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Grassroots split on summer football debate

Club Website poll reveals over half of grassroots football community want a summer season for kids’ football, while one in three want a change across the amateur game.

Another winter, another debate about the amateur football season’s position in the calendar.

With heavy rain and snow causing widespread fixture disruption across the country this winter, many in the grassroots football community have suffered the frustration that has become an all-too-familiar feeling at this time of the season.

A poll of over 1,600 Club Website members found that over half (51%) would like to see all kids’ football played in a season that begins in March and ends in October or November, thus avoiding the worst winter weather from December to February.

Most of those people – 33% of the total number polled – would also prefer to see the whole of grassroots football switch to a season based around the same months.

49% of those polled were against a switch to a summer season, but most of those – 26% of all respondents – said they would like to see a winter break introduced.

This leaves less than one in four people (23%) happy with things exactly as they are, playing grassroots football without a winter break during the traditional September – May season.

The main argument for a change in season is fairly straightforward: Bad weather means bad pitches, which means more cancelled games and, for young footballers in particular, poorer conditions in which to develop their skills.

As the debate raged on our Facebook page, Alan McDonald summed up the problem:

“It’s a no brainer… lush grass, warm conditions. These are the conditions where kids will learn the basics, enhance their skills and enjoy themselves.

“The alternative, kids out all wrapped up, cold, dark, wet and matches called off because the pitches are flooded.”

Problems with facilities along with a clash with the cricket season and summer holidays are commonly cited as the main sticking points, a viewpoint supported by Lee Myers, who posted this on Facebook:

“You would struggle to put teams out due to players and their families going on holiday through the summer. It was hard just putting a training session together in the summer some weeks.”

In Scotland the switch to a summer season was made in 2011 with the introduction of the new Scottish National Player Pathway, with all children up to the under-12s age group now playing development football from March to November.

David Little, Chief Executive of the Scottish Youth Football Association (SYFA), told Club Website the reasons behind the change.

“It was to try and get the youngest players away from the periods when we shouldn’t be playing – the real cold weather, leading up to Christmas and in January,” he said.

“I think the argument should be about when not to play, as opposed to when to play. I think we should eradicate the bad months.”

Little said that the change has worked out “fantastically well” for the younger age groups, but the line is drawn at under-12s, as at that age teams progress from small-sided development football to playing 11-a-side football in a competitive league structure.

“The subtle difference with non-competitive football is that if a game doesn’t take place for inclement weather, it just hasn’t taken place, whereby with competitive football you have to finish your competitions.

“You have a better chance of doing that in May than you do in November. It would be grossly unfair for young players to play all the way through a league season and then it comes to November and they can’t get that programme finished.

“To fail to finish competitions is letting down young football players.”

The SYFA refers to the new summer season as a “development season”, with good reason one could argue – “I can’t remember in the last few years actually having a summer!” said Little – and arranging it has not been without its challenges, most notably the availability of facilities and volunteers.

In an attempt to work around the problem of summer holidays, the development season has been broken down for many into three parts. From March to June and August to November matches are mandatory, while during July, when most families take their holidays, games are played subject to availability of coaches and players.

Whilst the English FA has made no official move towards a summer season, there is also nothing to stop leagues in England moving to a similar arrangement if circumstances allow. Indeed, in some parts of the country, such as Durham, some leagues have already made the switch to a summer season.

Nick Levett, the FA’s National Development Manager for Youth Football, told Club Website: “What we’ve said to leagues is if they want to go to summer football – to March to November and have a break in July and August for school holidays – that’s no problem at all.”

“It’s there as an option, so if member clubs want to do it and they can find the facilities and the appropriate support locally, then great. Go for it!”

For the last few years, Levett has been leading a review of youth football in England which will, from the start of next season, see the phased implementation of a new player pathway – including new 5v5 and 9v9 formats – and a new ‘child-friendly’ approach to competitive football.

The possibility of summer football was discussed during the consultation period for the Youth Development Review and, although it was not seen as a priority when pushing forward with the changes, it did lead to some useful discussion around ways to overcome some common hurdles.

With many playing fields used for both cricket and football, there are obvious issues regarding pitch layout and allowing pitches to recover during the summer months, but Levett believes that with careful local planning these can be overcome.

“I’ve spoken to groundsmen who have said that if the designated kids’ pitches weren’t getting battered during the winter, they wouldn’t have to do as much re-seeding during the summer.

“They would be comfortable with it but it needs a sensible, strategic approach. You can’t play on pitches 365 days a year but, if it’s planned locally, then it’s certainly possible.”

“The challenge on school sites where they pick up the posts and mark out the grass running track are still going to exist, but if clubs have got their own facilities then there’s no reason we can’t look at it.”

As for the oft-quoted clash with the cricket season, Levett said: “We’ve got to do what’s right for football. There might be kids at the moment who want to play rugby and football but can’t because of the clash of seasons.

“But with clever planning around sunlight hours, there’s no reason why cricket and football can’t complement each other in the same season.”

“Another challenge of course is you get rock hard pitches, blisters and sunburn, but perhaps I’d rather have that than be freezing cold. I don’t know.”

Whilst the summer football debate was not viewed as a key element in the FA’s previous consultation, it is one that could be revisited in the future but, according to Levett, would require a lot more conversation with all of the parties involved.

It is a debate that seems to resurface every winter, but perhaps one that is best revisited later in the year, when people aren’t reacting immediately to the wintry weather outside and instead are able to consider the numerous issues and options available in the warm light of a summer’s day.

Football is our national sport and traditionally a winter game. When traditions are challenged passions can often run high but, while overall opinion on summer football remains divided – as evidenced by our Club Website poll – it is clearly a debate worth having.

Dan Pope, Club Website editor

CW Poll: Should the grassroots football season be changed to March – October to avoid the winter weather?

Yes 51.5%
- for ALL grassroots football 33.2%
- for KIDS football only 18.3%

No 48.5%
- but we should have a scheduled winter break 25.6%
- keep the season as it is 22.9%

Total votes cast: 1,670

COMMENTS

STUART says:

You can come up with reasons all day why we shouldnt play summer football logistical , practical etc etc .
But the facts are simple until we do the kids overall level of technical ability and performance will never ever improve. the mass of grass roots football play every season in appalling conditions.
And as developing the player should be everyone number one priority then summer football is a must.

February 23, 2013 at 22:26

Hugh bryce says:

“I can’t remember in the last few years actually having a summer!” said David Little of the SYFA.

surely its better to play in the summer no matter if it rains.at least it wont be freezing.

February 11, 2013 at 15:49

Hugh bryce says:

Another weekend and again our away game has been cancelled. It’s now 2 games in 13 weeks.
How are we supposed to compete when we can’t even get a game played. Other countrys play in the summer why can’t we.

February 11, 2013 at 14:58

Carl Page says:

Whilst I can see the merits of summer football I also feel this would raise its own issues, namely clashes with summer sports and school holidays, together with the opposite problem of the winter which is hard dusty pitches and the heat of the summer. As a compromise I would suggest that the football season should run from September until June thus allowing for a winter break between December and February (note these 3 months are always fragmented due to Xmas and bad weather anyway!). I am sure teams will arrange friendlies during good weather in the winter months to keep players ticking over.

I realise this does not solve all the issues but is perhaps a good compromise between what we do now and a complete move to summer football.

February 10, 2013 at 21:06

wayne roberts says:

I help run a under 9s team I lancashire I have a mixed feeling on this I agree more 3 g pitches would solve .major issue but like us we ha’ve a 3 g pitch we are able to use but are not allowed to due ti it been at a school and the fact the fa have a rule that changing rooms must be there for the kids to use and the ref well over the last 3 yrs of been at the club I have never seen a y player or ref getting changed before the game so why a stupid rule been put in place.also if we do allow summer football for small clubs who don’t have lots of money the summer is a perfect time to hold a tournament a d other fund raising evenuts which then keeps the clubs running another year.If the local council would spend a little but of money on more 3 g pitches more games would get played and also the grass pitches would not take a battering towards the end of season

February 5, 2013 at 14:17

Hugh Bryce says:

How are youths and kids supposed to improve their skills when they train and play in freezing wet , snowy weather or muddy conditions . No wonder we can’t compete with other countrys. England won the world cup once, Scotland , Ireland and Wales never. summer football plus 3g pitches are the answer. The u19 team i watch have only played twice since11 of november.
I also think that if a home teams ground is unplayable the game should be switched automatically if they havent already played, this would help a pile up of fixtures at the end of the season. In the last two seasons we have had to play 3 and 4 games a week.

February 4, 2013 at 16:51

ian coates says:

This argument has been here for years and the ANSWER is staring us in the face ,
the leagues are run for the teams by the teams so LET THEM decide when they play not the FA, as it will suit some areas of the country but not others to play winter or summer, however remember a summer pitch can hold as many problems as a winter pitch been frozen solid or a summer pitch been rock solid.

Yes 3G is the answer or part but to bring this country up to the level of some European counterparts it has been said would take 3 billion pounds and I really cnt see the FA or Government funding that ,mind saying that we have written more than that which is owed to this country from the so called 3rd world country’s

February 1, 2013 at 21:19

Jim Hogg says:

I realise that this winter a number of weeks have been lost through both waterlogged pitches and snow. However I still do not believe a winter break would be ideal for Open Age football. There are clubs who play where cricket is played and of course generally cannot play football after a date near the end of April. There may be a case for kids football to have a winter break but remember families then start their holidays which could result in teams fielding short team. Perhaps people voting for a break have not thought the situation through properly.

January 31, 2013 at 21:48

Laurence Hughes says:

The answer is funding for more 3G Astroturfs to be built. We played on one in a County Cup game on Sunday just gone when every match in our League was called off because of a waterlogged pitch. The playing surface was superb and our players loved it, despite having to kick-off at 9.30.a.m instead of 10.30 so that other matches could be fitted in after us.
Staggered kick-off times and priority given to teams with a backlog of fixtures will get grassroots Leagues through the winter if they have access to just one or two 3G Astroturf pitches.
Summer football on grass pitches is more or less impossible where my team are based (North London). Too many venues are shared with cricket, not to mention motoring pageants and funfairs !

January 31, 2013 at 21:39

Wayne Jeremiah says:

As a coach of Mardy Tigers Girls F.C. for 10 years I’ve been banging on for years about summer football. Why we send our kids out in December, January and February on bogs of pitches in the freezing cold is beyond me. Junior football should start in March and end in October.

January 31, 2013 at 19:14

Derek Graham says:

The really bad winter weather that cancels matches for 2-3 weeks on end is completely unpredictable. Some years it doesn’t happen at all. One recent year it came in November, this year it was mid-Jan and it was 10 degrees in early Jan. Another year it was Feb. Best to accept that some weeks will be lost and build some empty weeks into the schedule in late March/April/May for re-arranged games. Summer wouldn’t work – too many other competing activities (tennis and cricket to name just two)

January 31, 2013 at 18:18

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