CHAIRMAN Lee Harding has said this season has proved more than ever that Braintree Town must have a new stadium if they wish to have any chance of competing at non-league football's top table.

After their promotion via the National League South play-offs last year, the current campaign has been a chastening experience for the club.

With seven games to go, they currently sit bottom of the Vanarama National League table and 14 points from safety, with boss Danny Searle as their third manager of a troubled campaign.

It has been obvious from day one that Braintree's resources pale into insignificance alongside those of some big-spending clubs who they are competing against on a supposedly level playing field.

Some rivals are pumping five to ten times what the Iron are able to into their playing budgets and, while Braintree have picked up some encouraging results, that disparity has been evident over the course of the season.

Harding feels the National League is a far tougher prospect than the one they came up into in 2011 - when they went on to spend six seasons in the top flight - so new revenue streams must now be found if they wish to compete.

He knows the only sustainable way for that to happen is if they can deliver a new stadium for the club, away from their Cressing Road home, with new facilities that would allow them to generate the required extra income.

And it is something the Iron chairman says he is fully committed to delivering for the club and their fans.

He said: “The big plan is that a new stadium will bring facilities that will allow us to generate income to put a bigger budget in place.

“That would allow us to compete with clubs in the top flight of the National League.

“We will never be able to compete fully in terms of finances with clubs coming out of the Football League because of the parachute payments they receive but we will be able to compete with others.

“We are cautious but we do believe we can make it work.

“However, in the interim, we will have to operate within our means and the meeting that we will have as a board at the end of the season, in May, will look at how we are operating."

If a new stadium could not be delivered, though, Harding felt the only way to match the spending of National League clubs was to live beyond Braintree's means and that was something he had not been prepared to allow in his 17 years at the helm.

He added: “We have found it very hard this year and I think it shows the National League top flight has changed over the last four years.

“We did very well under the Cowleys, who finished off the good work put in by managers Robbie Garvey, Rod Stringer and Alan Devonshire over a number of years until that side fell apart.

“But there has been little inkling this season that we have been able to start to match that.

“Brad (Quinton) brought in a lot of players from his former club while he was manager and we were glad to finish sixth in the south division and come up via the play-offs last year.

“Some people have said we got promoted too early but it was an opportunity we had to take.

“The board would have been hammered if we hadn’t taken it, but one thing playing in the top level has shown us this year is that we are increasingly competing with clubs with substantial budgets.

“Chesterfield told me that they had slashed theirs this year to £1.7 million, which is still seven times what we are spending.

“We could gamble like Gateshead have done.

“It has put them in the play-offs but they are in financial turmoil with the club up for sale for a pound and 14 players left.

“Maybe they are right and we are wrong, but we have always set our budget so we know bills will be paid and it’s stood us in good stead over the last 15 or 16 years.

“The board, well a couple of us, are still pumping in tens of thousands of pounds this year and the board in total have put in significant funds over the years to make up the difference between what we could afford and did afford.

“But when you are up against clubs that have come out of the Football League, with millions in parachute payments behind them, then it is getting harder and harder."

Harding also felt this year had shown there may also need to be a rethink about the club's part-time status if they wanted to properly compete at National League level.

He added: “To compete in our league you have to have a playing budget that is probably at least double what we can afford at this time and maybe you have to be full-time.

“We got our fingers burnt two years ago when putting players on contract so we have been more circumspect this year but we have seen some lads leave under seven-day approaches.

“That’s far from ideal and I understand fans’ frustrations when players leave – I really do – but the alternative is to gamble.

“If it comes off, brilliant, but if it doesn’t then you are going down the same route as Darlington and Rushden.

“That hasn’t been our way and I don’t think it should be now.

“So it has to be board members putting money into the club and this year we’re relying on just two of us who will have put in tens of thousands by the end of the season.

“When we sit down to see where it all went wrong in May I think we will have to look at whether just pumping money into the club is the way forward and whether we can look at alternatives.

“I have said for years that we just have to generate alternative income streams and that all comes down to relocation.

“We love Cressing Road and we have spent significant money on it but it is an old stadium with a number of issues.

“It isn’t an ideal location for a football ground and I do believe a relocation is important so that’s why we are working hard with our development partners to make it happen."