Delayed Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park developments to resume in September, in ‘best-case scenario’
Work on the Olympic Legacy Park has had setback after setback, but Eagles General Manager says: “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it would happen”.
Work on the £5m Community Stadium, headed by Kevin McCabe’s Scarborough International Properties Ltd, will see the implementation of 750 permanent seats – the minimum standards required for the Betfred Championship.
Once complete, the stadium will also house bars and corporate hospitality facilities.
General Manager of Sheffield Eagles, Liam Claffey said – of the developments: “It has been halted due to covid, and they’re looking hopefully for a September start date.
“It’s a lot later than we anticipated, but we’re in the hands of God at the moment.”
The work has had several completion dates which have come and gone, but Mr Claffey insists it is a matter of when, not if.
“If I felt our future was going to be outside of the city in Doncaster, or at a makeshift OLP, then there is no future for Sheffield Eagles, we need a stadium of our own.
“So, I don’t think I would have been involved, I would have sought employment elsewhere and I would’ve looked at different options, so I’m confident it will happen – it’s got to happen.”
The club had been playing in Doncaster prior to the covid-19 outbreak, which saw attendances drop as low as 300 and an overall fall of over 50% on the previous year.
It has become all too familiar for the club, who have played at six different stadiums since Don Valley was knocked down in 2013.
Club accounts show losses increased from £415,874 to £605,904 in 2014 and have been on a steady rise since then with latest figures showing overall losses at just under £1m.
Doubts about the viability of the Olympic Legacy Park were raised when joint tenants Sheffield United Women departed to play in Chesterfield, but the club is not worried.
“Sheffield United Women leaving doesn’t have a direct burden on us in any sense – if they’re there, fantastic. If they’re not, it’s not a concern for us,” he said.
Things are looking up for the club after they lifted the 1895 Cup at Wembley last year and narrowly missed out on the play-offs.
Form had dipped before coronavirus halted the season, but with a permanent home the club’s ambitions are unshackled.
Should the club reach Super League, though, extra work would have to begin to implement the stadium’s full 3921 capacity to meet the RFL’s (Rugby Football League) minimum standards of 2000 permanent seats.
Scarborough have planning permission for the full build, but no plans are in place as of yet to implement it.
The RFL, in a statement said: “Sheffield Eagles have been fined a modest amount for minor issues regarding the facilities at the Olympic Legacy Park.
“However, the RFL Board has granted Sheffield Eagles dispensation against other requirements under the Facility Standards in recent years, as is the process set out in the Operational Rules.
“The RFL recognises the importance of the Eagles re-establishing a permanent base in the city and the commitment to develop the site.
“The RFL remains in regular dialogue with the Club and associated parties.”
Mr Claffey is “confident”, though, that should they be in such a position, the building work would start, or they would implement temporary seating if not.
“We’ll certainly have to look at that and it wouldn’t be a short-term fix. You look at somebody like London Broncos who had that situation, so they had to quickly build and construct a number of seats down at their ground.
“Without doing a dis-service to our club and coaching staff – I don’t think we’re near the play-offs or promotion at this time, so it would be a nice headache to have but I don’t think we’ll be having that headache any time soon,” he said.at side of the game.”
The club is also looking at the return of Friday night fixtures, which were popular with sponsors in the Don Valley days.
“From a sponsor point of view, Friday nights were a big draw for us, getting in those match sponsors and getting people into hospitality made a significant part of our revenue,” he said.
The completed stadium, if plans are on-time, will be on the eve of the Rugby League World Cup where Sheffield is hosting five teams.
“I don’t think it can be overestimated how significant the World Cup coming to Sheffield is for us.
“Fingers crossed there will be a knock-on effect in terms of attendances and a bit more recognition and profile for rugby league in the city,” he said.
Sheffield Eagles is working with the RFL, Sheffield City Council and Sheffield City Trust to hopefully create a full-time development role at the club which would last for a minimum of two years.
He said: “We need somebody in post developing and helping the community clubs, potentially developing a wheelchair side, and helping our youth development progress again.
“At the moment we’re just one first team, we need something underneath us and having four of the eight wheelchair sides coming to the city – surely from that we should be having a wheelchair side and be developing that side of the game.”