Whyteleafe FC, the popular non-league club, has been forced to give up its Step 4 status after new owners of the club's home ground in Church Road refused to negotiate a new lease or licence agreement with the club for the 2021-22 season.
Home to the Leafe for more than 60 years, the Church Road ground in Whyteleafe was purchased by Irama last year at auction after the previous owners went into administration.
Despite numerous attempts by the current management committee and an independent fan led group to discuss a way forward, Singapore based property development company Irama – the new landlords – activated a break clause to terminate the club's lease on July 31st this year.
This was despite the club paying Irama nearly £50,000 of back rent that the new owners had been told by the administrators was due for the administration period. Whyteleafe didn't believe this was the case as the club had been paying all the landlords' costs during that period to keep the ground viable and to protect the value of the facility.
But Whyteleafe FC believed Irama were acting in good faith and also wanted to have an ongoing working relationship with the new owners and despite the lack of income during the Covid-19 lockdowns paid the back rent.
Whyteleafe FC has been a highly respected club on the non-league scene for 75 years. Managers have included ex-pros Steve Kember and Dave Swindlehurst, and the club reached the first round proper of the FA Cup in 1999-2000, losing 1-3 in a replay at Chester City.
Difficult and stressful
"It has been a very difficult and stressful time for all of us involved at Whyteleafe FC," said vice-chairman Clive Davis. "A lot of people have worked for a lot of years to keep the club going and it has been taken away from them through no fault of their own. We're talking about a non-league football club that, like so many similar clubs up and down the country, struggles to stay afloat from one season to the next. Nobody involved at this level of football is in it for the money: they manage, play or support for the love of the game. The fact the club has been forced to drop out of the Isthmian League is truly devastating.
This is a club with 75 years of history, 59 of which have been played out at Church Road. It has an extraordinary reputation as an inclusive, community football club, well run and operated to high standards. Whatever Irama's reasoning was to terminate our lease, there is simply no justification in refusing to sit down and at least attempt to negotiate an agreement that works for both parties.
I would like to thank everybody who has been involved at the club now or in the past, the fans, players local community and the wider football family for its support."