Fears for the future as Wexford Bohs face homelessness
For the past ten years, teams from across the county have turned off at Drinagh Garden Centre and followed the road towards Piercestown to arrive at the pitch of Wexford Bohemians.
It's been the scene of many hard fought wins and bitter losses over the years, but all that could now be in jeopardy as the club's landlord is seeking to sell the land that they call home, something which could effectively make the club homeless.
It should be stated that this is not the first time the club has found itself in this predicament. Of it's 48 year history to date, nearly 30 were spent on pitches at Killane before the owner there decided to turn the land into a pitch and putt course.
Having located an alternative in relatively close proximity to their old grounds, the club are keen to avoid a nomadic existence and to put down roots where they are now.
According to Chairman Nicky Hynes, the club are trying to put something together to purchase their current home at Drinagh themselves, but are finding things incredibly difficult. It would carry a cost in the region of €125,000.
'Basically we've been approved for a loan by the Credit Union,' he said.
'We've shown all our accounts and money coming in and everything and they're happy enough. The only problem is that I suppose they have a worry surrounding what would happen if the club folded. For that reason the loan has only been granted on the condition that two people go as personal guarantor, which is a big ask.'
Although Wexford Bohs have enjoyed their fair share of success on the pitch in recent years, there are genuine fears that a failure to sort out the ownership of the grounds could result in an institution of Wexford football for nearly 50 years being lost. Not owning their own pitches has also somewhat stunted the rapid growth of the club going forward.
'We're growing all the time,' Nicky said. 'At the moment, at adult level, we have well over 100 members who are all paying the bones of €500 a year just to play football on a Sunday, which is a lot. We have three adult mens teams, a ladies team and kids teams down to U11s. We could probably even accommodate a fourth men's team, but we've only one pitch at the moment so it can't really work.'
'We're in a real catch twenty-two situation,' he continued.
'The fact that we don't have our own land or a long-term lease means that there's no grants available to us to develop proper dressing rooms and facilities. There are great grants available for that type of thing at the moment too, with the likes of the Sports Capital Funding.'
Nicky was keen to stress that nobody at the club bears any ill will to their landlord, as he has been more than fair with them.
'Our lease was out in June and he's been very patient with us while we try to sort this out,' he said.
'But understandably he's getting a bit anxious now because he needs to know whether the land is to be put up for sale or not.'
The Chairman believes that Wexford County Council should be able to provide some assistance to clubs in these situations and, with the demise of local club Park Hotspur still fresh in the mind of the Wexford footballing community, he says it's urgent.
'The total lack of help from our local council needs to be highlighted before we lose another massive part of Wexford community,' he said.
'We're not even asking for money. The loan is there. I don't see why the council couldn't act as guarantor. If, God forbid, we did fold five years down the line or whatever, the council could take over the land and build houses on it or do whatever they want with it.'
Fine Gael councillor Frank Staples says that he has been making enquiries behind the scenes to try and find a solution for the club, but it's proving to be somewhat difficult.
'First of all the fact that Bohs have got this loan approved in principle is great for the club,' he said.
'It shows that there is confidence in their ability to pay the loan back and that they certainly must be doing something right.'
'I can understand individual parties being reluctant to sign as guarantor,' he continued. 'A lot can change over a few years and people can leave a club and things like that. As far as the council goes, I don't think it would be possible for the council to go guarantor. It's all about helping communities, but if the council did it for one club they'd have to do it for them all. It is a difficult situation.'
Cllr Staples says that he will continue to make enquiries behind the scenes with a view to finding a solution, while the club say they've been told by the Wexford Soccer League that it's a problem they'll have to solve for themselves. For the moment, they continue training at their Drinagh pitch in the hopes that some solution will present itself to allow them to continue there going forward.