From left to right: Nick Postma, Chairman of Bishop Auckland FC; Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland and Cllr Ann Golightly, Mayor of Bishop Auckland, opening the new facility alongside two of the Bishops' youth players.
Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland and Cllr Ann Golightly, Mayor of the town, officially opened Bishop Auckland FC’s new pitch upgrade at Heritage Park recently (Saturday 25 February).
The project was made possible thanks to a grant from the Premier League, through the Football Stadia Improvement Fund (FSIF) – the largest funders of non-league football in the country – and a generous bequest from loyal late fan, Colin Rowell.
The upgrade at Heritage Park – also the home of Bishop Auckland Ladies FC which can hold up to 2,000 fans on match-days – has seen a new drainage system installed, which will prevent the pitch from becoming waterlogged, an issue that forced fixtures to be cancelled across previous years. As a result of this extended use, Middlesbrough FC have used the pitch for FA Youth Cup fixtures, while local grassroots side Bishop Auckland St Mary’s JFC, will also play at Heritage Park.
The works will aid the North East club’s ambitions to climb the National League System, where they currently play Step Five football in Division One of the Ebac Northern League. ‘The Bishops’ have enjoyed great success throughout their 131-year history, winning The FA Amateur Cup ten times and this season, for the first time in 17 years, reaching the fourth qualifying round of The FA Cup.
Funded with £5.2m each year from the Premier League, the FSIF is the country’s largest provider of grants towards projects that help improve the comfort and safety of lower league football grounds in both the professional and amateur game. These improvements range from new football stands and turnstiles to floodlighting and improved provision for disabled supporters.
The project's £52,000 grant from the FSIF – the sister organisation of the Football Foundation – builds on previous grassroots investment into Bishop Auckland FC, when in 2003 they received a £639,590 grant, again from the FSIF, to help relocate stadium to their new home at Heritage Park.
Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, said: “The new pitch at Heritage Park will have such a positive impact on the club’s future, it will allow them to complete more home games on a top quality playing surface, and subsequently attract more local fans. Sports infrastructure at the lower levels is so important, helping clubs such as Bishop Auckland FC to progress from the bottom-up, by having the physical provision in place to enable planning for the long-term.
“I’d like to thank the club for their all hard work throughout this project, and inviting me to open the new pitch today. Of course too, the Premier League, through the FSIF, whose investment into Heritage Park for over a decade has enabled the club to progress, and continue to provide a focal football hub for the local area.”
Nick Postma, Chairman of Bishop Auckland FC, said: “The grant from the Premier League, through the FSIF, has been so gratefully received by the club and will help us resolve our previous issues with the pitch being frequently waterlogged. We also now have a pitch where teams can play good football, which will help us in our ambition to play at the highest level possible.”
Peter McCormick OBE, Chairman of the Football Stadia Improvement Fund, said: “Having a safe, quality playing surface is so important at the lower levels of the game, and I’m delighted that Bishop Auckland FC now have a home pitch that is conducive to good football, which is all the better for local fans.
“The Premier League is committed in supporting grassroots football, and its investment through the FSIF has helped develop a strong network of lower league infrastructure right across the country.”
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