Ards won't give up on dream homecoming with investors ready, says chairman
Ards chairman Brian Adams has promised that he will never give up on the dream of seeing the club play in their home town again.
And he has revealed that there are investors waiting to put money into a new stadium if a location can be found in Newtownards.
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It is now a staggering 17 years since Ards played at their old Castlereagh Park home.
Colin Nixon's team kicked off the new Premiership campaign with a 4-2 defeat to Crusaders at Seaview on Monday night and are scheduled to play their first home game of the season against Glentoran on Saturday.
Every time Ards play, however, they are on the road, with their home fixtures taking place at the Bangor Fuels Arena, home of neighbours Bangor.
Prior to that, from 2001 Ards fans have had to travel to Cliftonville's Solitude, Taylor's Avenue in Carrickfergus and Ballyclare's Dixon Park to see their heroes at 'home'. Hundreds of Ards fans are still willing to make the short journey to Bangor, but over the years the lack of a true home ground has had a detrimental impact on crowd numbers.
Decades ago, Castlereagh Park was a fantastic atmospheric venue with a superb playing surface. It was sold in 1998 to ease mounting debts at the club.
Campaigns have been launched by supporters to 'Bring Ards Home' to no avail. At one stage it seemed as though a new stadium would be built on the Portaferry Road in the town, but by 2015 it emerged that Ards Borough Council had withdrawn its lease offer with the club back at square one.
In many ways it is remarkable that Ards are in the Premiership given their nomadic existence, but under Nixon they are becoming a stable top flight side.
Adams, who took over as chairman in 2003 to help the club through financial turmoil, says Ards have investigated numerous possibilities, including a return to Castlereagh Park, without success, though he insists the battle to go home is not over.
"People think we are not trying but we are. We have tried about 10 different places and even tried looking at going back to Castlereagh Park," said Adams.
"We still have a sub committee trying to find a location. We are looking for around four acres and we have people to put money in if we could get some land.
"Developers say they will think about it, but if there is a prospect of a hotel or something instead then we are out the window.
"In my view, we have to have that goal to get the team back to Ards. If we give up I know we would lose more supporters and even directors. I'll never give up and will keep on trying.
"Over the years our managers have known it wasn't the best situation, but Tommy Kincaid, Niall Currie and now Colin Nixon have been very supportive. Colin is a Newtownards man himself and knows the problem we face.
"Given the circumstances, our aim is always to stay in the top flight and we believe we have a good man in charge to help us achieve that."
Adams, who is the Northern Ireland Football League chairman, appreciates Bangor's assistance in providing Ards with a venue to play their home matches.
He also points out that the youth system at Ards is thriving, which offers hope for the future if the club do make an emotional comeback to the town.
"We have a good relationship with Bangor and at least Bangor is in north Down. It's not far for our supporters to travel, though I appreciate it's not Ards and that's the problem," stated Adams.
"Everything is centred around Ards. Our social club is in Ards, our Under-16s, -18s and -20s are based at Londonderry Park in the town and train there, as do our Academy players.
"Our Under-20s played in the Newtownards Borough Cup against local teams and won every match, and a good crowd came to watch them because it was an Ards team playing in Newtownards, so I know what it means to the people in the town.
"We've put a lot of money in recent years into our Academy and our Under-18s and Under-20s finished third in their leagues, and our Under-16s won their national league.
"We are doing well with that, and bringing talented youngsters into the first team is great for the club. It's just the stadium itself that we need. That is still the dream and we won't give up on that."