If this con­fe­rence room in the Bath Hilton were a film set, with its psy­che­delic pat­terned carpet, what kind of scene would be played out here? Would we wit­ness a decisive moment, as events come to a dra­matic con­clu­sion and the little people join forces to stick it to The Man? In fact, that would be a scene typical of a film by Ken Loach.

The face of the club: Ken Loach

Indeed, it is Loach who is cur­r­ently giving inst­ruc­tions for the evening’s events. Tables are being placed on the podium and chairs are being pushed around. Pic­tures have been taken down and replaced by a large Bath City flag han­ging on the wall. But the softly-spoken Loach, who will soon turn 80, is not direc­ting on a film set, or tel­ling a camera crew what to do. No film stars are expected to make an appearance and Loach himself is not a director who has been weighed down with awards. Yet he made Loo­king for Eric”, one of the best foot­ball films of all time – and dis­co­vered Eric Cantona’s acting talents as well.

Right now, Loach is pri­ma­rily a fan of the Eng­lish sixth-divi­sion foot­ball club Bath City. And his ambi­tion as a fan is to buy the club – but not on his own. Loach is the most pro­mi­nent repre­sen­ta­tive of the Big Bath City Bid”, and tonight is all about that bid. Those involved want to raise nearly one mil­lion pounds from as many people as pos­sible and use that cash to buy a 75% majo­rity share of the club. This would enable them to change the struc­ture of the club to a demo­cratic set-up where every member has a vote.

Decades of work in pro­gress

While the feed­back from the spea­kers is making Loach rather uncom­for­table, tou­rists stroll through the crowded town centre out­side. They are fasci­nated by the Roman baths and the famous sand­stone Gre­go­rian archi­tec­ture. Bath is a beau­tiful city, deser­vedly listed as a cul­tural heri­tage site, but the foot­ball club is dying a slow death. City has always been a true non-league club, exis­ting out­side the four pro­fes­sional divi­sions and without a glo­rious history to look back on. But in common with many clubs in Eng­land, today’s modest exis­tence does not seem to have much of a future to look for­ward to.

Just a few hundred spec­ta­tors ven­ture down to the sta­dium, which actually should be a tou­rist attrac­tion in its own right. Anyone who fails to appre­ciate the charms of Twerton Park must have a heart of stone. The ground has been put tog­e­ther pie­ce­meal over eight decades and harks back the time before the rise of inter­ch­an­ge­able, all-seater arenas. The main stand con­tains sky-blue seats from Maine Road, the demo­lished former home of Man­chester City. The dark blue seats oppo­site were ori­gi­nally used at Fil­bert Street, where Lei­cester City used to play. They were then bought by Ches­ter­field, before making the move to Bath for the princely sum of one pound per seat. Time has stood still else­where in the ground too. The dres­sing rooms could pass for the set of a foot­ball film from the Fif­ties and the VIP areas radiate the shabby charm of the 70s and 80s

Twerton Park is part of the overall pro­blem

As magical as the cob­bled-tog­e­ther sur­roun­dings may be, Twerton Park is part of the overall pro­blem. Paul Wil­liams manages the sta­dium from a dusty office under­neath the main stand. Typi­cally, the owner of a club is the bad guy in any story about a fans’ take­over bid, but Wil­liams has as much in common with an Abra­mo­vich figure as the National League South does with the Cham­pions League. Nine years ago, the former accoun­tant paid about 65,000 pounds for nine per­cent of the club, and received a whole load of extra work in return. The pen­sioner is here five days a week in the summer and six days a week during the foot­ball season. The other owners are also local busi­nessmen who would not be unhappy if the fans’ bid suc­ceeds with their fund­rai­sing initia­tive

That would at least show, that there is inte­rest in kee­ping the club alive”, said a tired-loo­king Wil­liams. He’s been kee­ping the club going for a long time and the figures just don’t add up. The top ear­ners in the first team pick up nearly €2,000 a month, and most players are on €600 – 800. These are not enor­mous amounts, and no wages are paid during the close season. But run­ning costs for the sta­dium are high and the club makes a loss of about €150,000 every year. The total debt has now reached one mil­lion Euros. The pro­blem is not acute as the value of the land on which Twerton Park stands is worth a lot more than that.