A South Tyneside football boss has vowed to take council chiefs to court – after accusing them of foul play over an angry pitch battle.
South Tyneside Football Trust says its future has been thrown in doubt after South Tyneside Council pulled the plug on a long-running deal which saw the charity share profits from an all-weather pitch at Monkton Stadium, in Jarrow.
The grassroots organisation laid the all-weather pitch after a public appeal backed by the Gazette raised £50,000 of funding, with the rest of the £160,000 needed supplied by the council and waste management companies Biffa and Sitta and local businesses and boys’ football club.
After pitching in with a major financial contribution, the trust has split profits with the council on the sporting venture since 2011.
But trust manager Alan Millward was left reeling when he was told by the council last month that the agreement was not legal – and would no longer be honoured.
He has been told the trust would no longer receive any profits from the 3G pitch and that it would have to pay to use it just like anyone else.
The trust runs clubs and matches for hundreds of children and has a wide scouting network.
A petition calling on the council to reverse its contentious decision has already attracted more than 1,200 signatures.
Mr Millward, from Hedworthfield, Jarrow, is demanding the council give the trust its £50,000 back or go back to the original profit-sharing deal – or face legal action.
He said: “Our legal representative, Quantum Law, has sent the council a letter saying this was a binding agreement and it has been breached.
“We are asking for the council to return to the agreement or give us our £50,000 back.
“That money would keep us going for four years.
“We have a petition which has been signed by over 1,200 people, including professional players who have come through the grassroots system.
“It shows the strength of feeling from the public.”
Mr Millward says the trust could be forced to shut if it doesn’t win its council fight – blocking a vital avenue for promising young footballers to make their way in the game.
Mr Millward added: “I am taking three players to Blackburn for trials and I am having to ask them to pay for my travel expenses.
“We also have three players going up to Rotherham and only recently two players we have helped have received professional contracts.”
Mr Millward says it is not too late for the council to change its mind – but the final whistle on the community organisation could blow soon.
He added; “I have lost a lot of respect for the council over the way they have acted.
“But it is not too late for them to change their minds.”
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “We can confirm that we have received correspondence from the trust’s legal representatives. As the matter may result in legal proceedings, it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”
To sign the petition, go to www.change.org and search for ‘Grassroots football under threat’.