Relocation to Waterside would be a 'very proud' moment for Institute Football Club
The club has been temporarily housed at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium since the flooding of the Riverside Stadium in 2017 but plans are afoot to relocate to the grounds at Clooney Park West.
'Stute announced it had submitted an expression of interest for the lands at the grounds and remain hopeful of being named the preferred bidder in the coming weeks.
It would mark the beginning of a long awaited move and an historic period in the 119 years history of the club. It would also be welcome news for its fans who have been dealt a barrage of blows over recent years.
Plans to reuse and repurpose much of the structure of the Riverside Stadium lends itself to a much more romantic notion of returning 'home' after a challenging period which has seen the club lose its home and, controversially, its status in the top flight of the Northern Ireland Football League.
It's an ambitious project which has a nostalgic, environmentally-friendly approach and the preservation of the club's history at its heart.
Indeed, in partnership with Gravity Architects and MCI Planning & Development, the club intend on respectfully blending and repurposing some of the old bricks, mortar, seats and stands from the old stadium at Drumahoe with the proposed new structure in the 'heart of the Waterside'.
The salvaged infrastructure of the old Riverside will represent the dreams, hopes and hard work of former club stalwarts and a connection to its past, according to Mr Anderson who is 'excited' about the future.
"It would be a very proud moment for me and that would be something that would live long in my mind if I was able to get the club back over to the Waterside and into a new stadium," said the 'Stute chairman.
"But I'm building on what a lot of other people have done before me. The Riverside just didn't appear from nothing.
"A lot of people put a lot of work into that and a good part of their lives and a chunk of their money I would suspect. It's really building on that which is really important for me. To ensure all that work which has been done doesn't disappear.
"So it's an ideal location and gives us a foundation for building on the 119 year history. It would be really, really special for us to get this up and running."
'Resilience' is a word used often to describe Institute Football Club and despite all the recent setbacks, the crippling financial pressures, the 'hurt' and injustice of losing its elite status and being forced to play an entire season on the road, all those associated can now see light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.
“If you look at the Premiership and the Championship we're probably one of the teams that have been the hardest done by in the last five years with floods, we've had an enforced relocation, we got promotion to the Premiership and then had the Covid year when with seven games still to play, five of those at home, three points adrift and we got relegated. That hurt and didn't feel just.
"Still, this club is a very resilient club. We keep on going, we keep on trying to do what we're doing. People in the club are good and the moral compass is good.
"If we keep on doing what we're doing then I'm sure things will turn around for us."
Returning to the Riverside Stadium was never an option given the frequency of flooding in the area so Clooney Park West is seen as the perfect alternative.
"If we had put our insurance money back into the Riverside when we were told we would get no flood insurance going forward . . two months ago it was flooded again by four or five feet so we couldn't take that risk.
"And we weren't allowed to build flood defences so we were in a catch 22 situation. It was a tough decision but the right decision.
"I think while we took the decision to leave the ground, it was always on the back of our mind that there was stuff there, wherever we built, that we could use.
"We spoke to Sport NI who part-funded that development at the Riverside and they were very keen for us to pursue that because it provides a legacy for public money that we had accessed before.
"To be fair, both Gravity Architects and MCI Planning who have been working with us on the project had that in mind right from the start to reuse, recycle, repurpose whatever we have which would keep the costs down but there's also a contribution that we have along with the insurance claim we have still from the Riverside and we set that aside for the development of the new ground."
Mr Anderson said the club are grateful for the hospitality of the people on the cityside during their stay at Brandywell but ultimately they belong on the Waterside. The proposed new stadium will be very much a community hub for the people in the area.
"The design of the new ground is very much a community club based design.
"We want our new premises to be accessible to the people who live close by in that area and it will provide services, function rooms.
"The people of the cityside have been great to us since we've been here but you want your own home.”
So what’s the next steps for the club and when does he envisage the proposed move to happen?
"If all goes well and we get confirmation by the end of the season that we are the preferred bidder on the Clooney Park West site then we will be looking to put planning applications in very quickly.
"Although I don't know how long it will take to get stuff up and running I know we will definitely be at the Brandywell next season that's for sure and it might be two seasons but at least we have a goal and something we're aiming for.
"It's exciting but it’s been a long time coming. If we got an indication before the end of this season that we would have a long term lease on the Clooney Park West lands that would give us a real injection going forward because we could then start to plan."
In the meantime, the investment on the pitch hasn’t stopped with Brian Donaghy being backed in the transfer market as seen this week with the additions of three new players.
“In the meantime we need to keep it going on the pitch as well. It’s great to see young Calvin (McCallion) scoring on his debut - that was brilliant but Brian Donaghy, we've talked about it all season, this is a work in progress. “We're looking to keep improving. We've done okay so far this season in the Championship but it's a very tough league and you can see that anybody can beat anybody in the league at the moment.
"So we just want to get a bit more consistency into our game. We have to look at our away record which is letting us down a little but Brian is doing a great job and we have a great bunch of lads playing for us."