IN FEBRUARY 2020, The Gazette uncovered a historic document guaranteeing that the Camrose stadium would be used for football until 2053.

Now, one year later, we look back at the story and see how the discovery led to national media interest, the refusal of planning applications and a return to Basingstoke for the club.

For years, fans were told it was missing. An elusive covenant that stated the Camrose stadium, the historic home of Basingstoke Town Football Club, would be used for football until 2053.

Supporters of the club, upset at the prospect that their club were forced out of the Camrose, had long thought of the document as a ticket home, a chance to stop their former owner’s plans to turn it into a housing estate.

On a cold Wednesday morning in February, when The Gazette discovered the covenant, so began one of the most dramatic sagas in English football.

The pitch had been dug up just two weeks earlier, causing heartbreak to lifelong fans. But in the next two weeks, the eyes of the footballing world fell on Basingstoke. When the news of The Gazette’s discovery went viral, the likes of Gary Lineker, Henry Winter and Max Rushden all showed their support.

“Where do you start?” says Kevin White, now club chairman, when asked how the last twelve months have been for him. “It has been fast paced, ever changing in the terms of how they see it from the previous entity.

Kevin White

Kevin White

“In the last twelve months I have seen massive support from the public, not only existing supporters but other people.”

Over that time, The Gazette launched a campaign to bring the club back to the Camrose, the council funded upgrades to Winklebury as a stopgap, councillors refused two planning applications for the Camrose ground, and the historic stadium was listed as an asset of community value.

“The Gazette campaign got it out there to the wider public,” Mr White continued. “The club survived which was the main goal.

“The support we have had from the council in terms of improving Winklebury has meant we have been able to get the club back into the town.”

At the end of January, the club penned an open letter to Basron owner Rafi Razzak, imploring him to enter into discussions surrounding the future of the stadium. They say the ground, purchased for £2.4 million in 2016, is a less attractive development option now that planning permission has been refused and it has been listed as an asset of community value.

Photos show the Camrose left in a horrendous state. Picture by Simon Hill

Photos show the Camrose left in a horrendous state. Picture by Simon Hill

But after years of setbacks - from plans for a new stadium on the Old Common being turned down to Mr Razzak ending his financial support for the club, and being kicked out of the stadium to the submission of planning applications - the club now sees hope for the future.

“The club has gone from surviving to a bit of consolidation to really looking forward to the future.

“It has started to galvanise the community. I probably have two or three conversations [about the Camrose] with people every day. That is typically with people who have nothing to do with the club.”

The defining moment of the campaign so far has been the decision by councillors to refuse planning permission to redevelop the ground.

In September, councillors decided that the areas was already too overdeveloped, and that the proposed mitigation - moving the club to Winklebury - was inappropriate.

“The fact that it wasn’t just rejected, but unanimously thrown out, that was the moment when most people thought there is something on here.”

Since then, Hampshire County Council has also abandoned plans to build a link road through the Camrose, and are instead planning improvement works to Brighton Hill roundabout without the road.

The campaign has also seen a light shed on the events leading up to Mr Razzak’s purchase of the Camrose. This newspaper revealed that paperwork showed a ‘golden share’ was issued to fans in 2001, and would have enabled a vote on whether to kick the club out from the Camrose.

But before that could happen, Mr Razzak allegedly ‘duped’ fans into selling their shares back to him, just weeks before the multi-million pound deal to buy the Camrose.

The Basron chief said that everything he did was to benefit the club.

The campaign continues, with the new board at Basingstoke Town FC affirming their commitment to returning to the Camrose, and Mr White penning an open letter imploring Mr Razzak to enter into discussion over the future of the stadium.