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FOUR BECOMES ONE

10-08-2009

Coventry RFC

Like the local pub and the High Street butchers, bakers and greengrocers, community sports grounds and clubs are a dying breed, Steve Beauchampé mourns the imminent passing of another piece of local greensward.

Once there was Solihull Rugby Club, and Birmingham Rugby Club, They merged and became Birmingham and Solihull, playing at Sharman’s Cross Road near the town centre.

Over in Hall Green, Moor Green FC had plied its trade in various locations for over a century as Birmingham’s leading amateur football club. Solihull had a club too, but in 2007, following crippling fires at the Moors’ Sherwood Road ground, the two clubs merged, becoming Solihull Moors, playing out near the airport at Damson Parkway.

We were told it would be the salvation of both clubs, stronger together, onwards ever upwards. Not quite…when two became one the crowds didn’t increase, 200 or less is the average gate (poor for the Blue Square North division that they play in, just five leagues below the Premiership), roughly what Moors alone were pulling before the merger.

Over at Sharman’s Cross Road a sponsor bought the naming rights and Birmingham and Solihull became Pertemps Bees which meant nothing much to anyone and did little to engender local pride, a case of taking the club off the map, rather than putting it on one. Now once again called Birmingham and Solihull (the sponsorship deal having run out) the club want to sell their ground to clear debts and move in with Solihull Moors, who would no doubt welcome the extra income leasing would generate.

So in a very few years, four becomes one…sports grounds that is. Sherwood Road (which used to boast two football pitches and one for cricket) is now bare and overgrown; the owner can’t sell, the residents don’t want houses, the council want new sports facilities but don’t own the land and certainly can’t afford to buy it…so stalemate.

The Sharman’s Cross Road site is earmarked for homes, an application was turned down by Solihull Council last week, but few doubt that it won’t return in an amended form and eventually be approved, But if people won’t travel to a venue not much more than a drop kick away from Solihull town centre for their rugby, what price them going to a windswept location surrounded by farms and fields near the airport, where the crowds watching fleetingly from aeroplane windows probably outnumber those paying at the turnstiles?

Greater Birmingham is not a rugby stronghold. For decades Moseley were the dominant club but having embraced professionalism in the mid-1990s almost went bankrupt, were forced to sell their historic Reddings ground (for housing) and now play in front of smallish crowds at Billesley Common. They’re doing ok, but no more than that.

Further down the A45 from Damson Parkway is Coventry, much more of a rugby city. The local club, following years playing at Coundon Road, moved back to the site of their original ground at The Butts close to the city centre in 2006, built an impressive grandstand and enjoy great social facilities and crowds in the low thousands. Prior to their return, the site was home to Coventry’s speedway team, who as it happens, are also nicknamed The Bees.

So the sporting landscape constantly changes and evolves. Sharman’s Cross Road is a little sporting Mecca, though one of its temples may be about to fall. Adjoining the rugby ground is the Solihull Arden Club, a tennis focussed sports club bolstered by a merger with the historic Solihull Lawn Tennis Society, a club dating from September 1872. But who remembers - or cares - about that now? Completing the triumverate is Silhill Football Club (formed in 1908), a small time concern who nonetheless keep a few score folks occupied both physically and socially each week, doing their bit for the common good.

Solihull RFC

Until the 1970s the Lucas sports ground at nearby Prospect Lane (just one of three Lucas sports grounds in the region) annually drew thousands of players and spectators. Delve back even further and the fields around this part of Solihull were a hive of sporting activity; football, rugby and cricket pitches, company sports grounds, bowling greens, tennis courts. Most have now gone, replaced by housing; houses with multiple TV sets, computer games and all the paraphernalia which keeps the modern child off the sports field and in front of the screen (often watching sport!), making them a little bit fatter and a little bit slower.

Like it or not (and by all accounts they don’t) the residents of Sharman’s Cross Road will soon be looking out at Oakwood Homes’ latest development and the community that currently uses the sports fields to play, formally and informally will (along with the new community moving on to the land) either have to travel to Damson Parkway or save their petrol money and perhaps instead buy some new audio visual tech.

And what’s the betting that in a few years time Solihull Moors Bees RFCFC won’t be offering sanctuary and salvation to another of the town’s sports clubs, swallowing them like a kind of sporting Black Hole.

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