Stand named in honour of Chairman
A Short-term project to oversee Cirencester Town's move to a new stadium at Kingshill has turned into a 20-year labour of love for Chairman Steve Abbley - writes Danny Hall Sports Editor of the Standard
On Saturday 16th April, to mark his two decades in charge, the main stand at the Corinium Stadium was named in his honour – a closely guarded secret that left him both "grateful" and "embarrassed". Cirencester Town should thank their lucky stars for former pro-footballer Abbley who has grown to love non-league football and whose success in business with his company, Royal Wootton Bassett-based Quick Move Properties, the part exchange company, has given him the wherewithal to bankroll the club.
"A football club is like a crying baby – as soon as you put it down it wants to be fed again," says Abbley colourfully. "Sometimes our gate money does not even cover the cost of the three officials appointed by the FA. But non-league football gets into your blood – something I did not factor in all those years ago. I got on board because I thought it would be interesting to be a part of the new stadium project. I was thinking only of a move to the new place and then regroup. But it soon became 'How far can I take it'."
The answer has been a long way. Cirencester Town have now consolidated in the Southern Premier League and earlier this year held second place in the division – the highest placing in the club's 125-year history.
And all that despite Abbley, a qualified accountant, keeping a very tight grip on the purse strings. "We certainly punch above our weight," he insists.
Abbley has all the easy grace of a multi-millionaire businessman and at the age of 59 he's not carrying much more weight than in his prime playing-days with the likes of Swindon Town, Cheltenham and Wycombe, where he was deemed too vocal a dressing room presence for a young manager in his first full-time role, Martin O'Neill. But the Liverpool-raised, Everton season ticket holder is, however, delighted with his tenure at Cirencester Town.
"What I am most proud of is that we have moved from Five Acres into a 17-acre facility, including an indoor arena and training pitches, which is the envy of the Southern League," he said.
His next capital project is the one that would bring the club self-sustainability – something which is impossible on dwindling gates of 150 – the introduction of a plastic pitch.
"The next stage is the all-weather pitch that will put the finishing touches to what would become a seven-day operation and make it a club for the whole community and a hub for a number of sports," said Abbley. It will move us into long trousers – we would be able to sustain ourselves. The FA has identified a need for an all-weather pitch in Cirencester and we are now established as the chosen candidate to have it. In hypothetical terms, say the cost is £400,000, the FA might be prepared to pay at least half of that through a grant but would want us to match their funding.
"We need money from both Cirencester Town Council and the Cotswold District Council to make it happen. And we moved the peanut forward by talking to the town council again this week. We will be putting in our application for a grant late this summer with a view to being chosen in the November round of grant awards. I still talk to people in Cirencester who have no idea where we are. If we get a plastic pitch and can drive up the community use of this facility, I will be pushing the council to create a footpath from the town to the ground."
And if the club becomes financially viable, would he then feel comfortable about stepping down? I don't think I will ever not come to watch Cirencester Town," insisted the man who can see the floodlights from his lovely home on the outskirts of the town and who is at the club every morning for an hour at 7.30am before he goes off to his "proper job".
"This place is part of my social life," said Abbley. "I just ask that the team is competitive and I still get a great kick out of turning over the bigger clubs. We have beaten every one of the top seven teams this season, often away from home.
"My one regret is not being able to pass on my enthusiasm for Cirencester Town to the public."