Football / Non-League Notebook: St Albans cannot see wood for the trees

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The Independent Online
ONLY DOVER, of the leaders of the three leagues that feed in to the GM Vauxhall Conference, are at this stage a safe bet to gain promotion to the non-league game's top level if they maintain their present position.

Southport, 11 points clear at the top of the HFS Loans League, and Chesham and St Albans, the two clubs contesting the leadership of the Diadora League, have a lot to do to comply with the Conference's notoriously strict ground-grading regulations.

St Albans' ground, in the middle of picturesque Clarence Park, is surrounded by ancient oak trees - one of which has had terracing (behind a goal) constructed around it. There have been reports that the trees could cost St Albans a Conference place. However, no decision will be made before 8 May - the deadline for the ground improvements required by the GMVC - and Peter Hunter, the Conference secretary, is sympathetic to their special case. 'St Albans have a beautiful ground, and it would be a shame to have to turn it into a normal stadium,' he said.

The St Albans chairman, Bernard Tominey, said: 'We are installing safety railings at the back of the terracing, which will run in front of the tree behind the goal. The trees are a part of the character of the ground and we don't want to lose them.'

If St Albans can bring their ground up to scratch, they may go up even if they do not win the Diadora, in which they trail Chesham by six points. The leaders may not seek promotion this term - an announcement is due next week. They have apparently found the Conference's ground requirements to be tougher than expected.

Dover, who lead the Beazer Homes League by 17 points, will have no problems with their ground. Southport have much to do, including replacing large areas of grass banking with terracing. They need pounds 200,000 to fund the work, and Charles Clapham, their chairman, said: 'Our public appeal has raised pounds 65,000 so far, and we expect to receive a grant from the Football Trust.'