Eyes light up as the gravy train comes to town

Part of the National Lottery proceeds will be dispensed to various sporting bodies this month. Mike Rowbottom spoke to some hopefuls
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The Independent Online
This is the month. All across the country, fingers are being crossed in anticipation of the lottery within the National Lottery. The last week of March will see the first announcement of grants which, it is hoped, will transform the sporting fabric of the nation.

As of this week, the Lottery Grants Panel has received 447 applications for a total of £91.6m, which would contribute to total capital project costs of £195m.

Certain areas appear to be positively teeming with sporting plans - of the 47 counties which have submitted applications, Yorkshire lead the list with 35, followed by Lancashire with 26. London has restricted itself to a relatively modest total of 17 proposed sporting projects.

The geographical spread of applications stretches from Cornwall to Cumbria. The Tintagel Memorial Playing Fields Association is after £111,000 to buy land for a multi-sports centre. In Cumbria, Eaglesfield Paddle Primary School seek just £10,000 to fund a sports hall and changing rooms.

Trevor Brooking and Gerald Dennis, vice-chairmen of the Sports Council, act as joint chairmen for the Lottery Grants Panel, which will announce its 12 other panellists, many of whom will be well known sporting figures, on 6 March.

Whatever the make-up of the panel, they are unlikely to hand out all of the estimated £41m which has already accumulated from the lottery for sporting use. The first batch of grants is likely to go to between 30 and 40 schemes.

In the meantime, applicants will have to content themselves with the thought that It Could Be Them.

Thus the Royal Albert Dock Trust awaits the opportunity to create a third rowing facility of international quality within the United Kingdom. They are asking for £3.75m towards project costs of £11m in what is a joint venture with the London Docklands Development Corporation.

The University of East Anglia has even more costly plans as it seeks £5.5m towards a multi-sports centre.

The people of Rattery, in Devon, are after just £10,000 to help them set up a community hall for badminton and short bowls.

Lottery money would help transform the training facilities for a group of international athletes including two of Britain's most outstanding young 400 metres runners, Mark Richardson and Mark Hylton. At the moment they and all their fellow members of the Windsor, Slough and Eton Athletic Club have to use facilities which their coach, Martin Watkins, describes with a faint smile as "Old. Dirty. Character-building."

Because there are no floodlights, track sessions in the winter months are conducted by little more than the lights from the clubhouse and the headlights of passing cars on the back straight. Indoor work is done in a cramped area that Watkins likens to a cub or scout hut. "We have up to 100 people trying to train there each day," he said.

A plan to sell their present site and develop an eight-lane floodlit track within Eton College grounds is already going ahead - with an estimated completion date of a year - as part of a joint venture with Windsor and Maidenhead Councils.

A total of one million pounds of lottery money is being sought to help create an indoor facility which the Amateur Athletic Association of England has already agreed to develop as a centre of excellence with a resident national coach.

"There are some nights," Watkins said, "when we set out into the pitch- black on the track, when I say to my athletes: `If you can be good with all this, you can be even better in two years' time.' "

For Malcolm Springthorpe, sports development officer for Tottenham and Haringey, a yes from the lottery could tip the balance in what has been a 10-year campaign to buy the old sports ground at Tottenham gasworks from British Gas. The charitable body he represents, the Community Action Trust, is seeking half of the total project cost of £800,000.

Since shifting its operations from the Tottenham site, British Gas has maintained that its prime responsibility has been to its shareholders - and land sold for building would fetch around £1m an acre, as opposed to a figure of £25,000 if it were to be given over to sporting and leisure facilities.

A recent public inquiry over the issue has been inconclusive - further details are being sought by the Inspector from Haringey Borough Council. In the meantime the Trust has learned that a minor miracle has come to pass - the project has qualified for a grant from the European Union which could be worth up to £1m because it falls within an EU development corridor. "We were put forward as a priority by the council," Springthorpe said, "and the EU is willing to fund our running costs as soon as we get the ground."

It is a unique situation - and, at the moment, a uniquely frustrating one. "There are only two parcels of land left in Tottenham," Springthorpe said. "There's the Queen Street site and the gas ground. If they go there will be nothing left to campaign for.

"The gas ground has deteriorated a bit, but we made a fuss and British Gas put a caretaker on site so it is not too bad now. British Gas have offered us a third of the land for our use, but we have resisted the temptation.

"You just won't get another site like it. It is a gem. Once it is gone you will never see the like again. There are two football pitches, two cricket squares, two bowling greens, and a big old pavilion with room for snooker tables upstairs and socialising downstairs.

"If you asked 99.9 per cent of people in Tottenham if there were any lawn tennis courts in their area they would say no. But there are two on the gas site.

"For us, the National Lottery is the be-all and end-all. Without lottery money we can't go forward. We have lost. We have got the possibility of all this European Community money. We want to get it all sorted in the next year. If we don't get the lottery decision, 10 years of arguing will have gone out of the window."