‘Adapt or die’ - Brantham Athletic chairman’s warning as amateur football fights against the tide
- Credit: Archant � 2004
With participation falling and teams withdrawing in the SIL, Brantham Athletic chairman peter crowhurst fears for the future of the game at that level and, indeed, further up the pyramid
The situation in the Suffolk & Ipswich (SIL) Football League is far worse than presented by any of your correspondents.
The person that said ‘we need to ride the storm’ is going to end up like the preverbal ‘Dodo’.
The following changes in lifestyles over the past 50 years are the cause, and need to be addressed:
n People lived within walking distance of their place of work. Arriving for an 8am start, with an hour for lunch – and finishing at 5pm – they could plan their involvement in football.
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They had spare time that they could justify to their families and there was plenty of it left. Now people are travelling, additionally, on average two hours a day. People have to work in the evening.
Time is more difficult to reserve.
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Football was heavily supported by local factories. Ransomes, Cranes, and Brantham, to name a few, benefitted.
The (clubs’) committees were strong because they were financially supported by those companies.
Committee members were allowed time at work to plan their clubs. Their pitches were owned by their mother factory.
There was no rental fee.
Now teams have to raise sponsorship to survive. Even a modest club needs £5,000 per year.
Pitch rental is going up and up. All weather surfaces can cost £45 per hour. Players have to be insured.
Leagues apply ever-increasing fines for rudimentary offences and personal liability increases daily.
There was no youth football. People would start structured football at 15 and their interest remained fresh in their 20s and 30s.
Local players like Basil Acres at Brantham could ascend through the ranks, becoming a professional.
With the advent of junior and youth football, many youngsters have been playing 10 years by the time they are 18.
Most know they have no chance of playing professional football by 18 and they continue playing, not through a deep passion (for the game), but because of the friends they met in their youth.
When the core of players break away from the team because one individual wants an opportunity elsewhere or gets married etc... Then teams fold.
Many want to play but cannot risk injury with their work.
There are more activities available.
There is nothing football can do about this other than make itself the best and most attractive option.
My plan would be as follows
Changes to registration
The whole registration process needs an FA-run national database.
Clubs are frightened to sign players because they are never sure if the players are clear to play.
Brantham were kicked out of their only cup competition this year because while the player they signed was a free agent, he had been on loan and signed for another club. It needs to be a far more snappy and an open to view data base.
To allow flexibility, the respective seasons should be cut in half. September to November and February to May.
This would lighten the intensity on youngsters. So they arrive at 18 into non-league football with a retained passion.
It would ease pressure on players, parents and pitches during bad weather.
They could retain light training and social activity.
Having been through U8s to U16s with both my children.
Most parents and coaches have had just about enough after eight years.
The leagues do a fantastic job but they have to adapt.
The money raised from fines should go back to the clubs as rewards.
This for example could be rewards for observance of ‘ Keep It Quiet For The Kids ‘ campaign in the Thurlow Nunn League.
Or for funding a league table of best non-offenders.
The leagues need to further look at everyone of their rules and decide how they can provide representation and transparency for the respective club.
They need to adapt from a dictatorial position to an Inclusive ‘We are one’ position.
The Premier League and FA should sponsor hire fees for pitches. Far more money should filter down the system.
If they keep picking fruit off the tree it will die.
Non League football will die as we know it.
Interest will die generally and the pro clubs will eventually lose their audience.
It is with sadness that I read of the problems clubs have in fulfilling fixtures in the SIL.
Rather than bemoaning the lack of player loyalty and commitment, the dedicated team of who serve on the management committee, ably led by Mr Norton, must not just be excellent administrators, but become forward-thinking innovators and create a league that people want to play in.
In my 35-plus years of involvement with the league, things have changed drastically with working hours, holidays, modern family life and other social activities all making week-in week-out commitment to playing football difficult and less appealing.
A weekly fix of football can be fitted in any time, playing at Goals or other such centres, leaving the weekend free for other activities.
The league management committee must be forward-thinking and bold, and investigate initiatives like introducing roll-on, roll-off substitutions, smaller sized leagues, play-offs which keeps teams interested right to the season end. Playing summer evening football, winter/Christmas breaks.
From my personal experience, getting teams together over the Christmas and New Year period always takes huge efforts, which is then often wasted when the fixtures are cancelled because of the poor weather conditions.
If matches do go ahead they ruin pitches which take several weeks to recover, putting subsequent matches at risk of postponement, and the poor club groundsman tearing his hair out.
The Suffolk Football Association should, and hopefully are, be working hand in glove with the SIL and all other leagues to provide guidance, and funding to give the leagues’ management committees every possible chance to create football leagues that are exciting and fun, that players will want to play in.
It can be done. But to continue on with no change will ultimately see the demise of local 11-a-side football leagues.
One of the big issues missed in this article is the SILs reluctance to allow “rolling subs” across all competitions including league fixture.
When we are struggling to keep young men involved in local football, we should not be surprised that there are other attractions at the weekend. As a young player why would you turn up on a cold winter’s day as a sub only to get five minutes at the end of the game.?
With rolling subs you can easily share out playing time evenly across all ability levels of your playing group in every team.