Bootle and City of Liverpool announced a groundshare agreement for the 2022/23 season – subject to ratification off the Northern Premier League last week.
The move will see the Purps return to Vesty Road after their season away. It comes after their time came to an end following the curtailment of the 2019/20 season which brought an end to their five-year agreement during that time, City of Liverpool tasted promotions and cup triumphs.
For the Bucks, they welcomed a new hybrid pitch after funding from a pilot scheme headed by the Football Foundation and Sport England in 2020 and with the new 2021 season commencing, they began hosting West Cheshire League side FC Bootle St Edmunds and Sefton Vets.
The pitch also saw use from the club’s reserves sides plus a number of agreements with Business Houses clubs Custy’s, Mottram and Vets teams. Litherland REMYCA, who play in the North West Counties, made it their temporary home after damage to the facilities at Litherland Sports Park.
The end of City of Liverpool’s time at Bootle saw them need a new host, after talks with Runcorn Linnets and Prescot Cables, they reached an agreement with Vauxhall Sports Club for the 2021/22 season.
Following the FA’s restructuring of the football pyramid, it saw Bootle promoted to the Northern Premier League West where their rivalry with City of Liverpool rekindled. Both sides got one up on their rival at Michael Ellison’s side won the first meeting 2-1 before the Bucks staged a late comeback to win 3-1 in February.
With the announcement, it will see the Purps end their time in Ellesmere Port and play at the Berry Street Garage Stadium with Bootle for the next season, subject to Northern Premier League ratification.
Full transcript of conversations with Bootle chairman Joe Doran and City of Liverpool chairman Paul Manning.
SK: The groundshare update sees City of Liverpool join from next season, what are your thoughts on the deal going forward?
Joe Doran: “As the statement says it’s a good opportunity for both clubs. City of Liverpool were here for five years, the first groundshare was mutually beneficial for both clubs in terms of it helped get them on their way and from our point of view, it helped out club grow in terms of financial gains of having, what’s essentially, two matchdays rather than one every two weeks.
“There was obviously difficulties towards the end of COVID which have been mentioned in the statement but I think once everyone had sat round the table, we were able to work things out, it was a difficult time, with COVID and no one knew what was happening long term.
“Once we sat round the table, a few days ago everyone was very professional and done something that we think will benefit both clubs.”
SK: With this news, FC Bootle [St Edmunds] will find a new home, what does the agreement mean for other teams playing at Vesty Road and is there any concern over the standard of the pitch with City of Liverpool during the course of the season?
JD: “The thing about the pitch is we’re taking part in a pilot scheme with the Football Foundation and Sport England two years ago to take part in this pilot with Runcorn Linnets, Thatto Heath rugby club, there’s other pitches in Regents Park and Bishop Abbey are also apart of the pilot.
“Essentially, what the pilot means is that the Football Foundation have come in and assisted us in changing the pitch to a hybrid pitch.
“In return what we do is use it for 25 hours a week, we also provide statistical data, player feedback, cost of maintenance, cost of the fertiliser programmes we work with the Football Foundation to provide that information for a set period.
“The first season [2020-21] was massively COVID struck, there wasn’t a lot of games in terms of adult games, there wasn’t 25 hours of adult games, we had a lot of kids teams playing on it. Monday there was three hours of community use predominantly U16, Tuesday there was matches in that first year, Wednesday and Thursday were training then on the weekend because Bootle’s first team wasn’t playing consistently, it was the first team, Bootle Bucks Inclusion, we’re on 9-12, and we had games on a Sunday which included Custys, Mottram, Bootle U18s, Bootle Vets.
“That first year due to the breaks we had, the enforced COVID restrictions during the first season there was long periods where there was no play on the pitch at all. So we didn’t start back on that pitch till July/August, when we got to October and there was a two-week enforced break, plus the fact that there was more children playing on the pitch than there is now, what that resulted in was year one – there was another break December to March basically – where no football was played, once we resumed the Northern Premier League had curtailed, the North West Counties had curtailed so the only games were Custys, Mottram, Bootle U18s and Bootle Vets plus Bootle Bucks inclusion.
“When we came into this season, what we wanted to do because the pitch had been relatively successful a season before, we looked at getting more adult teams playing at the weekend rather having training on Monday and Wednesday for the community what we decided to do was increase the usage on the weekend. Bootle Reserves started playing on a Friday night, Bootle Bucks Inclusion Saturday morning, Bootle first team on a Saturday afternoon then we had slots to allow local teams to play on the times that the first team were away.
“We approached Sefton Vets and FC Bootle and they took up the offer to play on a Saturday afternoon. We increased the infrastructure of the U21s on a Sunday, Sunday we had Bootle Vets, U21s, U18s on one weekend then on the other we had Mottram and Custys playing back-to-back. All in all, I think it’s nine teams plus Bootle Bucks Inclusion which is made up of 100 of kids who turn up on a Saturday – there’s more than that signed up – every week all using the pitch. Predominantly, the usage would’ve been Friday to Sunday, it’s well documented the issues we’ve had with the pitch this year.
“From December onwards there’s been a lot of standing water, essentially we spoke to the Football Foundation and experts around why there was a lot of standing water. One of the theories is that the increase usage this year compared to the enforced stoppages last year because of the breaks has resulted in some issues, not with the drainage, with the surface itself, the carpet-hybrid.
“What they’ve talk about, it’s quite technical, is organic matter, anything that gets produced as grass comes away from its roots or left in its top surface, it acts like a sponge and stays there which is why the most recent reports in December, underneath the carpet the filtration rate is still around 400mm per hour, which is really really good.
“When you do the test from above the carpet, that filtration rate is greatly reduced which means a lot more standing water goes on the surface which has a knock-on effect. So Bootle Bucks Inclusion have had to move away this season from the ground to the NAC [Netherton Activity Centre] on a Saturday morning, we’ve had a lot of games called off which possibly from the model we undertook, those games shouldn’t have been called off.
“So we had a really good chat with the Football Foundation about causes, next steps, what we should be doing to improve the pitch for next season after the renovation. One of the theories that we agreed on, playing five games on weekend then four the weekend after plus three hours of community training in the morning is probably not helping with the amount of organic matter that is being produced because every game, every player that goes on it produces a certain amount of debris that comes from boots or whatever. If that then is getting pushed and pulverised in by other people’s feet in a game straight afterwards then what the experts are saying is that could have a negative impact.
“So we were preparing ourselves anyway for a change in schedule, maybe a little bit more community training through the week, or games being played in midweek or so many at the weekend.
“Ultimately what that resulted in was a situation where we are unable to accommodate them all because those teams that have signed up they play at the weekend. It’s unfortunate, we never ever wanted to be in this situation, ultimately, the pitch that we thought that could take this amount of usage this season hasn’t lived up the standards we would want or the Football Foundation would want so the change in schedule to give it a best chance of next year of performing was the only option.
“A change in schedule means all nine teams can no longer play at the weekend so we’d already of come to terms that we would have to change the schedule, which would result in not being able to accommodate everyone at the ground anymore. That has a negative impact on the income from the pitch. If less teams are playing there and less people are in the bar after the game, the less secondary spend we get. It was acknowledged by everyone at the Football Foundation that this year Bootle will ultimately lose money in terms of forecasted revenue for the pitch then moving into next season with the reduced usage on the weekend, the secondary spend would probably come down as well.
“As a result of that, there had been some shortfalls in predicted income and what we’d get from the pitch so we planned to make those savings elsewhere and as a club, we’d accepted that we might have to run at a bit of a loss in terms of the pitch because some of options were look at the possibility of redundancies which is not what you want to do. You don’t want to be reducing people’s hours when they’ve come to rely on that income.
“Whilst we were preparing to make these changes, the opportunity to have City of Liverpool came back. We just thought from a club and business point of view, it’s a no brainer really in terms of making up the shortfall of the lost revenue, us being able to keep our staffing levels as they currently are, also future proofing in terms of if we do have issues with the pitch next season, having one partner in City of Liverpool over five.”
“That was the feeling around it, in an ideal scenario would Bootle FC be the only team who played on their pitch, yeah. We treat that pitch like Wembley and only have first team games on it if appropriate but is that the type of club we want to be? No, not really. We want to be an inclusive club, we want the community to use our facilities, it has a knock-on effect, every time someone comes and has a positive experience whether they’re a first team player, away player, Sunday league player, West Cheshire player, City of Liverpool player or an Inclusion player we want everybody to have a positive experience of using the facilities and playing on the pitch. We just thought the best chance to being able to meet those goals for next season was to maintain the staffing levels we have because we think what we do provide is a good service.
“Unfortunately that meant that due to the schedule being changed, some teams had to lose out and it’s a shame because it’s not the place we want to be in. But the opportunity for City of Liverpool to come back presents a good, good valid reason for Bootle Football Club as a business and also I’m sure City of Liverpool will be happy to back on this side of the water as well.”
SK: There has been some opposition to the decision, what is the message to them and how does this news benefit Bootle?
JD: “In terms of the feedback we’ve had so far, the people that are not happy with the decision are being a lot more vocal than the people who are accepting the decision.
“You may have seen a few things on Twitter where people are unhappy that City of Liverpool are coming back but on the flip side, I’ve spoke to several people who understand it from a business point of view and accept it.
“I get the fact that Bootle FC fans don’t want to share their ground with one of their closest rivals, at the same time, from a business point of view for the club and the progress of the club then it’s a no brainer really. It wasn’t essential but in terms of being an opportunity from a business point of view that we would turn down.
“Some people I spoke to who are concerned are saying the only reason is financial. Financials a big reason but also there’s knock-on effects because we’ve decided to allow City of Liverpool to groundshare, the shortfalls we did have in terms of paying for the hybrid pitch, hopefully will be greatly reduced. Which in turn means we will have a better pitch next season, if we have a better pitch, we have better facilities.
“The first team manager and players will be happier that the pitch is better, the first team manager will should be able to attract or appeal to those at the club to stay if someone else came in for them because the facilities are much better and the pitch should be much better. There’s three reasons straight away.
“To be honest rivalry in football is a good thing, City of Liverpool done really well as a football club on the pitch since they started, we’ve obviously been toe-to-toe with them a couple of times resulting in both teams in the Northern Premier League when we were both in the North West Counties in 2015.”
City of Liverpool
SK: Last week it was confirmed that a groundshare agreement was in place from next season with Bootle – talk me through the process and your feelings with the development?/ The news last season caused some problems for the club finding a new home, in the statement, it hinted at possible relations between the clubs frayed, have these been ironed out now?
Paul Manning: “We had always enjoyed a good relationship with Bootle during four of our five years tenure at Vesty Road and it had been a very successful period for us, but at end of season 2019/20 the pandemic hit and quite simply the groundshare agreement was not designed to deal with it. I think both clubs did things which they now regret under pressure of what the future might hold.
“At the time I described it as a married couple falling out of love with each other and I think that is a good analogy. We were sick of the site of each other by the end.
“We never sought terms for a renewal of the groundshare agreement and Bootle never offered any, so the agreement expired.
“But as often the case in a relationship the grass is not always greener and whilst I can’t speak for Bootle, we certainly didn’t envisage having to travel to Vauxhall Sports Club to play home games, after being quite badly let down by another local club.
“At the recent game between us, we spoke with the two Joe’s both before and after the game and had a frank exchange of views between us as to what had gone on, but there seemed to be a willingness to get something done.
“Both sides accepted thier roles in the disintegration of what was a good relationship.
“As if often the case with this kind of thing, it was on, then off and now eventually on again.
“We met again last week and an agreement was reached, which is good for both parties and which is at the end of the day, just good business for both teams.
“We need somewhere to play games and enjoy watching our club; Bootle need someone to play there on the Saturdays and Tuesdays when they are away from home.
“Football rivalries are good, especially local rivalries and fans can and will keep that up, but ultimately, they will only have to see each other twice a season and that’s if Bootle don’t get promoted this season!
“Football is a passionate game but behind the passion, cooler heads have to prevail and on this occasion they have.”
SK: Touching upon Vauxhall, they made you welcome for the season during your stay. With this news now, what does it mean for the Purps going forward? Are we likely to see any advancements on a permanent home/own venue?
Paul Manning: “We have already thanked Vauxhall Sports Club for hosting us in a very difficult moment for our club and that won’t be forgotten. It’s a tremendous facility and we have enjoyed our time there.
“As is well known we are working on plans for our own ground and these are edging forward, but these are difficult times for all local councils amidst the cutting of Central funding, so things often don’t move quickly, but we are moving at least.
“We are looking to finish this season as strongly as possible after what has been a nightmare campaign from start to finish due to short and long term injuries. It’s testament to Ello and his staff’s commitment and the players, that we will likely finish solidly mid-table, we’ve had good performances and some bad performances, but our squad now provides the foundations for what we are wanting to be much more consistent.”