AN ambitious non-league football club has put all of its player on the transfer list after its main sponsor pulled the plug – because of a plastic pitch.
Former Northern League side Durham City are playing for the first time in the Unibond Premier League, one of the toughest competitions outside the Football League.
But international property company London-based Helios Properties has cancelled its sponsorship after the club was told that it would not be able to move up to the Blue Square North – part of the Football Conference – if it won promotion because it has a plastic pitch.
The company is believed to have hoped Durham could gain a national profile, building on attention gained from last season’s FA Cup run that ended in the fourth qualifying round with a defeat by Histon, who went on to beat Leeds United.
The pitch, which cost almost £1m, brings in vital revenue, as it is used throughout the week for youth and community games.
UEFA allowed the recent Russia versus England international to be played on a similar surface, but Durham has had to play home FA Cup games at neighbouring grounds because of the plastic pitch.
The loss of Helios Properties’ undisclosed funding has ruined plans to build a team capable of competing at a higher level.
Club chairman Stuart Dawson said: “To lose our major sponsor in the new season’s infancy means we will not be able to continue to sustain the club’s budgets that were set prior to season commencing, and continue at the level of football we are currently in.
“The board therefore feels we have no alternative other than to allow players to leave and, as a consequence, all players are available for transfer with immediate effect.
This will allow them to continue playing at the highest level.
“We intend to fulfil our remaining fixtures this season, our first season in the Unibond Premier League, and will endeavour to compete within the higher tier to the best of our ability. Any local players who may be interested in joining the club will be made most welcome.’’ Durham lost both its first games in the Unibond Premier League, going down 1-0 at home to Ashton United last Saturday and 6-0 at Stocksbridge on Tuesday night.
Dennis Strudwick, general manager of the Football Conference, said: “We have a ruling that no matches can be played on artificial pitches without prior approval of the board and the board hasn’t approved artificial pitches yet.’’ No one was available for comment at Helios Properties’ offices in London yesterday.
■ The club will hold a fundraising ball featuring the King of Swing, Jason Isaacs, at the Ramside Hall Hotel, Durham, on Friday, September 4. For ticket information, call Ian Coulson on 07747- 638690, or Ian Walker on 07976-005981.