Football: Non-league Notebook St Albans' special branch problem

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ST ALBANS CITY are to withdraw their application for promotion to the GM Vauxhall Conference because of the failure to resolve a dispute over the famous tree which stands on the terraces of their Clarence Park ground. Their decision means that no club will be promoted from the Diadora League, and only two teams will be relegated from the Conference, writes Rupert Metcalf.

St Albans are contesting the Diadora Premier Division title with Chesham United, who need to win two of their last three games to make sure of the championship. Chesham have already decided against seeking entry to the Conference because of the prohibitive cost of ground improvements, so second place would have earned St Albans promotion had their ground been up to scratch. Enfield, former members of the Conference, cannot finish higher than third, and are thus ineligible for promotion.

'We put the rest of the work we had to do on hold, once we heard that the Conference would not accept us because they regard the tree as unsafe,' David Tavener, the St Albans press officer, said yesterday. Clarence Park is leased from the council, and the club cannot cut down the 19th Century tree due to a preservation order.

'We don't understand how a tree can be unsafe,' Tavener added. 'There are plenty of Conference grounds with floodlight pylons on the terraces that are less safe. You can't get electrocuted climbing our tree.' In the long term, St Albans hope to move to a new ground - they have found a suitable site in the Park Street area of the city.

Dover Athletic have no such problems - they have strolled to the Beazer Homes League Premier Division title and their ground has gained the approval of the Conference. Like Wycombe Wanderers, the GMVC champions, Southport settled the HFS Loans League Premier Division title race last Saturday, when they won 4-0 at Emley. The former Football League club hope to finish upgrading their Haig Avenue stadium well before the 8 May deadline set by the Conference. 'We're confident, everything is on schedule,' Charles Clapham, the Southport chairman, said yesterday.

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