Sheffield Eagles claim spiralling costs at Olympic Legacy Park are 'strangling the club and its future existence'

Sheffield Eagles say spiralling costs at their new home are 'strangling the club and its future existence', yet pleas for a council loan have fallen on deaf ears.

Tuesday, 17th July 2018, 5:05 pm
Updated Tuesday, 17th July 2018, 6:37 pm
Sheffield Eagles in action against Bradford Bulls

The rugby league club returned to the city, where it now plays home games on a new artificial pitch at the Olympic Legacy Park (OLP), this March following a nomadic existence since being forced to leave Don Valley Stadium in 2013.

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Sheffield Eagles returned to their home city this year having been based in Wakefield last season

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But its long-awaited homecoming has been soured by soaring costs, including £10,000 needed to fence off the ground, and other expenses like temporary seating, toilets and security.

It claims the annual cost of using the facilities on the site of the old Don Valley stadium in Attercliffe has nearly quadrupled from an initial estimate of £30,000 - already significantly more than it had paid in previous seasons - to more than £115,000.

The club says it was led to believe by Sheffield Council that £40,000 of its costs would be covered, after a senior council official had reportedly described the existing facilities as 'not fit for purpose'.

The Olympic Legacy Park from above

But this financial assistance failed to materialise, says the club, and when it asked the council for a loan it claims to have been told there was 'little appetite' for such a commitment.

The council insists that while it has supported the club to return to its home city it was always made clear there would be no financial subsidy, even in the form of a loan.

The club's board of directors today issued a statement saying: "Higher costs for facilities than agreed along with other costs not anticipated are now strangling the club and its future existence which is even more heartbreaking after the hard work gone in to ensure the club returned to the city after our home was taken away from us in 2013....

Richard Caborn says the Eagles have been given everything they were promised when they were forced to leave the Olympic Legacy Park

"The club and all those involved with it will continue to work extremely hard as they always have done to ensure the best future for Sheffield Eagles and rugby league in the city but the odds, through no fault of our own, are sadly stacked against us once more."

Liam Claffey, the club's chief operating officer, said local authorities elsewhere had supported their clubs, including Swinton Lions, which was last year awarded a £60,000 loan by Salford Council to secure its future.

The Eagles have faced a struggle to stay afloat in recent years, having had to dig into its reserves and seen average attendances plummet from 1,300 when it was at Don Valley to just 350 last year in Wakefield.

The Betfred Championship side says average crowds this year have risen to over 600 and it remains confident it will be able to get back into profit once the new stadium at the OLP has been completed.

Sheffield Sharks still hope to build a new arena at the Olympic Legacy Park, but their hopes hang in the balance pending a council vote tomorrow (pic: Andy Chubb)

The Eagles had hoped to win the right to build its own stadium, but the project to build stands and other infrastructure around the existing pitch was instead awarded to Scarborough International Properties, which was founded by Sheffield United's co-owner Kevin McCabe.

Mark Jackson, of Scarborough International Properties, said: "We will be submitting a planning application for the stadium shortly, having had useful and positive discussions with the council’s planning department over the past couple of months.

"We are therefore planning to begin development at the start of next year, and expect the stadium to be operational by the end of 2019."

Once completed, it is expected the stadium will also become home to Sheffield United Women. The Star has contacted Sheffield United which has yet to respond.

Paul Billington, the council's director of culture and environment, said: “The council has always supported the relocation of the Eagles back to Sheffield and we will continue to assist them in every way possible.

"However, we have made it clear from the very start that we are not in a position to provide a financial subsidy to the club – even in the form of a loan.

"The Council is leading discussions with Scarborough Group to secure investment in a stadium on the OLP, which we hope will provide the long term home for the Eagles."

Richard Caborn, project lead for the OLP, said when the Eagles left Don Valley he had promised to provide the club with a pitch, floodlights and priority when it came to arranging fixtures.

"As far as I'm concerned, we've delivered everything we said we would, including what is probably one of the best playing surfaces in the country," he added.

Mr Caborn also said the Eagles had been given the chance to develop the stadium themselves but when two deals fell through an alternative developer had to be found

Sheffield Sharks basketball club also wants to build a new arena at the OLP, but its hopes of doing so suffered a blow when a council report last week recommended an alternative plan to extend the English Institute of Sport (EIS Sheffield) to create new facilities for schoolchildren.

Cabinet members are due to vote on that tomorrow, but Mr Caborn has said he believes the Park Community Arena (PCA) could still be built at the OLP as a new home for the Sharks - provided funding from Unity Bank is secured - even if the recommendation is approved.