County League decisions during COVID-19 could mean the end of grassroots football

NEVER mind about Liverpool’s sense of injustice if the Premier League season is abandoned.

What about Whiteheart United’s?

Whiteheart topped Junior Division Five of the City of Southampton Sunday Football League when Coronavirus tugged the rug from under the season.

Their situation was not as commanding as Liverpool’s 22-point lead. Whiteheart have 22 points from 10 games, with six to play.

Breathing down their necks were DC United, with 21 points from eight games.

Unlike the Premier League which has faffed about at their attempt to get their season resolved, the CSSFL grasped the nettle, took the bull by the horns and acted.

Member clubs were offered three options; to halt the season and draw a thick red line under it and void it as though it never happened, allocate a 0-0 draw for all remaining fixtures, or work out a points average via a formula only Professor Stephen Hawking could comprehend.

Under a democratic process, a majority of clubs opted for the third and titles and relegation will be decided by Poingdexter mathematics.

Whiteheart is among the clubs not happy with this as the pocket calculator would hand the title to DC United.

In fact they are so unhappy, they are likely to knock it on the head.

Their secretary wrote to the league expressing their disappointment and pointing out that if all their hard work was going to be in vain, the players would lose heart and not want to bother next season.

So why should we be bothered about a club in the sixth tier of Sunday football in Southampton apparently throwing a hissy fit?

Because if Whiteheart United are so despondent they are considering their future, then you can bet a shiny shilling there are hundreds of other clubs up and down the country similarly affected by necessarily drastic decisions.

And the result could be that Coronavirus will not only weaken grass roots football but, more sinisterly, adult eleven-a-side football in England, possibly to the extent it will never recover.

Those who run grassroots clubs know only too well how tricky it is without the spanner Covid-19 has thrown into the works.

Factor in the doubts when or whether next season might start, whether the pitches and grounds will be prepared and ready in time and any number of other doubts and it is a potent mix of uncertainty which could steer wavering players away.

For every grassroots player who is gagging to lace his boots up for a game, there is one who can just as easily find something else to do.

Grassroots football as we know it, the traditional 11-a-side game, is slowly dying and a big digit has to be pointed at the Football Association.

The last figures available from the governing body were in 2015, when they crowed that “football is the biggest participation sport in the country” with 11.1m people in the UK playing the game, including 8.2m adults of which 6.25m were men and 2.03m women.

The FA also trumpet the amount of money being ploughed in. In the 20 years since the formation of soccer charity The Football Foundation in 2000, the Premier League has put in £302m, the FA £299m and the government £273m.

But behind these encouraging figures, lies a numbers game which is as loaded against grassroots football as a Las Vegas craps table.

The government’s Sport Participation in England report, 2017 paints a more disturbing picture, claiming that only 5% of the adult population play football, putting it on the same level of popularity as mountain climbing or weight sessions.

It’s still a better participation rate than golf, tennis and boxing (all at 2%) while cricket doesn’t even figure on the list.

While money does come into football, the key is where it is directed. Most of it is spent on 4G pitches, which can accommodate two or three simultaneous short-sided games for kids.

Nobody would argue that is not money well spent, But when these kids become adults, where is their entry point into 11-a-side football?

Most of them do not bother and continue playing short-sided football at dedicated centres and who can blame them?

In a short-sided game you get more touches of the ball. You play on an artificial surface which never gets rained off and it’s likely you will get changed in clean, well-maintained facilities with hot showers and a bar for a beer, as opposed to the manky festering hell holes that most grassroots players have to endure.

The stark and scary fact is that 94,000 grassroots level football matches were cancelled – not postponed! – last season because of poor pitches, The FA themselves deemed only one out of every three pitches adequate for play.

Small wonder adult 11-a-side football is on the endangered list alongside the Yangste Finless Porpoise, the Sunda Tiger and the Kakapo.

So why does this matter? Why should the thousands who troop to Premier League matches and the millions who watch it on the haunted fish tank be in the least bit concerned?

The vast majority of football fans are self-centered and blinkered to anything that doesn’t concern their club, but if the ancient Egyptians taught us anything, it is that the height of a pyramid is entirely dependent on the size of its base. And that applies to football’s pyramid.

A shrinking base of English players, will not do much for England’s prospects but there is also a question of what sort of game we want.

Grass roots football is a part of the warp and weft of our national game, a part of our heritage and national identity as a football nation and we lose it at our risk.

If the Premier League season is halted now, Liverpool will be livid at being denied

their first Premier League title.

But if Jurgen Klopp wants any help in drafting a letter, I can put him in touch with the secretary of Whiteheart United.

Article written exclusively for by John May

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