IT’s been all go at Station Park over the close season - with plans to install a state-of-the-art artificial surface very much on schedule despite long spells of extremely wet weather (writes Alan Ducat).
Indeed, everything remains on target for the first competitive match on the new surface to go ahead on Saturday, July 28, when Dunfermline Athletic are visitors for the opening round of the Ramsdens Cup.
All the Loons pre-season friendlies are away from home, to allow work on the park to progress unhindered ahead of the new campaign.
Last week, the tarmacadam surface was being rolled, ahead of the laying of the shock pads and the artificial carpet itself.
“When completed, it will be a delux pitch,” commented new Forfar Athletic chairman Alastair Donald.
“Airdrie United has one of the most highly rated artificial surfaces in professional football and ours, when complete, will be at least the equivalent of that.”
The new artificial surface has been made possible in large part through a £300,000 Cash from Criminals award made to Forfar Farmington, via Sportscotland.
“No application was made for funding,” continues Mr Donald. “The SFA’s East Region management were asked to identify projects in the area that could benefit from this kind of capital funding.
“The funding was initially put to Forfar Farmington, and it made sense logistically for the club’s senior girls team to move from the Market Muir.
“All the infrastructure was in place at Station Park, in terms of a secure ground, with floodlighting and changing facilities.
“The Cash From Criminals funding was not enough to complete the project, so other funding sources had to be found, and that’s when Angus Council came on board.”
The capital funding from the council means that the local community will have access to the pitch, with bookings to be taken through Forfar Lochside Leisure Centre.
Forfar Athletic and Forfar Farmington Senior Girls will have first call on the pitch for games, but, there will be plenty of other opportunities for other community groups to make use of the new facility - which will be available for hire from early morning to late at night seven days a week.
“Forfar Athletic Football Club, Forfar Farmington Football Club and Angus Council have signed up to a 25-year agreement with Sportscotland, allowing community access to the pitch,” continued Mr Donald.
The cost of hiring the facility will be on a par with current synthetic pitch charges set by Angus Council.
A full pitch hire is £71.30, but there will be opportunities to take up half and quarter-pitch lets, while concessionary charges also kick-in, with full details available from Forfar Lochside Leisure Centre.
“Football in Scotland is becoming more and more geared towards community involvement, and it is important that the town’s senior club is seen to be playing an important part in achieving such goals,” added Mr Donald.
“And remember, there are many more far bigger towns in Scotland that don’t have their own senior football team.”
Looking forward to the first competitive match on the new surface, on Saturday, July 28, Mr Donald paid tribute to the part former chairman Neill Wilson has played in bringing everything together.
“The fact that we are where we are is largely due to the fact that Mr Wilson agreed, when stepping down as chairman, that he would stay on as project manager.
“He is keeping a close eye on progress, and it is fair to say that we are very much on target to complete the project by the end of July.”
The start of the new season will mean a new challenge for Mr Donald.
“I was quite happy to accept the position of chairman when Neill decided to step down,” he explained.
“Running a business employing a lot of people in two different locations is one thing, but dealing with the many footballing issues that will come my way is another.
“However, I am lucky with the quality of the board members we have at Station Park. The experience when it comes to football matters is already in place.”
On the playing side, the manager, Dick Campbell, is beavering away behind the scenes, re-building the squad for the challenges that lie ahead.
“Dick is a very ambitious guy and wants the very best for the club, but he has to work within a budget.
“There is no extra money because of the new surface. The budget is very much on a par with what it has been in recent seasons.
“It is fair to say that we under-achieved last season, but there is a fine line between success and failure at this level.
“Hopefully, we can get off to a good start and build from there. All the signs are that the manager is improving the side, by bringing in players who are better than those who have left.
“It may be the case that we will go with a slightly smaller squad this season, with the emphasis more on quality. The players we are bringing in are all capable of changing games for us.”