- Keith Gregson
Facing A Challenge - the 1970s
It is no secret that financing a club such as Ashbrooke is never easy. Even when the great and good of Sunderland ran the club in the late nineteenth century, the Ashbrooke economy was rocky. On that occasion a weeklong bazaar with dozens of events had to be organised in order to get the payment of mortgage interest back on track.
Over the years many other attempts have been made to secure the financial future of Ashbrooke but none so bold as the formation of the Ashbrooke Foundation. The Foundation was first mooted in 1978 when it was put forward as ‘an opportunity to assist the club on a long-term basis’. The idea was to ask members past and present and other interested parties to subscribe to a fund, which could be used to finance the cost of major projects.
The Foundation was launched in 1979. Alan Bean, the then President of the club and driving force behind the idea, expressed the hope that a capital fund of £250,000 could be built up over the following ten to fifteen years. Way back in the seventies this was a considerable amount to be collected from ‘members and well wishers’.
After an early hiccup, an appeal went out late in 1979 with a preliminary collection target set at £60,000 over the following three years. Approximately half the targeted money came in at once and, in the following April, Dickie Jeeps, chairman of the Sports Council, visited the club to give encouragement. (Jeeps had played at Ashbrooke in a final England rugby trial in the 1950s).
By June 1980, the Ashbrooke Foundation had gathered in £34,000 in the form of donations, bankers’ orders, pledges and legacies. Considering the economic plight of Britain during the ‘Winter of Discontent’, this was quite an achievement. Some 200 donors were listed in the newsletter of the day although the author of the same newsletter did express some disappointment at the contributions of current members.
By the middle of 1981, eight trustees were running the Foundation and a sum of £14,500 was released for immediate use. The first formal grant - £1,500 towards the computerisation of membership – came late in the following year. Donations now began to slow down although Alan Bean continue to stress the fact that the project was both long-term and on going. A generous donation of £12,000 from the estate of John MacMurray, a former Ashbrooke tennis player and cricketer, boosted the coffers and soon the sum ready for immediate use had risen to £29,000.
Alan Bean died in 1986 and for many years after, his watchful role was taken over by Robin Auld.
On reflection, the early achievements of the foundation were considerable. Sport was not tax-free so the capital fund was constantly being eaten away. At the same time, general rising costs, new publicly funded leisure centres and declining membership were combining to make the day to day running of the club difficult. Age was a problem too and the need to provide £4,000 to repair the water system illustrates the difficulty of keeping funds for entirely new projects
The Photograph of Alan Bean and Robin Auld was taken outside the club. Alan was an important figure in the development of rugby football, See;