FOOTBALL: A new ball game
TWENTY years after they took one giant step in moving from county to regional-level football, the next 12 months could well hand Melksham Town the opportunity to take another.
Last month’s submission of plans for a new stadium and training facilities on the outskirts of town was the next stage in the vision to make the Toolstation League Premier Division club one of the envies of Wiltshire football.
That vision, promoted by chairman Dave Wiltshire and his committee and backed by manager Darren Perrin, sees the club’s new home – at Woolmoore Farm, near Melksham Oak Community School – playing host to teams from youth levels up to the senior first team, filled with playing talent from the local community.
It also opens up the possibility that Town might one day attempt to reach higher up the non-league football pyramid than their current Western League status.
First things first though, the plans involving floodlit main pitches for both the town’s football and rugby clubs, a joint clubhouse including 208 covered seats, a balcony to overlook each pitch, bar, function room, 11 further football and three rugby pitches, plus associated training and storage facilities, must get the nod from planners – probably around March.
Work on the site could begin in the spring, possibly allowing the football club to be playing at their new home this time next year.
According to Wiltshire, the sadness at leaving the Conigre, their town centre home of 88 years, and itself soon to be the site of the new Melksham Community Campus, featuring a sports centre, swimming pool and library, will be offset by their exciting new future.
“The vision of the committee from day one was that we want to maintain a standard where Melksham lads can play for their hometown club,’’ he said.
“The vision is always to try and use local players from the community. That’s the ethos of the club really.
“We could not make our dreams come true here (the Conigre). People will be sad to lose the old Conigre and we understand that. But when they look at this I think they will be delighted.
“It’s a fantastic facility, with things we’d never have dreamed of – all what we need going forward.
“The (Melksham) rugby club is in with us and I just see it as a great thing for the town and, with the leisure hub that’s going to be on the Conigre site, it’s a fantastic future for sport in Melksham.
Wiltshire believes the ‘one club’ ethos will only be enhanced with the Melksham Town Youth teams also playing and training at the new base, the youth section’s Russ Hillier working hard on establishing the needs of the age groups as the plans were formulated.
“We had to fight our case and have something that was going to be sustainable,’’ he added.
“Being totally honest, I said two years ago that if this hadn’t been coming about, I would have walked. It’s kept us all going on our committee.
"We’ve had to fight for what we want to achieve, but if it all comes off we’ll be absolutely delighted.’’
The pathway opened up for the first team as a result of the move is also a cause for excitement.
“Whether it’s the Toolstation Premier Division or whatever, we’ll try to be at the top end of that,’’ added Wiltshire.
“Next year, can we be in the top six and eight? Surviving this year was what we wanted to do – and it looks like we’re going to be doing that, hopefully.
“We needed to be at that level because when this (new site) was designed, it was all to do with (being in the) Toolstation Premier.
“It makes our job easier to add on to the stadium in a few years’ time if we want to move on and progress.
"Basically, the new facility will take us into the Southern Premier if we want to and we can.’’
Having guided Town to their finest achievements – the 1996–97 Western League First Division title and two Wiltshire Premier Shield triumphs – during his first stint as manager, Perrin is excited about what the future holds, after returning as manager in September.
“I’ve been involved with the club for about 30 years on and off (his father Mick was a long-serving former chairman) and it will be a wrench to leave here (the Conigre), but to see what Dave and the committee have fought for is beyond everyone’s dreams,’’ he said.
“For Melksham Town to get a facility like this would be fantastic and we would be the envy of all non-league clubs in the county and probably the Toolstation League.
“It’s something that the people of Melksham can feel immensely proud of.
“We’ve got a special bond of players here as it is, players who have turned down other clubs.
"We’re quite lucky in the kind of characters we have got at this football club and if we can add one or two more to the squad we’ve got, then I can only see bright things.
“It puts me in a better bargaining position. I won’t be able to offer players any financial gains, but I will be able to offer them arguably the best (lower league) stadium in the county, if not the league.’’
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