Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A sign of the times

My recent piece for the Holderness Gazette regarding the current state of local grassroots 11-a-side football...

An endangered pastime?
Last week’s news that Withernsea AFC had folded their first team with immediate effect was perhaps the most serious sign yet that grassroots football in this area is experiencing real problems.
Having been involved with the local game for 25 years and a member of the South Holderness Cup committee for the past decade, I have witnessed an ongoing decline in both the number of teams and available players. 
The loss of the “traditional” village team has accelerated in recent years, ironically partly as a result of the FA’s Charter Standard programme, which was devised in order to strengthen the game at grassroots level. 
By asking clubs to raise standards, the FA were effectively signalling a move away from the familiar “one man band” to more multi-team operations, with qualified personnel at all levels.
The positive knock-on effect was that players wanting to try and progress were encouraged to join clubs offering such opportunities, along with better facilities for their use.  Unfortunately, to those just wanting a kick-about every Saturday, the options were suddenly more limited. 
It would now appear that there is a shortage of players in both categories. 
No matter how good the facilities on offer or the standard of football open to them, you cannot force today’s generation to actually want to play the game.  And when a town the size of Withernsea, with a thriving junior section acting as an in-built production line, feels it can no longer field three open-age teams on a Saturday afternoon, the alarm bells ring for all of us.
For me, Saturday afternoon has always been the focal point of the weekend, whether that be when following Hull City up and down the country in the 1980s or playing for Easington during the following decade.  “Match day” was something to be looked forward to and whatever the result we would ensure that it was re-examined over a few pints that night.
So, why is there such apparent apathy to grassroots football?
Some blame the amount of Saturday counter-attractions.  Certainly, Hull City’s recent success can be seen to have had some effect, as can wall-to-wall TV coverage, which now incorporates foreign broadcasts on a Saturday afternoon along with Sky’s successful Soccer Saturday format.  People are more inclined to watch football, be it live, at home or down the pub rather than don the boots to play themselves.
Then there are the current licensing laws, which often result in the weekend becoming one long party with a game of football relegated low down on the list of priorities.  
The growth of midweek five-a-side leagues has also had an effect as this gives would-be players their “fix” without impinging on their weekend. 
Finally, throw in the rise of the play-station generation with their reported aversion to outdoor activities and you can perhaps see why we now appear to have a dwindling number of lads actually playing “the beautiful game” on a Saturday afternoon.   
Withernsea are not the first to take drastic action as a result of the above issues.  Sadly it’s likely they’ll not be the last.  Hornsea Town were reported to have issues pre-season, Roos have struggled to field a full complement on a weekly basis and at Easington we had a well-documented summer beset by problems.  Indeed it is still by no means a certainty that we will see the season out in our current three-team format; although there is definitely a determination on the part of the committee to do so.
It all comes down to personal choice – and at the moment it would appear that many of the potential footballers of Holderness would rather be anywhere else than lining up to kick-off at two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.


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