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Worcestershire amateur football leagues facing crisis
12:00pm Thursday 3rd January 2013 in Sport By Steve Carley - Midlands Sports Journalist of the Year 2013, @stevecarleyWN
POOR attitudes and a lack of player commitment are leading to the demise of parks football in Worcestershire.
That is the view being put forward by two of the county’s major competitions after seeing teams drop out.
The Worcester and District League have lost eight sides across their Saturday and Sunday divisions since June, the latest being Wychbold RBL Reserves in the Sunday Premier.
In the Kidderminster and District League, the number of teams playing on a Saturday has fallen by seven from last season.
Officials have met with the Worcestershire FA to discuss the issue, highlighting several factors for the decline.
Chief among them is a perceived apathy among youngsters committing to teams or helping to run clubs.
Coupled with the cost of pitch hire and the continuing demands on people’s leisure time, including indoor evening leagues, it paints a depressing picture.
Kidderminster League secretary Ernie Pyke, who has been in the position for more than 30 years, is particularly concerned at players’ attitudes.
“It’s an accumulation of various things,” he said. “I think the main one is we have got facilities for players but nobody is prepared to look after them. Nobody is prepared to take on the office of secretary or manager at clubs.
“It’s not like the old days when you wanted to play football, now they don’t care if they turn up or not. When I’ve been to referee games, I am used to listening to managers on their phone trying to get people to turn up to make up a team.
“The clubs are one-man bands. The youth of today would rather sit in front of a television or a laptop or wear their thumbs out sending text messages.”
He added: “It’s a national disease that football is in decline, especially on a Saturday. We want to do all we can to interest people to join the league. They would be very welcome.”
His thoughts are echoed by Worcester League secretary Tim Phillips who said: “There’s two main reasons that we have been told for clubs folding. It’s a total lack of commitment and apathy from the players.
“Certain players have no respect for people running the club and they are unreliable and don’t turn up for training.
“They don’t help with the running of the club and too much weight goes on one person and they get fed up.
“The second biggest reason I think is financial.
“There isn’t that much money about and one secretary said some players can’t afford to pay their £5 match fees.
“Other reasons are the poor standard of football compared to 15 years ago and poor facilities. There are also time constraints and pressure from partners.”
The Birdseye Sports Evesham Sunday League saw two of their established teams, Red Horse and Black Bear, drop out before the season started but secretary Martin Malin felt the competition was in good shape.
He said it had taken on several teams following the closure of the Cheltenham Sunday League.
Worcestershire FA football development manager Andy Norman admitted there was a problem but reckoned the county was in good health.
“Although there is a national trend in teams being lost, ours is good on the whole,” he said.
“Are we offering the right things out there that would attract people to come and play?
“We are not sitting back and resting on our laurels and saying what we were providing 30 years ago works now.
“We might have to do things a bit differently so that’s what we are looking at and then we can put things in place.”
However, the Mercian Festival Junior League, the largest youth set-up in the county, seems to be bucking the trend.
For although they have seen teams drop out due to lack of players or coaches, there are currently more sides taking part than last year, 210 compared to 195.
They have also introduced an under 16s division for girls in a bid to enhance the women’s game.
Secretary George Silverman said: “We expect teams to withdraw, it’s not unusual, but more have withdrawn this season than last.
“Although more have withdrawn, there are more participating teams than last season.”
But he added: “It’s important for everybody to look after these young players and make sure they carry on, and it’s the same for young referees.”