What does Grassroots Football look like post-lockdown?



These are strange times in which we live. Within a calendar year we have had our football taken away from us twice, we are very likely to have another Null and Void season in 2020/21 to match 2019/20 across the board. We didn’t even get close to PPG percentages this season, not even remotely close.



The promotions and relegations missed due to last season’s cancellations caused frustrations all around. It was tough on those super performers. Some cup finals got played from 19/20, and some haven’t yet, will they ever? It’s hard to tell with leagues and County’s looking to no doubt maximise every possible playing minute to getting to the promised land of a completed set of league fixtures for 21/22.


I’ve been thinking long and hard about how I see the landscape within grassroots once we get the green light again. Largely the landscape will be pretty much like what it is now. 35 people running around or standing next to a dusty/muddy patch of land enjoying the hell out of themselves for 90 minutes on a Sunday morning.

Below I list some of what I see is the fall out from the lockdown era. I must be honest. It's pretty bleak.


Casualties

We are bound to lose teams, inevitably some teams will call it a day. Those who have been thinking about hanging up the Copa Mundials may just do it now. I’ve had several conversations with friends and acquaintances in the game, and the drive to go again just isn’t there like it was in yesteryear.


Financial woes will cause clubs up and down the country to lock the gates forever. With no help from unscrupulous councils or venues (who will look to maintain their lost revenue streams too) some teams will go this way. No costs are going to be reduced to help us in grassroots, in fact they could go up.


On my podcast every team mentions that they do not feel they are getting value for money from their home pitch. Do we suddenly expect a venue to go the extra mile? Do we expect a better service from a venue struggling itself financially? With the number of teams waiting to find a ground, what happens? Venue X (for instance) hasn’t had any football or bar takings for the best part of a year. They charge £100 per pitch now and put very little into the maintenance of the pitches. But they are always packed, because pitches are so few and far between teams take what they can get.



Is it far from the realms of reality for Venue X to say, we must fill this hole in the balance sheet, let's raise prices by 30%? Suddenly the venue is gaining more money and who pays for it? The teams. And will they pay it? Yes. Because they love the game. They have no choice. If they choose not to pay from a moral standpoint, another team takes their place immediately. The venue wins either way.


I can see venues toying with Supply and Demand business practices in the coming season.


League Structures


I’ve always been a fan of large divisions. 10/12 teams per division for Sundays and 16+ in Saturday grassroots football. I also think cup competitions are the best for the celebratory day out with family and friends. Sadly, and I feel for the right reason, we may see leagues revert to smaller leagues 8-10 teams to give a better possibility of fulfilling a full fixture list.


With value for money on every League Secretary and League Chairman worthy of their title mind’s they may not think reducing division numbers does that. But for me, after the last two seasons, we must look at a way of redressing balance and I think the teams would be happy to work leagues on this.



We may see peripheral cup competitions not be played in 2021/22 season. All with the focus of getting League fixtures completed and should the worst happen again, concentrating on hitting the 75-80% league games played so PPG can become activated with credibility.


Where leagues have extended cup competitions to have group stages, they may revert to knockout rounds from the start. In practice a fantastic idea to offer teams a few more games a season at least, but we have seen cup competitions being a real block on getting the nuts and bolts of the league games played. Successful teams who perennially do well in cup competitions always have a fixture back log come March/April/May.


To alleviate that situation, stripping back the cup competitions could and perhaps should be done. They can always come back.


County Cups / Sunday FA Cups / Inter-League Cups


For me this is a tough one to write, because all my best footballing days as a referee have come in the competitions where teams from different leagues meet. Crayford Athletic (OBDSFL) v Belmont (Met) stands out as the best cup game I’ve been involved in. This was an early round Kent FA cup game in the pouring rain.


Two teams battling it out for 120 minutes. Red cards, yellows cards and tons of goals. Fantastic. I’ve had the pleasure of being appointed to nine cup finals. three of them County Cup finals. They are the very best days for grassroots clubs and participants.


But I think we will see a lower participation in County cups for 21/22. Again, teams will focus on their home leagues competition. For some strange reason there isn’t much credit given to teams winning the Junior or Intermediate level trophies, and even the Kent FA Premier Cup is degraded by some. Strange to me. But it is, so we may see teams simply not enter if they do not feel they have any chance of winning the competition.



Similarly, teams may shy away from the financial burden of entering Sunday FA Cup due to resources not being what they once were. I suspect Inter-league charity cups, my favourite being WESFA’s Plumstead Cup, played for by teams from several local leagues may not be as well supported outside of WESFA as it has been recently.


The good times will return


In summary, I can see finances meaning those kits that have been needed updating getting another run out for a season.


Teams putting the move to an upgraded playing surface on ice.


Will we lose teams. Yes.


Will new teams start up? Definitely.


Will those who do not participate any more miss it? You bet.


Will the last 12 months kill Grassroots football? Nothing possibly could.


We have tough times ahead; difficult decisions are to be made by those who govern us and those invaluable League committees have many hours of work ahead of them to try and pick up the pieces left by this awful period of time.


What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger they say.