£2m soccer showpiece
The new wing at Silverlake Stadium with the old clubhouse to its right

BRIDLE Group’s leasing fleet has topped 20,000, director Alan Carreras revealed this week as chairman Stewart Donald celebrated his £2m soccer showpiece.

It was the new wing with corporate entertainment facilities, club offices, restaurants, bars and club shop at his Eastleigh Football Club’s Silverlake Stadium.

Some 300 guests – that would have been a bumper match attendance five years ago – filled the new Sherwood restaurant overlooking the pitch, VIPs including retiring MP Mims Davies and Mayor Des Scott.

£2m soccer showpiece
Stewart Donald (centre) with Mark Jewell, MP Mims Davies and Ve and Des Scott

Club chief executive Mark Jewell said that the new development would improve the club’s sustainability, targeting corporate business and community events such as weddings with the upstairs restaurant, another on the ground floor for club members and the community.

The parallel successes of Bridle’s automotive leasing and insurance enterprises and the chairman’s ownership of the club tagged The Spitfires, near Southampton International Airport, are to some extent interwoven.

Five years ago when Stewart Donald bought the club with its 1950s clubhouse built by volunteers, it had 32 season ticket holders and attendance averaged a couple of hundred. Today there are 1,500 season ticket holders and attendances top 2,000.

Bridle Group now includes Advanced Vehicle Contracts, Automotive Funding Solutions, Autoplan, Compass Contract Hire, Industrial and Vehicle Leasing, Vesource, the School Minibus Company and Total Fleet Services.

Stewart Donald said that his leasing companies used to help support the club as sponsors but while they continued as supporters were being replaced by outside companies as Eastleigh FC grew in status in the National League.

He said: “There is no doubt we have picked up a lot of business for leasing and insurance from club supporters, it is a good reciprocal arrangement whereby the fans feel they a returning something for what we do, and getting a good service.

“Leasing generates a good living for me to enjoy a good hobby and without the leasing success I would have to reconsider my level of investment in the club but right now it is becoming more sustainable.

“Our aim is to be in the Championship and for that we’ll need a couple more promotions but we’ll be ready for it. We’re in talks with the planners to build a hotel which will be a great revenue generator, but we’ve lots to do, on the pitch and off.”

And the work continues, with a grandstand extension this summer providing another 1,000 seats towards the target 10,000 capacity, and improvements to the car parks providing further revenue with park-and-ride and local business parking on non-match days.

£2m soccer showpiece
Pitch view from the new Sherwood restaurant

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