Dumbarton Football Club’s stadium at the Rock – Cognitive Capital Ltd, have formally submitted plans for nine new houses and 40 apartments at land to the north and east of the ground that is currently used for car parking. Picture above: Sons may be in the pink on the pitch but off it they are in serious trouble as Norwegian takeover looks imminent. Pictures by Jon Leino
By Bill Heaney
It’s a never ending story that must be breaking the hearts of Dumbarton Football Club’s most ardent supporters.
Here we go again. The Lennox Herald tells us that agents working on behalf of the club’s Norwegian owners, Cognitive Capital Ltd, have formally submitted plans for nine new houses and 40 apartments at land to the north and east of the Sons’ ground that is currently used for car parking.
The die-hard Sons’ fans can’t say they weren’t warned this would happen.
I seriously cannot recall how many times I have written that story complete with all the old cliches about the writing being on the wall and so on and so forth. Ad nauseam.
There is a group of people in this town who have a close association with the club.
They are the kind of people who keep telling you how much they love their wife but are all the time planning to get rid of her.
Dumbarton Football Club’s supporters’ trust has warned that granting planning permission for housing at the side’s Castle Road ground would damage the Sons’ future prospects.
There’s nothing surer than that. My own view is that it will soon see Sons out of business altogether.
Agents working on behalf of the club’s owners, Cognitive Capital Ltd, formally submitted plans for nine new houses and 40 apartments at land to the north and east of the ground that is currently used for car parking.
That’s a bit like the SFA telling us that they are going to close the car park at Hampden Park and refusing to talk to us when we ask them for an explanation for what they are doing. If they are going back on their word when they purchased the club.
The obvious answer is that they are leaving – and probably getting out of football altogether. But it’s all hush, hush in the manner of Nicola Sturgeon’s Secret Scotland and I fear it will have the same calamitous ending.
Permission was previously granted for a smaller development on the same site, albeit on the basis that it would help the club raise funds for a long-planned and controversial move to Dalmoak.
Those stupid plans were formally rejected by West Dunbartonshire Council in 2018 and, despite Cognitive Capital stating their intentions to bring back the Young’s Farm proposals, no progress has yet been made.
Anyone with the least bit of local knowledge must know that the Young’s Farm site was no place to build a football park.
Recently submitted plans to build at the site have been met with objections from both the Sons’ Supporters’ Trust (Sonstrust) and Dumbarton Community Stadium Company – the body set up to safeguard the future of the stadium when it was built in 2000.
In their objection, Sonstrust chair David Brownlee says: “Despite presumably being aware of the comprehensive nature of the planning refusal for Brabco’s failed Dalmoak proposal, the Sonstrust was surprised to learn that the new owners intended to re-ignite a version of it.
“Time has elapsed, however, and that initial expression seems to have receded with it. Whilst the Trust is fully accepting of this, we retain genuine concerns regarding the Castle Road site.
“Bluntly, were this application to be granted it will almost certainly result in a very damaging outcome for the future prospects of Dumbarton Football Club.
“In short, the buildings and access to them as envisaged would very likely see the club effectively ‘hemmed in’ on the north side of the stadium.
“Never mind the adverse effect on the possibility of even a modest improvement in the football ground in that area, the consequent loss of a large percentage of the existing car park would very likely have a deleterious effect on match-day attendance and associated revenue.
“From 2012 to 2018 Dumbarton FC played in the second tier of Scottish football and that portion of the parking area was in almost constant use. The club aspires to reach that level again.
“The Sonstrust is not aware of any modern senior football ground in Scottish football where residential housing and associated access roads encroach to the extent that this proposal would entail.
“This is a location where there is already generous and still ongoing provision of housing with a consequent increase in traffic volumes.
“While the Sonstrust is acutely aware of the strict criteria on which planning applications are assessed, we have no hesitation in raising the potential socio-economic aspects which may arise as a result.
“If this was to be granted and the football club is subsequently adversely affected, then it does not take a huge leap of intellect to envisage the land on which Dumbarton FC currently stands at some future point becoming an attractive development opportunity.”
Intellect? Even just a modicum of commonsense would lead you to conclude that this was the case and to speculate that becoming an attractive development opportunity was from day one foremost in the minds of the people who now own the club.
Robert Ryan, of the Community Stadium Company, added: “If the plan is now for Dumbarton FC to continue to operate from Castle Road alongside this proposed development then it is very difficult to see how this could be done.
“The land in question is currently a car park and on match days it is in constant use.
“On the occasions where a capacity crowd is present around 700 car parking spaces are required. Cognitive Capital has declared that its aim is to have Dumbarton FC competing at Championship level. The club competed at that level for six seasons from 2012/13 and that area was fully occupied by cars at every home match.
“One can only imagine the congestion and confusion on match days with supporters unable to park.
“If we were to envisage the proposed plan being complete with no stadium there, how much parking would have to be provided for an application to build a stadium for a senior football club to be successful?
“The converse should therefore be true. We would ask if any transport or car parking assessments have been undertaken given that the proposal is for 49 extra households in an already (on match days) congested cul-de-sac?
“We would strongly urge rejection of this proposal.”
Dumbarton’s ownership structure has been a concern for fans for well over a decade, with previous owners Brabco 736 Ltd unpopular with supporters due to a lack of engagement with fans and investment in the club. They too adopted Sturgeon’s Secret Scotland strategy and paid the price for that.
A fresh start was hoped for when the club was bought by Cognitive Capital in spring 2021, a group fronted by Norwegian businessman Henning Kristoffersen.
He pledged to establish the Sons as a full-time team in the top two tiers of Scottish football, but also outlined aims to reignite a move away from the team’s current Castle Road home.
However, that was the only public statement so far made by the group, with Kristoffersen having since resigned as a director of Cognitive.
Now that gives you confidence, does it not?
Former Sons player Alan Martin is now the only director of the company listed on Companies House, with the club currently run by a two-person board of chairman Dr Neil MacKay and vice-chair Colin Hosie.
Companies House records also show that Kristoffersen is still a director of the club.
Cognitive Capital did not respond to the Lennox Herald’s request for a comment, so The Democrat won’t even bother trying to contact them.
What I will say though is that I am dismayed that the future of Dumbarton FC is still hanging in the air.
I think West Dunbartonshire Council and the Scottish government should be doing much more for Scottish Football but neither of these two on current form could kick their own backsides. They know nothing about football.
How about the following as an item for a new agenda for the future of the club?
Begin talks about a merger between Dumbarton FC and Vale of Leven Junior FC and screw every last ha’penny possible out of Cognitive Capital to completely refurbish Millburn Park in Alexandria as the Sons’ new home.
Otherwise the Vikings will have made us all look like fools and completely scuppered with their long-ships the banana boat Dumbarton FC appear to have come up the Clyde in