Rotherham v Leinster A: Titans fear for Clifton Lane future due to new lease issues

Rotherham Titans chairman Nick Cragg has urged the leaseholders of Clifton Lane to do their utmost to keep rugby union at the venue – or risk forcing the club out of town.

Rotherham fear a move away from their Clifton Lane home.
Rotherham fear a move away from their Clifton Lane home.

The Titans have been served notice by Rotherham Athletic Company that unless they sign a new lease by the end of September they will be kicked out of Clifton Lane.

It has forced club officials to explore options out of the town, with Sheffield the likely destination and even Barnsley Football Club’s Oakwell stadium among the options for the team to move to. But the Titans are hopeful that a compromise can be reached.

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The atmospheric ground on the tops of Rotherham has always been a cosy little ampitheatre, but one that has been restrictive on their ambitions.

Last season they had to play two key ‘home’ games in the race for promotion at Sheffield RUFC’s Abbeydale Sports Club ground, while on their two seasons in the Premiership more than a decade ago they had to play at Millmoor.

But it is their spiritual home, and without Clifton Lane or an invitation to share the New York Stadium with Rotherham United, options to play elsewhere in the town are limited.

In order to stay at the Lane, 
Titans must adhere to the terms of the Athletic Club’s lease, which heavily favours co-inhabitants Rotherham Town Cricket Club.

Rugby officials have been told that a no-breach line will be drawn across the ground, 
effectively down the cricket side touchline, which will not permit spectators, players or officials to cross. The TV scaffold gantry will also have to come down.

It would also not allow for a new five-metre safety zone between the pitch and spectators to be implemented, as required by the Rugby Football Union.

The lease also requires that no non-rugby events will be allowed in the clubhouse without written permission of the Athletic Company. Commercial activities at the clubhouse are understood to amount to around 70 per cent of the club’s income.

As it stands, the lease prohibits rugby of any professional standard being played at the ground.

Cragg said: “We live in hope that the Athletic Club see the error of their ways and they will look to the past and also the future, and what benefits the people of Rotherham.

“This town needs a top rugby team representing it and it needs a top football team. At the minute we have both.

“We had a great year last year, both teams, and this is a very important issue for the people of Rotherham.

“We are positive people and we hope the Athletic Club are accommodating and understanding of the people of Rotherham.

“We have enjoyed a good 
relationship with them over the years, but it’s fair to say the 
dynamic has changed over the last year.”

Of the options on the table, the Titans are finding more amenable bedfellows outside of town.

And despite their loyalty to Rotherham, preserving their high standard of rugby is the priority.

Cragg continued: “We are looking at a place in Rotherham. We have had discussions and while they are not showing the greatest of interest, it is not dead in the water.

“Then there’s Abbeydale in Sheffield, who we have a strong relationship with following last year’s play-off run-in. There’s also the possibility of a move to the new stadium at Don Valley.

“If needs must we have to do whatever is required to continue playing rugby at this standard. But we hope that is in Rotherham.

“If not, then maybe it will be Sheffield. And if not Sheffield, then maybe Barnsley Football Club, with whom we have had positive discussions.”

The issue over Clifton Lane has been the talk of the town, but it is not thought to have distracted head coach Lee Blackett and his Titans squad, who welcome holders Leinster A today in the British and Irish Cup quarter-final.

It is a competition they have taken seriously from the start, and Blackett is expecting their toughest test yet.

“We know the task at hand is a mammoth one as Leinster are not just a very talented side, but as winners of the competition for the last two seasons, they obviously take it very seriously,” he said. “It’s going to be a massive test for us, but the boys are really looking forward to the challenge.”