Rochdale Hornets’ stadium conflict brought into open by international switch

Rochdale Hornets will no longer host England’s World Cup warm-up fixture against Fiji.

The Friday, October 7 match, rearranged after last year’s World Cup postponement, will now take place at Salford’s AJ Bell Stadium.

It had been scheduled for the Crown Oil Arena as a way of celebrating the historic links between Rochdale and Fiji.

However a board change at the town’s football club, who own the ground, has led to wrangling between all parties and the ultimate decision to move the fixture, with Hornets claiming the new terms proposed by Rochdale AFC render the event commercially unviable.

The football club has raised the question of whether the stadium should have been in the frame to host the fixture in the first place.

“We wanted to bring England to the borough of Rochdale and our ambition was to stage an event similar to the sell-out Ireland versus Fiji fixture in 2013,” said Hornets chief executive Steve Kerr.

“It is a lost opportunity for the whole borough and we apologise to all our stakeholders and fans, who wanted to see the game played in Rochdale as part of our 150-year celebrations.

“Fiji will still stay with us in Rochdale for the week leading up to the game and will train at our facility partners Hopwood Hall.”

At the time of the decision, a statement on Rochdale AFC’s website read: “Despite a press announcement by Rochdale Hornets on April 18, 2021, during Covid-19 restrictions, that England versus Fiji was to be held at the Crown Oil Arena on October 7, 2021, no signed commercial agreement covering the safety certificate, stewarding costs, terms of use of the stadium or lease for use of the fixture was ever in place for any international fixture between RAFC, the RFL and/or Rochdale Hornets.   

“Signed commercial terms for the fixture were requested from Rochdale Hornets but could not be produced.

“Any proposed international fixture is not covered by a 2016 lease in place between RAFC and Rochdale Hornets, and RAFC has never had any commercial discussions with the RFL.

“Due to Covid-19, the 2021 fixture was postponed on public safety grounds and rescheduled to 2022.

“Following a request by the CEO of Rochdale Council to both parties to do our best to agree a commercial agreement which covered all safety considerations and in the spirit of a working relationship, heads of terms for the international fixture were provided by RAFC to Andy Mazey and Steve Kerr of Rochdale Hornets in March 2022.

“These terms were never accepted. Instead on 19 April 2022, Rochdale Hornets chose to launch a legal action under the 2016 lease against RAFC relating to the fixture pre-action letter of claim sent in accordance with the Practice Direction Pre-Action Conduct and Protocols of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998.  

“That legal action was subsequently withdrawn by Rochdale Hornets on 21 June 2022, since  there was no commercial agreement ever in place to host an international fixture and the fixture was not covered by the 2016 lease.

“Rochdale Hornets confirmed to RAFC on 21 June 2022 that the fixture would not be proceeding at the Crown Oil Arena.”

Hornets remain adamant that the proposed fixture had been sanctioned in the right way.

A counter statement from the Hornets read: “In 2021, Rochdale Hornets sought the permission to host an England international at the Crown Oil Arena in partnership with RAFC.

“Due to the excellent working relationship, an agreement was soon reached, reinforced by the lease. Rochdale Hornets were given permission to stage the event with the support of the former RAFC board and executives.

“We set about organising an international fixture, working collaboratively with RAFC senior management, one of which was assigned to the event management group by the RAFC board.

“Several meetings took place and commitments were made with the full knowledge and support of RAFC. There was no requirement from the landlord to enter into separate commercial terms for this event in 2021.

“We are all aware the pandemic caused much disruption to the sporting calendar and the subsequent international game was rescheduled for 2022, using the same agreed terms.

“However, following a change of the RAFC board and management, Rochdale Hornets were asked to present the terms of the agreement.

“We spoke at length as to how that agreement was made and sent a summary document informing the new RAFC board of the previous arrangements, which were made in good faith, and in line with the necessary lease clause.

“RAFC requested that a separate formal commercial agreement would now be required. Our lawyers wrote to RAFC requesting the original terms and arrangements be honoured, with the importance of such an event to the town and community being self-explanatory. However, there was no appetite to do so by RAFC.

“RAFC disputed that the lease clause can be interpreted in such a way and proposed new heads of terms for the event to take place in 2022.

“After multiple attempts of remedy, Rochdale Hornets withdrew from its position, clarifying with RAFC that we could not accept the new proposal as it would render the event commercially unviable.”

Any tickets already purchased for the game will remain valid for the new venue.

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