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MGBSFL analysis: Where has the passion gone?

Competitive Sunday morning 11-a-side football used to be the pride and joy for hundreds of players across the country. However, numbers have been on the decline for the past few years and the MGBSFL is no different. League chairman David Wolff recently described the growing trend of last-minute postponements as a feeling of “apathy”. Now we ask the clubs, is there more to it than that?

    Real Hendon are one of a number of teams who have forfeited a league match this season. (Photo: Marc Morris)
    Real Hendon are one of a number of teams who have forfeited a league match this season. (Photo: Marc Morris)

    STIRLING KAY (manager, Camden Park FC)
    “We have struggled to get a competitive team out every week from the first day of the season. We have continually tried to add players to the squad and whenever they register they’ve started them the next match. That’s if they even turn up. Most of the players are friends of existing team members, yet they think nothing of not turning up after committing. This has happened on numerous occasions. One player phoned me the night before the game to tell me he “won’t be playing in the morning because he thinks he is going to have a heavy night,” even though he knew we were short of players. I thought, please give me strength! Another player would send me photos of himself in the gym, telling me he can’t wait to play. But he didn’t turn up. This has happened for over four consecutive weeks. I started another player two weeks in a row, subbed him and he didn’t return. It’s crazy, when we phone players who are not regulars, they won’t give you an answer until they decide what they are doing the night before the match. So many players would rather get drunk than play on a Sunday. It appears the 20-30-year age group put football bottom of their priorities. And they think nothing of letting their friends down. They just don’t care about anyone other than themselves. We have also been hit with some terrible injuries and work commitments have given us major problems. Having said that, the group of regular players we have are one of the nicest bunch of lads I have ever managed. Unfortunately, however, the mentality and laziness of the modern -ay grass-roots footballer is a disgrace. Unless you win every match and the players are guaranteed to start, you have no chance of getting these guys turning out every week. I fear this attitude will kill off grass-roots football.”

    RAFI ADDLESTONE (Real Hendon)
    “We’ve been forced to forfeit two matches this year due to availability issues. Whilst both fixtures saw an unfortunate confluence of injury, high holydays and illness, the second game away to Fairlop was almost certainly hampered by the bad weather and prospect of an almighty shlep to the Essex heartlands for a likely stonking. As an older than average group with responsibilities mounting at home, we are proud of our ongoing commitment to the league and to Jewish football in this country. We are collectively more than happy to expend valuable relationship capital to turn out each Sunday morning, abandoning our children at home or shivering on the touchline and hope to do so for many more years to come. The only answer for whatever apathy we see rising across the league is a greater influx of young talent with lighter hearts and freer spirits. The league should focus on encouraging returnees from university to gather together to set up new teams, or take over old ones. This is something that vice-chairman Phil Peters knows all about from his time at Norstar.”

    NIGEL KYTE (chairman, Temple Fortune FC)
    “We entered the season full of high hopes. The first team had just gained promotion after a great campaign in Division Two and the influx of new players allowed us to form the second team once again. Our management team was second to none and we were keenly anticipating a decent season. We registered plenty of players and everything was looking rosy as the season started in September. However, despite an encouraging pre-season, the A-team lost key players at the beginning and got off to a bad start in Division One. The B-team fared little better and were not helped by the demise of Boca Jewniors (where we lost three points). Everything seemed to be going wrong and as the months passed, players became disheartened, I guess. All of a sudden we were struggling to raise teams, even though we had more than 50 players registered. We seem to have generally brought in a pool of mediocrity to replace those who left, which has been reflected in our results. But, leaving footballing talent aside, lack of commitment has been the main reason we have struggled. The growth of Powerleague football has not helped — it’s so easy to play five-a-sides rather than 11-a-side. Also hindering availability have been Sky/BT Sport deciding on midday/1.30pm kick-offs for some Premier League fixtures. And perhaps some players prefer the warmth of their bedrooms with their X-Box consoles on their laps, rather than make the effort to play ‘real’ football. Such have been our shortages on occasions, we have had to reluctantly concede four matches this season, two per team. We pay £180 per game at the Bostik League Premier stadium pitch we hire. Having to cancel two matches there really did hurt because apart from the pitch costs, we lose out on match subs income and also get fined by the league. So financially, we have suffered for forfeiting these four games. Our decisions have always been based upon the unavailability of players and never on who the opposition are. I personally detest conceding games and these decisions are really ‘last resort’ ones forced upon us. I can only speak for TFFC when I blame a lot of our registered players who cannot make the commitment to play. And the knock-on effect of poor results, on top of the distractions that I have previously mentioned, has meant that our management have found it very hard to raise a team, if not two, on occasions. For a club of our stature and longevity, this season has been something of a nightmare. However, we have taken early steps to plan for next season and I am pleased to say that we have a good management team in place to steer TFFC back to where we ought to be next season. I would like to see the League subsidising pitches and kits to encourage new teams to start up and enter. And also help the current clubs perhaps, because the ever-growing expense is another off-putting part of the decline we are witnessing. TFFC will be back to start our 43rd consecutive MGBSFL season in September and hopefully over the summer, Simon Linden, Lee Fegan, Steven Black and Darren Zitren will have recruited a pool of keen players so that, as a club, we avoid what we have gone through this season.”

    SAM ROSE (manager of North London Raiders C)
    “We have only pulled out of one game all season, as opposed to three or four that we pulled out of last year — so we have actually seen an improvement. This is down to stronger recruitment on our part and making sure we have personnel across the key areas. If I’m right in thinking, the occasion where we did pull out was simply due to many work commitments from others and potentially having one or two other players additionally to help us out. I can’t speak for other teams though, but I do think games on televised ‘Super Sundays’ are an issue.”

    DAN SHAFRON (North London Raiders A)
    “Various factors contribute to teams failing to fulfil fixtures. From our perspective, a couple of weeks ago against Redbridge, we had to deal with several withdrawals 12-18 hours prior to the game and we just couldn’t bring in any replacements whatsoever. It was far from ideal and very frustrating but in some instances, there’s nothing that can be done, and we just couldn’t raise a side.”

    But there has been one exception to the norm.

    JEFF GOTCH (manager of Catford & Bromley Maccabi)
    “I have never pulled my team out of a game — even if we don’t have 11 players, we will always turn up. If you have confirmed the game on Tuesday or Wednesday, then you should fulfil the fixture unless there is a serious reason. One of our opponents withdrew 48 hours before our scheduled match this season, claiming a lot of their team had a last-minute stag. That is just a woeful excuse. It meant I had 16 lads to let down last minute. We have families and wives giving us grief about disappearing for four hours on a Sunday and to change the weekend plans due to football. So to then have to change them back does not sit well with me. I’ve had to scratch around for players to fulfil fixtures for the last three matches — Lions White, who are two divisions above us, in the cup, followed by Fairlop and Bayern Mincha, who are vying for promotion in our division. I could easily have dropped out and saved the time and effort but that’s not me, I want teams to win titles for playing games and not being awarded them. In my opinion each team should have one strike — then after that if they do it again goodbye. no control. Anyway, enough ranting. This will be my last season — I will miss the Sunday mornings but won’t miss the work that goes into organising a squad nor the AGM’s.”

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