A grassroots football stalwart is determined to continue to play a major part in the success of Sunday football in Mansfield — keeping the legacy of her late husband alive.
Kath Rowan took over the role of secretary of the Mansfield and District Chad Sunday Football League from her husband, Kevin, in January 2001 after he lost a 15-year battle with leukaemia.
Now, more than 15 years later, 72-year-old Kath is as enthusiastic as ever about her role, the league and non-league football — as well as remembering the popular Kevin’s long service to the league.
Kath said: “I started my involvement with the league because it meant I was able to spend more time with my late husband. It gave us a common interest.
“Over the years I have formed many long-lasting friendships. I like to think I have helped with keeping my late husband’s legacy alive.
“I have seen many changes during the years — some good, some not so good. I like to interact with the clubs, both new and old. It is like being part of a big family, there are good times and bad times, but we always seem to come out okay at the other end.”
Kevin — hugely popular and well-respected within the local football community — had been training Kath to take over as secretary, and spent the last few weeks of his life fine-tuning that training for a smooth transition.
Kath said at the time: “That was why, even in the week of Kevin’s death and funeral, there was no disruption at all to the results service to Chad.
He would have been appalled if things had come to a stop.”
A referee for many years, Kevin joined the league as referees’ secretary in 1983 and held that role until 1994, when he took over as secretary from the long-serving Ken Burgess.
Kath became involved and was later minutes secretary to her husband and the management committee, before taking over from her late husband as secretary.
She said: “I first got involved with local Sunday football during 1984 when my late husband was the referees’ secretary for the league.
“On occasions I accompanied him to watch him referee matches, so I have always had an interest in football. That increased over the years as my involvement with the league became more in depth — it was a case of if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them.”
Like Kevin, Kath is determined to be there to serve the clubs and help them however she can.
“I am always available for clubs, from early in the morning to late at night, seven days a week, 365 days of the year — in-season and closed-season.
“The season doesn’t seem to have a beginning or an end for me, but I would not have it any other way. I am always here to help the clubs in the best way that I can.
“I enjoy being there to help and guide the secretaries of the clubs, so ensuring there is grassroots football in the Mansfield area for many years to come.”
Kath said she particularly enjoyed making sure all the clubs were ready for a new season, that no-one was fined unnecessarily, that everyone abided by the rules, and that all the clubs continued to enjoy playing football each Sunday morning.
“The challenges and frustrations are numerous, if not the same from season to season. However, they are always dealt with successfully by the management committee of the league,” she added.
“It’s great to see the first games kicking-off successfully, clubs abiding by the rules and their friendly rivalry.
“I also enjoy clubs participating in competitions outside of the league and being a credit to themselves and the league.
“There is satisfaction when the finals for each division and cup competitions that we hold come around as well as the annual presentation evening – and it is good when clubs confirm that they will be back again the following season.”
Kath has seen many changes within the league during her years of service and is sad that the number of clubs and divisions has reduced from a high of 144 clubs and 12 divisions to 48 teams taking part in five divisions this season — together with a decrease in the number of people wanting to referee matches.
“I think the lack of sponsorship and a change in people’s social habits has contributed to the dwindling number of clubs that participate in grassroots football,” she pointed out.
“I know over the years that a simple game of football has become more commercial, which has led to a lot of grassroots football not being accessible to all because of the expense with the rising costs of ground fees and affiliation costs payable to the FA.
“But I know that the Mansfield and District Chad Sunday Football League strives to keep its own costs down each year.
“I have also seen a big decrease in the number of referees who officiate our matches on a Sunday morning. I believe this is due to changes in people’s attitudes and the lack of respect shown on the field of play by players to each other and referees.
“Having said that, our own referees’ secretary, Rob Wood, continues to tirelessly work to recruit referees to the league and his efforts have been rewarded, especially last season and for the forthcoming season 2016/2017.”
She added that a league secretary must have a good working management committee behind them to run a league successfully.
Kath, who combines her role as secretary of the league with helping to look after her grandchildren, hopes the league can reverse the downward trend of membership in the future — and that more women can find roles in the game.
She concluded: “I would like to see the league increase the number of divisions it currently has to around the same number it had in its heyday.
“Although I believe that this might not be achievable, I hope we could at least have another three divisions over the next few years.
“I would also like to see more women becoming involved in the running of grassroots football, at any level, although I am happy to say that there are currently five ladies already involved at club level in this league — I hope that continues and increases.”