at the beginning of September neither Rudd nor Greg Barker, Tory MP for Bexhill and Battle, saw fit to contribute to a Parliamentary debate on the state of non-League football – “in spite of the loss of Rye United and Sidley United in recent years, Rother clubs in their respective constituencies.”

Looking to the future, King said: “Many good football people in Rye have walked away over personal differences over recent years. We will need to pull together for the greater good of re-establishing football in Rye for future generations at some level. I would like to get a public meeting together at some point involving all the major stakeholders – but it needs to be a Rye club, with Rye people at the centre.”

He would be happy to help that effort, to be involved. “But I am not a Ryer and part of the problem was that the club was not central to the life of the community and that is where it needs to be.”