Norfolk team in bizarre ground battle following death of Norwegian king… 21 years ago
Even rival fans would admit it’s been a fine season for Cromer Town FC as the team sits at the top of its local league.
But off the pitch the final whistle is about to be blown on a bizarre legal tussle that could see the players turfed out of their ground after nearly a century.
Back in 1922, a rich local woman bequeathed the site to the Norfolk club – but stipulated it must be handed to the town 21 years after the death of all of King Edward VII’s descendants who were alive at the time.
Closing time: Cromer Football Club could be forced to leave their ground of 90 years – 21 years after the death of Norway's King Olav V
The countdown was triggered in 1991
when his grandson, King Olav V of Norway, passed away and yesterday
marked the 21st anniversary of his death.
Crabs – who are named after the seaside town’s local delicacy – are
being allowed to stay put, however, while lawyers check for any ‘wriggle
room’ to help them avoid being sent off from Cabbell Park for good.
the moment they are clinging on to the advice of a barrister who
believes they are entitled to another two decades after it was
discovered another descendant of the king died in 2011 and was in his
mother’s womb when the will came into effect.
Death: King Olav V, left, died in 1991
triggering the 21-year countdown to Cromer Football Club's eviction
which passed yesterday. Lawyers are arguing Lord Harewood, right, was
months away from being born in 1922 so the club's tenancy should run
until 20 years after his death
Bizarre bequest: Landowner Evelyn Bond-Cabbell who gave Cromer Football Club the ground when she died in 1922
Paul Jarvis, chairman of the club, which plays in the Anglian Combination Premier Division, said: ‘Our barrister’s opinion is that we still have another 20-odd years.’
Despite the uncertainty caused by the passing of the deadline, he added it would have ‘no immediate effect’ on the team.
‘We’re sitting happily at the top of the league and aiming by the end of the season to still be there,’ he said.
The park was bequeathed in 1922 by Evelyn Bond Cabbell, a wealthy landowner who lived in Cromer Hall, a grand 19th century Gothic revival country house.
She wanted it to be used in memory of local residents killed in the First World War – but it remains unclear why the obscure clause was introduced stating when ownership should pass to the town.
The football club has been making enquiries about relocating – reluctantly – to a new edge-of-town ground in case it loses its legal challenge.
Any move could be financed by using part of the park for a new doctor’s surgery and some housing.
But there could be a further problem as the local district council claims there is a legal precedent for it to take possession of the land, not theclub.
Riding high: A Cromer Town player leaves two Fakenham Town players on the floor. The non-league side are currently sitting top of the table
THEIR THEATRE OF DREAMS: CROMER FACE EVICTION FROM GROUND AFTER 90 YEARS
Fierce local derbies can draw crowds of several hundred people to Cabbell Park, although an average gate is around 200 to 300.
Fan are kept off the pitch by a rail which runs around the perimeter.
Facilities include a clubhouse and bar, which serves hot pies and snacks.
Mrs Bond-Cabbell’s great-grandson
Benjamin Cabbell-Manners is chairman of Cabbell Park trustees and owner
of Cromer Hall, as well as being the local Tory member on North Norfolk
He has said previously: ‘The trust
disappears 21 years after King Olav's death. I can confirm that when the
trust goes, the legal right for the football club to play at Cabbell
Park goes with it.
‘We will be looking at the wishes of
my great-grandmother to see how it's taken forward. She provided a
sports field for all of Cromer to enjoy. Her wishes are paramount.’
The club does, at least, have the support of the town’s mayor, Greg Hayman, who triggered the stay of execution by revealing the existence of the recently deceased royal descendant.
The legal documents state the lease on the land would expire 21 years after the death of all the descendants of King Edward VII ‘now in being’ and Cllr Hayman argues this includes the Earl of Harewood.
The 7th Earl, who died last year, was born two months after the club’s benefactor died.
Cllr Hayman discovered the link through Burke’s Peerage, the authoritative guide to royal and titled families of the United Kingdom.
‘The football club is not happy with the arrangements to move out of town. We will bring a motion to fight to keep the club in Cromer,’ he said.
The stand raises the prospect of a knock-out clash between the town and North Norfolk District Council, which claims it should take ownership of the land, like all assets of the former urban district council, under the 1974 local government reorganisation.
But Cllr Hayman insisted the ground was gifted for the benefit of the town and the spirit of the donation should be honoured.
He added: ‘That land belongs to Cromer, not the district council, and we should assert our right over it.’