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Bray Wanderers: 'There's no plan to move from our stadium, but it has to be fixed'

The SSE Airtricity League club want the Carlisle Grounds upgraded – but Wicklow council isn’t interested.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

THE HEAD OF Bray Wanderers says the club has no plans to leave its iconic home stadium, the Carlisle Grounds – but the facility is out of date and in dire need of an upgrade.

However Wicklow County Council, which holds the lease to the stadium, has little interest in giving the historic venue an overhaul.

In November, the cash-strapped Bray Wanderers FC identified moving to a new stadium as one of the aspirations of its five-year strategic plan.

Bray chairman Denis O’Connor said at the time that the 3,200-seat Carlisle Grounds “has been a great home for the Seagulls, but it lacks practice pitches, all-weather pitches, proper changing facilities, even proper shelter for fans”.

The plan said the new facility “should ideally be connected to Bray via the new, extended Luas”.

“A site of some 20 acres is envisioned. In the new complex, the club proposes to erect a 4,500-capacity Uefa category 3 stadium.”

Earlier this year it was reported that the club was trying to get Wicklow County Council to agree to let the club swap the lease at its home grounds for a new, larger site on the outskirts of the town.

However, O’Connor recently appeared before the Bray Municipal District, where he emphasised that the club did not want to leave Carlisle and would instead prefer for the stadium to be upgraded.

Speaking to Fora, O’Connor confirmed this, saying: “There is no plan to move.

“We cannot develop or sell the Carlisle Grounds, we have a restrictive lease so saying that we will do X or Y is a non-runner.

A general view of Carlisle Grounds 7/5/2016 A general view of the Carlisle Grounds. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I have asked the Bray district if they would allow us a variance in our lease so that we could use the grounds to generate funds (through other methods) like putting food stalls in, or an ice rink during Christmas.”

As well as being the club’s chairman, O’Connor is also one of its owners.

Carlisle Grounds

First opened in 1862, the Carlisle Grounds is the SSE Airtricity League ground with the longest history as a sports venue.

The stadium is owned by Wicklow County Council, which has leased it to Bray for a nominal rent until 2036.

Nevertheless, O’Connor said that Carlisle is “seriously deficient” and “antiquated”, which meant the team had to train at Finglas.

“There are GAA club grounds that have way better facilities than what we have.”

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Asked if he would like the club to stay at its historic stadium, he said: “Absolutely, provided we can get the facilities that we want nearby.

“There is no point in developing a super stadium if we are still going to Finglas. If we want proper academy facilities we will need an all-weather pitch.”

No plans

However a spokesman for Wicklow County Council told Fora the organisation “has no plans to upgrade the facilities”.

“The grounds are leased to Bray Wanderers, who have sole control of the site and its facilities within the terms of their lease,” he said.

“Wicklow County Council is open to consideration of proposals put to it from Bray Wanderers.”

Denis O'Connor Denis O'Connor. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

In July 2015, the club board approved a takeover by Milway Dawn, which ended up with a 92% stake in the football club. O’Connor owns one-fifth of Milway, while the remainder is held by businessman Gerry Mulvey, who was previously the majority owner of St Patrick’s Athletic.

At the time, the club was close to the bottom of the league and was plagued by financial and organisational issues, with a slew of club managers resigning within a little over a year.

The club’s lease requires that the ground primarily be used for soccer games, although it can also be used for rugby, and the stadium hosted an Irish international rugby match in 2015.

In the meantime, Bray Wanderers is still struggling financially. The club has significant accumulated losses built up over the years, with the figure standing at €1.3 million at the end of November 2015.

However, it only made a small loss of €23,700 during the year to the end of that month. This was down significantly on the near-€200,000 loss it reported in 2014.

Written by Paul O’Donoghue and originally published on Fora, a new business publication for Irish startups and SMEs.

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