“Bitter disappointment” for Cromer youngsters as home ground dream looks set to die

Crestfallen youth footballers in Cromer fear they are back to square one in their 30-year search for a permanent home in the town.

More than 200 players, families and supporters of Cromer Youth FC turned out for a loud and colourful protest before a town council meeting this week.

It comes as their hopes of moving to a new edge-of-town ground shared with the Cromer Town adult club could be kicked into touch by a legal loophole.

The youngsters are pressing for progress on a saga that sees the club's many boys' and girls' teams playing matches at Northrepps and East Runton, with their 'home' tournament at Knapton.

But club officials left the meeting feeling despondent, after the council voted to seek a 'pan-parish' solution, urging neighbouring villages to join Cromer Youth, Cromer Town FC and 'other interested parties' for talks to find an 'amicable solution'.

And Cromer Town said lawyers believed the club's need to move from their long-running headquarters at Cabbell Park had gone, after a quirky clause in the lease – meaning it runs out 21 years after the death of King Edward VII's last grandchild – had not yet been triggered because a relative was still alive.

After the meeting Cromer Youth chairman Chris Lightfoot said he was in 'bitter disappointment and disbelief'.

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The bid to move to a new ground was 'not just about football' as it had the potential to provide other sporting facilities, including athletics, cricket and possibly a skatepark and an improved doctors surgery.

The relocation idea also involves selling off part of Cabbell Park to enable the Overstrand Road GP practice to relocate to a new larger surgery, which would help pay for the new football ground.

Mr Lightfoot said: 'We cannot sit around for the short-sightedness of a few people who cannot see the bigger picture. But we have not got a plan B.'

And he was concerned that the offer the land might not be there in the future, which could prove a problem for the senior club's future.

Before the meeting, children in Cromer Youth kit, plus banner-waving parents, chanted and cheered as the councillors entered the town council chamber.

Julie Hardingham, whose daughter Holly plays for Cromer under 11 girls, said: 'The children of Cromer need to be noticed. It's not about kicking Cromer Town off Cabbell Park. It's not us versus them.'

Bob Brown, who has grandchildren involved with the youth teams and who helped run the youth football club when it was established, said: 'They've got to have a home in Cromer. Why should they have to go out of the town to play football?'

They were supported by Cromer Conservative councillors from North Norfolk District Council, John Lee and Keith Johnson.

Deputy council leader Mr Lee, until recently a Cromer town councillor, said: 'After years of trying, we are close to finally getting a deal that will see Cromer Youth get a brand new ground.

'But it is key to the deal that Cromer Town FC also moves to the new ground - that is the only way that we can deliver these fantastic facilities for the use of the whole town.'

Mr Johnson said: 'We really now need to move this forward. The finances are available for everyone. Cromer Town FC would benefit from it. If we wait another five or 10 years, the chance may well have gone.'

During an hour-long debate in the chamber, Mr Lightfoot read out a letter saying it was an 'embarrassment' to the town that a town of stature of Cromer did not have a home for its youth football, unlike many other small towns and villages the club visited across the county.

The senior club has voiced resistance to the move, airing concerns about its cost and viability.

Chairman Paul Jarvis told the News its lawyers believed an unborn relative of the king the Earl of Harewood, was legally 'in being' at the time the Cabbell Park lease was signed. It meant any eviction would not be triggered until 21 years after the death of the Earl, who is now 88.

'We are back at the status quo. We totally support the youth club in their ambitions to have their own facility, but we don't think our move is viable and won't do anything to put the future of our club in doubt,' he added

He suggested that Cabbell Park trustee and local landowner Benjie Cabbell Manners, who is offering the out of town site, could still offer it to the youth footballers.

North Norfolk District Council chief executive Philip Burton, who has been trying to broker a solution among the various parties, however felt it would be difficult for the youth footballers to go it alone with a ground, because of the benefits of working with the senior club and economies of shared infrastructure.

The council was getting expert legal opinion over the claims the lease was still running, and was expecting the outcome imminently.

Mr Cabbell Manners said the trustees were awaiting the outcome of the council's checks before decided their next move.