"A lot of lads have found something else to do on a Saturday" - Amateur football teams in Calderdale facing a fight for their futures due to drop in player numbers

Amateur football teams in Calderdale are facing a fight for their future due to decreasing participation levels.

Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 10:22 am
Northowram in action against Hebden Royd Red Star earlier this year

Fewer players means fewer teams taking part in the Saturday and Sunday leagues in the borough, which also have fewer divisions, with the Sunday League now a merged operation with teams from other areas of West Yorkshire.

Northowram FC are one team who are fearing for their future due to a lack of players.

Adrian Hollands, club secretary, said: "I think because of Covid, a lot of lads have found something else to do on a Saturday.

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"Also the Soccer Saturday generation would rather go to the pub and have a bet, so I don't think there's as much interest in local football anymore, as can be seen in the Halifax League, where a lot of teams have folded and there's only a couple of divisions now.

"We had two teams for a couple of years but we've had to fold one of them.

"We were a week away from folding recently, but we've managed to get a new manager in place and got a few more players on board.

"At the minute, we've got players and we've had a two week reprieve from the league."

Adrian says the issue is affecting plenty of other clubs too.

"We've been clamouring for players all season and the previous manager kept asking people if they knew anyone," he said.

"We've had it where we've only had seven players for a game, we've said on social media we might have to fold, but there was no response.

"Until it came to the week where we said we had we were folding if it couldn't be sorted, then people said they would step up. But before that there was nothing.

"But I think it's the same for every club, everyone's struggling.

"And the fact the council won't give us our old pitch back doesn't help.

"We left because it was costing us too much, wanted to go back but the council have refused so we're without a home as well, so we're sharing with Shelf at the minute."

Adrian fears that the problem isn't going away and will lead to clubs folding.

"I think we will, yeah, because I don't think there's any passion now for playing football like there was when I was younger," he said.

"I used to love playing football on a Saturday, I used to miss family holidays for it.

"But it's the invention of the X-box, the Playstation and Soccer Saturday, online betting and going to the pub and sitting there for a couple of hours.

"If you're a decent footballer you go and play at a higher standard but I don't think anyone can be bothered to play for their local team.

"We've got players at the minute but we just want bodies.

"I don't want the club to fold after 75 years. I've been club secretary for nearly 30 years and played for them man and boy."

David Rattigan, from the Haslem - Sheppard Halifax and District AFL, said: "We discussed the problems with the clubs at our last league meeting.

"It was felt Covid-19 played a big part in players leaving the game. We went weeks being unable to play, then when we were allowed to play we couldn’t use changing rooms.

"This meant travelling to games in kit or changing in cars at the grounds. This was not ideal in bad weather. We felt this led to some senior players in age group of late 30s early/40s deciding to retire having found better things to do with their Saturdays.

"In season 2015/16 we had 36 teams. This season we have 21. The league will be doing everything we can to attract new teams for next season."

Chris Foley, from the Calder Valley Sunday League, said: "We’ve bucked the trend this season with a greater number of teams than the last couple of years. However, it may not translate into a greater number of players if each team has lower numbers signed on.

"However, in general, the trend of participation in open age football - of which we see in our Sunday League - is only going one way, downwards.

"This has been evident for a number of years, and I don’t believe that there’s one single reason for it.

"I believe that we first saw a sustained downward trend when the licensing laws changed and pubs and clubs could open later. This offered more choice for people to stay out later on a Saturday night, and as open age Sunday football kicked off at 10.30am - at that time managers found it harder to get players to turn out. The League responded by moving the kick off time to 11am.

"Other factors involved could be the lack of players coming through as the older players stop playing. A couple of reasons for this, in my opinion, as firstly, there are many more things that children participate in as they’re growing up, including simply staying indoors and playing video games. Secondly, there is far more organised children's football nowadays, as evidenced by the growth in that footballing sector.

"By the time they reach the open age age limit, some of these kids may have been playing organised football for 10 or so years, non stop. I know that a lot of them simply stop playing because they are “burnt out” from football and want a break. They find other things to do - including drinking, relationships - and seldom find their way back.

"I also wonder if the growth in women and children's football has caused a reduction in male open age players in other ways, by simply going to watch their children play rather than playing themselves and/or taking on childcare duties if their partner is participating in women's football.

"The final point I’d make is about the availability, and standard, of facilities and the cost of playing football.

"In Calderdale, we have seen both the number of pitches available, as well as the quality of those pitches drop dramatically over the last 20 years or so. This includes the changing accommodation; and I can point a couple of examples of this: Shroggs Park, Lee Mount and Holmes Park, Luddendenfoot were both, in the past, a couple of the best pitches in Calderdale, and we used to use them for neutral venues for semi final matches.

"However, the changing facilities at both venues are now out of commission, meaning that neither of these pitches can be used. Furthermore, look at Savile Park, where once we used to have up to eight to ten pitches in use on a Sunday. Since the closure of the council owned changing facilities at the top of Manor Heath, teams have only been able to use changing facilities at Crossleys School. However, this is limited to eight teams maximum, meaning that we can only occupy four pitches on the moor.

"At the same time, we have seen local schools withdraw their facilities from use by amateur footballers - Trinity Academy for example.

"The cost of hiring these facilities has increased significantly over the last decade or so. It now costs around £700 to hire a pitch for the season. Add to this the cost of equipment, referees and insurance, etc and it can cost in the region of £2000 for a start up season. This excludes any fines that clubs and players may incur.

"The League have tried to assist teams with this by waiving fees for the last few years, but clubs still say that this is a big issue."