Saracens eye move to Copthall

NEWS that Premiership rugby giants Saracens are considering a move to Barnet Copthall Stadium has been given a lukewarm reception by representatives of the clubs currently housed there, writes Simon Jackson.

Saracens, who were founded in 1876 and played their first game at the Primrose Hill playing fields, have been based at Watford’s Vicarage Road ground since 1998.

But earlier this year their landlords reportedly activated a break clause in the groundshare agreement which could leave the Aviva Premiership side homeless for the start of next season.

Saracens have since made enquires into the possibility of taking control of the ground and building a 10-12,000 seat stadium on the 150-acre site that is currently home to Kentish Town FC, Hendon RFC, Mill Hill RFC and Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers Athletics Club.

A Saracens bid to take over the ground was rejected at the turn of the millennium, and in 2001 a similar proposal by Barnet FC was also rejected.

But this week Barnet Council leader Lynn Hillan said that the council is willing to discuss any proposal that will benefit sports in the area.

“Copthall Stadium has long needed investment and it would be foolish of us not to discuss any proposal that would develop the facility and enhance community use,” Hillan said.

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But the move could prove to be a hammer blow to Kentish Town, who are likely to be most affected by the possible arrival of the professional rugby club.

Town earlier this year teamed up with youth football side Hampstead FC to buy the Chase Lodge playing fields in Mill Hill, which they hope will ultimately provide them with a permanent home.

However, with renovations still in their infancy, Town don’t anticipate moving in for at least three seasons and consequently have a rolling agreement to use Copthall that finishes at the end of each football season.

Franco Zanre, the club’s director of football, is concerned that the arrival of Saracens could leave them homeless.

“IF they [Saracens] have got the money to buy Copthall then we will need to find a new home,” Zanre said.

“I can’t see them agreeing to let us stay on there. I know they are having talks with Barnet Council this week but we haven’t been informed of any outcome.

“We will not be ready to move to Chase Lodge for three years at least and if Saracens move in we will be homeless again.

“We would have to go cap in hand to try to find somewhere to play.”

David Gershlick, the president of Hendon RFC, who use the playing fields on the south side of Copthall, is another who is yet to be informed of any decision between Saracens and Barnet.

“Saracens attempted to move into Copthall some years ago,” Gershlick revealed.

“We at Hendon took a bit of offence as they hadn’t come in to speak to us first. They had rallied the support of the RFU and we thought that if it is good for one club, it is good for the other, so we asked the RFU to support a bid for us too.

“The RFU then withdrew their support of Saracens’ bid as they could not support one club ahead of the other.

“The news that Saracens are looking at it again is one of interest for us. When we have all the facts we will then be in a position to decide whether we will help or hinder their bid.

“Like any club we would like to improve our lot and that comes about by improved facilities. A new stadium could be a magnificent centre for rugby.

Alex Airey, the chairman of Mill Hill, who use the playing fields on the north side, said:

“We are a local long-running club and although we have had diminished numbers in recent years we want to stay where we are. Potentially we would be interested in using any new ground but we have found that these larger clubs tend to suck support away from the other smaller clubs.”