How do you solve a problem like the SIL?
- Credit: Su Anderson
Three Suffolk & Ipswich League stalwarts have voiced their concerns over the future of the game at step seven as clubs continue to struggle to fulfil fixtures due to dwindling squads.
East Bergholt United manager David Goodchild, Felixstowe Harpers boss, Peter Gorham, and the co-founder of Coplestonians, Dave Little, have all spoken passionately about the problems the league is enduring and could face in the future.
There are currently 109 teams playing in the SIL, including 39 in the much-maligned Intermediate League which was initially set up for the “bigger” clubs to field reserve teams.
That is compared to 128 a decade earlier – three teams having pulled out of the Intermediate Leagues already this season.
The main issue seems to be player availability with a lot more options open to people at weekends now – individuals and groups regularly going on stag dos, getting married, or going to music festivals.
According to statista.com there were just over 2.6 million people playing football in 2015-16, compared to 2.9m a decade earlier and 3.15m in 2010-11.
Goodchild said: “The current apathy and general malaise comes down to the youngsters who don’t have the dedication to commit themselves to playing football on an afternoon – but this is happening in other sports too. Up until 10-15 years ago, there was not a problem and players seemed more committed.”
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He added: “You don’t see kids playing on parks anymore, while there are youngsters out there playing on FIFA or Championship Manager that have never kicked a ball before in their lives.”
Gorham added: “People won’t commit themselves anymore, they are going to weddings, parties, stag do’s. You never heard of that when we played football, you were committed for the season.
“You’d go to work during the week and relax at weekend by playing football and having a few beers.”
As for Coplestonians legend Little, he released his views about the league, after the club’s reserve game, scheduled for last Saturday, was called off the night before, as their opponents could not field a team.
This was in the Intermediate League, of which there are three divisions, that was initially set up for clubs with two or three teams to field their reserve sides.
This meant players with “Senior Status Rule” who were not allowed to play in the junior leagues, were given the opportunity to play competitive games against similar quality opposition
The scrapping of the “Senior Status Rule”, however, which was voted for by a majority of SIL clubs, allowed players more movement and the chance to play further down the divisions, in seemingly more competitive leagues than they were playing.
Already this season, Ipswich Exiles, Felixstowe Harpers and Grundisburgh have withdrawn their reserve teams and this has a knock-on effect with the clubs’ first-teams, at the latter two in particular, suddenly seeing their pool of players shrink.
“The time must surely have come for the league management committee to do something about the current situation,” said Little, who wants reserve teams to be allowed into the existing league set-up.
“The warning signs are there for all to see and the league needs to take radical action and scrap the Intermediate leagues as from next season.
“Current reserve teams could be allowed into the existing league set up and find their own level.”
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HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE THE SIL?
DAVID GOODCHILD (East Bergholt manager)
“The problem is the apathy and general malaise which comes down to youngsters not having the dedication or commitment.
“We have probably got it as good as it is going to get (in the SIL) and when the 30 and 40-somethings decide to retire, will there be the players (to carry on at the league’s current level)?
“The Intermediate League used to serve a purpose (prior to the “Senior Status Rule” being scrapped) and senior sides would play in competitive leagues of one or two divisions.
“With a few teams folding in the Intermediate League, that means fewer fixtures for the players.
“Senior sides have got to keep their reserve sides interested but if they are not playing competitive football, then that is going to be difficult.
“There is such a mixed standard and with fewer games, players are choosing to go and play elsewhere with their mates in Divisions Three and Four.
“If reserve sides were allowed into the (main) league, it would take a couple of seasons but you would eventually end up with competitive football for reserve sides and first teams and you could set a rule where it stated reserve sides were never allowed to play in the Senior Division.
“Grundisburgh have lost their reserve team this season and the reason I think teams are going is because their players are not getting competitive football.”
Dave Little (Coplestonians)
“Rather than play reserve team football, other clubs progress through winning promotion and the gap between reserve-team football and senior is widening. There is not a lot of movement between two any more
“Players have voted with their feet. “They were playing the same teams every year in the Intermediate League and there is no real incentive (such as promotion, or battling against relegation).
“We just want to try and improve the level of football throughout the league.
“There is so much more to do at weekends now though, and this is more appealing to players when they are not playing at a reasonable standard.”
AFC HOXNE (TWITTER)
“I doubt it’s (scrapping Intermediate League) going to make a difference either, the local game is dying.
“Players chase success wherever they can find it so, regardless of the structure, teams will still be calling off and folding, and the progressive clubs will still take the players they want from the ones struggling. I can’t see much changing.
“The top divisions will be filled with the best reserve teams. Two or three AGM’s have seen everyone moaning about current setup then voting to keep the same! The only solution is to bring back senior status.”
Ipswich Ath (Twitter)
“What happens when you get eight reserve teams bunched at the top of Division One?
“Maybe we should do what they have done in Norfolk. You have to win your district league to get into the SIL. This stops new clubs from forming and joining from scratch and dominating the lower divisions in the league.”