Step 3 side face RELEGATION if they don’t make facilities worse to comply with new regulations!

Evo-Stik League South Division One Central side Barton Rovers FC received a letter from The FA late last year about their changing rooms, and specifically that they were the wrong size for the impending ground grade regulations which are due to change in March.

Last night, Ollie Bayliss and Luke Ashmead from the BBC’s The Non-League Show interviewed the Barton Rovers Chairman about the impending changes.

Earlier this season, the FA wrote to a number of clubs at Step 3 and Step 4, warning them that if they didn’t increase the size of their changing rooms they would be relegated. Last month we heard from Aylesbury FC, who confirmed they wouldn’t get the work done by the March 31stdeadline and, as such, they expect to be relegated.  Another one of our Southern League clubs who received the letter from the FA are Barton Rovers and Darren Whylie is the Chairman of Barton Rovers and he joins us on the line…

So you received this letter. What’s the situation at Barton? What’s wrong with the facilities? How are you guys short?

We received a letter in September, telling us to measure our facilities, sent the forms back as we do every year and our Away dressing room is too small. It currently measures 17.36 metres and it has to be 18 square metres as of March this year. So if you opened up your daily newspaper and put it on the floor, that’s the footprint area we’re lacking.

So that’s literally less than a square metre that you’re short in your Away dressing room.

Point six four of a square metre in our Away dressing room. That is it!

So are you guys going to get the work done? What’s your plan?

We’ve had the ground grading inspector round from the FA, showed him the facilities. It’s just the perfect shaped room: a long rectangle, the manager stands at one end, the showers are behind him, benches on three sides for the players to sit on, toilet in the corner. You couldn’t want a better shape. Obviously it’s slightly lacking in their new sizing but, on the other hand, we only need four shower heads in the showers, we’ve got six and in the toilet we don’t need a urinal but we’ve got a urinal.

So the facilities are above what the grading requires the last time they were graded. What we’ve been told to do now is take the urinal out and create a lobby of non-usable space and they’ll include that in the floor area of the dressing room.

No they will not! That’s a joke! Are you serious?

Serious! Or we take a shower head out and make a lobby into the shower and they’ll include thatas the floor area for the dressing room. So what we’re actually going to do is, in order for Mr. Jobsworth from the FA who turned up with his brown tank top and matching loafers with his clipboard, in order to tick his box we’ve got to make our facilities worse so that we meet the floor area regulations so the Away team have one less shower or they don’t have a urinal.

That’s the thing. Because when you think of Barton Rovers – I mean I haven’t been inside your changing rooms but you think of the ground – you think you guys have got a good standard of facilities for the Southern League so if you’re not meeting the criteria then there’s going to be so many clubs in your position. It sounds ridiculous that you’re basically going to have to make your facilities worse in order to tick this box.

That’s our whole argument with the matter and when they first came out and had a look with us – because there’s been no guidance on what they’ll accept and what they won’t accept – we were intimated that there would be a 5% tolerance given on the 18m², bearing in mind they’re going up from 12m²overnight so there’s a 50% increase.

Now, for us, we have options but, for Chris Martone over at Aylesbury, whom I spoke to, they don’t have options there. They’re landlocked and there are plenty of other clubs – forty-odd other clubs – that are in the same situation as us. For some it’s achievable to meet the new regulations; others it simply isn’t.

If we wanted to do this thing properly, we’d knock the shower wall down, which is a supporting wall, move the central heating pipes, electrical sub main, put a steel in and move the shower wall back 8 inches and we’ve got the exact footprint that we need to meet FA regulations.

How much would that cost?

About £5,000; as money that’s only being spent to tick a box. But the thing that’s annoying for us is nobody’s turned up with an ounce of common sense so, overall, the accommodation block for the Away players, managers etc. is far beyond the size and the regulations that it needs to be but the footprint for the dressing area alone is 0.6 square metres too small.

Let me ask you a question because – obviously at the heart of this, at the start of this – the FA wanted to improve facilities for football at grassroots level. At this level – lower league level – I should say, rather than grassroots football. They wanted to improve the facilities and to a certain extent there’s some good in doing that. Everyone wants better facilities, whether they’re players, they’re fans or anyone going to watch the game.

Your issue is different to Aylesbury’s issue because Aylesbury’s issue is, they’re saying, “We would do the work but we (a) can’t afford to do what we’ve got to do and (b) we’re in a position where the land is wrong”. You’re saying “Come on guys! There’s got to be a little bit of leeway here. Everyone’s happy. The teams coming into our ground are absolutely happy. We’ve got a set-up here that’s perfectly fine. Show some common sense!”

There are different issues here and the FA seems to have passed a rule and said, “This is what’s got to happen” and then almost washed their hands of it.

That’s exactly how it’s been with us. I haven’t even had the decency to have a written reply from the FA. We have a League Co-ordinator and we have a League Liaison Officer and both of those have been good with us but they haven’t got definitive answers out of the FA. Someone at the FA’s obviously sat there and “What shall we do now sock tape’s been introduced and it’s all got to be the right colours? What’s the next soppy idea can we think up? I know! Let’s have a laugh with Non-League and make all of the dressing rooms 50% more.”

But what we also offered: our Home dressing room is 24m². Will we give that to the Away teams? We’ll move into the smaller dressing room. There you go! We’re not bothered that it’s 0.64m² too small! And if I was perfectly honest, when the guys from the FA come round to measure this, if I change the Home and Away badges from door to door and they went into the Home dressing room labelled up as “AWAY”, they’d measure it and tick the box! They wouldn’t know what was what!

And that’s how ludicrous this whole thing is. There’s no common sense put anywhere whatsoever: just go away! You’ve got to have 18m²by 31stMarch that, bearing in mind we got a letter in September, we’d already started the season and it’s got to be done by 31stMarch, which is inthe season. My volunteers, who are already running the football club and the business as a football club and the youth side of the football club…

Which is huge at Barton.

… and you’ve got to do it during the season without disruption to any of the games!

What are you going to do, Darren? What’s going to be the upshot of this?

I will take it to the tenth hour, eleventh hour! If we get to 31stMarch and we haven’t done it then we’ll take the urinal out and build a lobby. That’s sort of 5-6 hours’ work… there you go! You’ve got you asked for! Job done. Now the Away team has worse facilities! There’s no chance of us getting relegated over it. I’m just digging my heels in and I’m asking for common sense.

It’s a weird one, isn’t it? You talk about that 5% leeway. I guess if they let you off with 17m², then somebody who offered 16 would say “What about us?” That’s what they’re going to say. We can all chat on the radio now and talk about it – and I’m sure you’ve had this conversation a million times, Darren, with people at the club and people outside the club as well – I suppose that’swhat they’re going to come back with: “Well, it’s one rule and everyone’s got to go in, no matter what!”

Actually, you know, non-league isn’t like that. There isn’t the money to just be able to say everything’s black and white. It’s got to be case by case. It’s got to look at each area. It’s not a case of, like a Football League club, can say “We’ve got the money, we’ll do it”, And even some lower league Football League clubs haven’t got the money to be mucking around with facilities like that! It is a case by case basis. It has to be, doesn’t it?

It must be. People must come out and have a look. “Yes, I see what you’ve got here: perfect shape, no issues with players’ seating and changing, no issues whatsoever. No one’s ever complained! It’s not the Ritz in there and we don’t want the Away dressing room to be the Ritz!

Of course not!

The Home dressing room’s the Ritz! We’ve got Sky TV in there, lovely big heater and nicely lit. The referee’s room pre-season, we spent £5,000 doing that up and that’s paid off because currently we’re head of the Fair Play League in our League…

[Howls of laughter and applause from the presenters.]

… so we’ve done well with that. As soon as we’d finished the ref’s room that we did preseason – they all came up to us, loved it, absolutely loved the place – then we got a letter in September to say “You’ve actually got to do the Away dressing room”. So it was like: “Hang on a minute! We’ve just spent a load of money doing something we didn’t really need to do but we thought we would” and then we’ve got to do this on top of it without an ounce of common sense being employed whatsoever.

But that, sadly, is the FA. There’s no tick box for common sense. I’ve got my clipboard. I’ve got my man with the brown tank top and his matching loafers down. It doesn’t conform, puts and ‘X’ in it, takes it away and that’s it. There’s no middle ground to it, no listening, no simple solution.

The thing with us, because it’s so small, do we measure to the inside of a door or do you measure to the outside of a door? If you measure to the outside of a door – and we’ve got four doors in it – then we almost comply or we comply even more. It’s so miniscule and yes, I understand if it’s one rule for one and one rule for another people are going to get upset. But what happens if you have 17.99m²? Do you still get relegated over something the size of a ten pence piece?

An ounce of common sense: that’s all that’s needed.

It is a ridiculous situation, Darren, and I don’t think you’ll be the last club we speak to about this! What we have to do is to keep highlighting these issues. Can I just add we’ve tried to get some communication with the FA but it’s not gone hugely well, has it? We’ve not had an updated statement since November, really, on this issue.

Finally, if there are any Barton Rovers fans that are listening to this and are worried, you aregoing to going to do the work then? You’ve got no intention of getting relegated? You’re going to remove that urinal at midnight, March 31stif you have to?

We’ll remove the urinal March 31stat one minute to midnight if we have to. “Having relegation” point, I can’t answer that! Some weeks we look like we’ll get relegated! Other weeks we play well.

Basically, when I say we haven’t heard from the FA, we haven’t spoken to them since that statement in November. That statement in November, what I was trying to say, was very, very standard of course and there are not huge lines of communication within that. The point they emphasise is they do provide 70% – or up to 70% – of the funding for this work, which, in some peoples’ case, is brilliant. For some clubs, they are going to benefit from this and you can understand them wanting to improve facilities in grassroots football across the board.

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