Haverhill Borough are in a race against time to upgrade their ground to avoid being booted out of the Thurlow Nunn League’s top flight.
The Premier Division side have until March 31 to find a way to make their 3G home at The New Croft comply with the FA’s national pitch requirements at Step 5 — or face demotion regardless of their final league position.
They currently sit in the last ‘safe spot’ in the league, with four teams due to be relegated at the end of the season as part of far-reaching changes to the national non-league structure.
But, with less than two months remaining of the deadline, the club have to upgrade the pitch to Category F (it is currently one below at Category G) of the National Ground Grading system to secure the possibility of another season in Step 5.
One of the stumbling blocks is a requirement for ‘spectators to view the match, either standing or seated, for the full length of at least three sides of the playing area’ — currently spectators can only access one side of the 3G pitch.
But club secretary and vice chairman Gary Brown has vowed to ‘explore all the avenues’ open to them.
Brown (pictured) said: “Everything is on the table and there’s a concerted effort to find a solution.
“We’ve been working hard since the club formed in 2011 and this is just another hurdle we have to jump over.”
He said he was not aware of the March 31 deadline, declaring that ‘until the end of the season, the only concern is to stay up’.
Thurlow Nunn League chairman Peter Hutchings said he sympathised with their predicament but confirmed ‘that clubs that do not meet the required ground grade for the level they play by March 31, 2018 will be relegated.
“I made all clubs aware of this immediately on my return from the FA-run Steps 1-6 Leagues Conference last July,” he added.
“Borough are already aware of what they need to do to meet the requirements of Grade G (the ground grading they need to secure).
“And I think it unlikely they would be given a reprieve. However, it is for the club to make representations directly to the FA.”
One option that had been suggested was a pitch share on Rovers’ grass pitch, but Haverhill Community Sports Association’s (HCSA) — who run The New Croft — football coordinator Peter Betts said this would not be possible.
“There are conditions attached to the funding that was received to build the current facility,” he said. “So it would seem that playing away from the 3G is not possible at the minute.
“It also wouldn’t be viable having two teams using the grass; it wouldn’t have time to recover.
“But it’s of course not hopeless, there may well be a solution once all discussions have been had, there are always loopholes.
“From a HCSA perspective, we want to provide the facilities we are asked for and that’s why the 3G pitch was built.
“But we also have over 900 players involved at The New Croft and so we have to look at the bigger picture too.”
It is not yet known how much improvements would cost or if it is physically possible to get the ground up to standard before the deadline.