‘It has broken me – the football club was my go-to place’

Davy McGimpsey on the closure of LAFC

We speak to Davy McGimpsey from LAFC’s leadership team about the demise of the village’s well-established football club and seek clarification from LACA

Following an outpouring of emotions on the village social media channels last weekend and the subsequent closure of the men’s football team, we spoke to Davy McGimpsey, one of the LAFC’s leadership group, to find out about the sad demise of the village’s 104-year-old football club.

While there are a number of factors, said Davy, “the hammer blow was losing our club space, the Griffin Lounge”. 

Davy tells us that this was a space that the club had occupied for at least 20 years. It had originally been given to the club by with a “permanent non-exclusive use clause” when the previous Griffin Hall was knocked down to make way for the Jubilee Pavilion.

A former store room, LAFC converted it at their own cost, built a bar and then paid rent to use it. They also personalised it and made it their own space – their micro community within the village; a place to meet post-match and share their highs and lows and to bond as a team and to boost morale.

On 14 July, Davy said he received an email from LACA informing them that “as of the new football season the Griffin Lounge was no longer available to them but that they could use the Youth Club Room, if available, and could book using the online booking system”.

Davy added: “When asked to have an urgent meeting, we were informed that the decision had already been made and it was for the benefit of everyone and was the only way to keep the centre open.”

The Griffin Lounge has already been hired out to other users over the summer and all the clubs framed ’shirts, trophies and memorabilia have been removed to make it a neutral space for hire, Davy told us.

Said Davy: “We lost the beating heart of our club – the club house. We had turned it into a useable space and now it’s been taken away. Decision made; no discussion…. this has had a detrimental effect on morale and on members new and old.”

We asked LACA to clarify why the football team had been asked to vacate the Griffin Lounge.

A LACA spokesperson responded: “The ‘Bar’ is a couple of fridges with cold cans and bottles… We had asked them if they were willing to update the room as [after] 20 years it needed updating. The blinds had beer and wine stains all over them. We approached them last year with an idea to turn it into a sports bar and make more of the space. We were met with resistance and negativity.  

“No space belongs to any one club. They need to use the booking system like every other club as all spaces are hireable out. It is also a security issue as we have caretakers that lock the site up and they need to know when clubs are finishing.”

LA&FV asked LACA why no discussion took place.

“Davy was asked SEVERAL times for an official meeting between LAFC and LACA to discuss the move and other items but they never happened, he didn’t respond and chose rather to just pop into the office, which is not a proper minutedmeeting between two organisations. It got to the point where we had to give them notice. I had asked him who the other committee members were; he didn’t respond and we only started to find out some other names when they were being asked to move,” said a LACA spokesperson.

Rumour has it that the space has now been hired out to a private PT company. We asked LACA to confirm if this correct.

“Yes and the space is still hireable when they are not using it but it would be inappropriate to have people that are drinking in a room with weight and fitness equipment, who have in the past shown an absolute lack of respect for the space they lay false claim to,” said a LACA spokesperson.

We asked why and if a private PT company is in the best interests of the community that LACA serves.

A LACA spokesperson responded: “LACA has to be financially viable – it’s in the statement.”

We asked LACA what measures they put in place to help save the football team from folding – a team that has been around since at least 1919? 

A LACA spokesperson responded: “Not charging rent, asking how much they were paying on pitch maintenance, so LACA could get an accurate figure of the costs, so that we could share the costs with other clubs. Asking the club to train up a caretaker to do the line marking so it wasn’t all on Davy’s shoulders. Paying hundreds for verti draining, and hundreds for weed treatment. We already pay over £300 a month to cut the pitch and then were about to have to cut it more frequently, which is likely to cost us another £400 a month, so £700 plus a month. Where does this money come from for all this? 

“Why should a charity and community pay out all this money to a club that had already told us it was likely to fold? There were no official meetings. They just kept complaining about the grass. We told them to seek funding; we told them to approach the Parish Council for funding. We asked for funding for pitch maintenance from the parish which was also refused. Contact has been made to Somerset FA to see where in the process the deregistration is and [whether it] can be stopped. 

“LACA did not want LAFC to fold but wanted a professional relationship with them where costs where shared equally amongst clubs and a pitch that was of match playing quality which had gone downhill over the last two years.”

LACA offered alternative spaces which Davy said were not appropriate for the club, namely:

Youth Club space

“LAFC feels it is not suitable for a number of reasons including: unable to personalise space; need somewhere to have a beer and watch the footy; this area is frequented by the youth club a few nights a week and, as advertised on the community pages, is to house the new Montessori School group three days a week. LAFC leadership team felt very strongly that they would not want to leave alcohol in this area,whether it could be locked up or not,” said Davy.

A purpose-built facility 

Davy questions where these vital funds would come from and what the club would do in the interim.

The existing caretakers store room 

Like the new proposed facility – Davy said this would need capital investment and questions what does the club do in the time it would take to complete.

Lack of players

The other biggest factor in the decline of the club Davy attributes to the lack of players. Prior to Covid, the club had three teams: the First, the Reserves (Long Ashton Victoria) and an A Team. During Covid, when sport was allowed, football was a lifeline for the players, and boosted morale… “We were the only users allowed in the Community Centre; we partnered with LACA to make sure we were Covid Safe and kept the club alive, but post-Covid the club has struggled more to attract players. 

“Other local teams can boast of state-of-the-art facilities both for training and playing, many now with 4G pitches, brand new changing rooms and bespoke clubhouses. That competition for players has been a losing battle for us; we just have been unable to attract the numbers needed. 

“Many players [at other clubs] change after the game [and go to the bar for a drink – raising funds for the club] – but due to the [LAFC] facilities now go home to shower… we don’t fill the clubhouse like we did pre-Covid when the caretaker had to shoo us out at closing time many a Saturday evening.”

Loss of fundraising activity

The football club is also known for giving back to the community and for its charitable works. Said Davy: “We would do the bar for many, many village functions… Dog Shows, Royal Weddings, Jubilees, Coronations… and always made charity donations. Just some of the charities that have benefited in the last five years include: The Air Ambulance, Help Bristol’s Homeless, The RNLI, Care For Casualties, and LA Garden of Reflection.”

Quite simply, in Davy’s words, the club “doesn’t feel welcome anymore”. He feels: “We’ve gone from partners to landlord-and-tenant relationship – Saturday afternoon pitches need to be booked, entertainment space needs to be booked;the Rec is no longer ring-fenced on a Saturday afternoon for its local club. The senior members who built the club won’t come anymore. It has broken me, I have invested more than a decade to this great club, but it’s all gone.

Cleary, this is still very emotional and an emotive issue for all parties concerned and there are still many unanswered questions on both sides and we hope there can be some kind of resolution between the two parties. It’s time for cohesion and to salvage the much-needed football club.

We welcome constructive feedback on this story. Please contact: editor@longashtonandfailandvoice.co.uk