Why is Sunday League on the decline? Worksop committee point to drinking hours, poor team management and lack of player loyalty

Dinnington Town FC v Knaresborough Town AFC cancelled due to water logged pitch  (w121222-1a)
Dinnington Town FC v Knaresborough Town AFC cancelled due to water logged pitch (w121222-1a)

The Worksop Sunday League is going its toughest time since it began in 1963.

Five teams have folded this season, leaving the league with the lowest amount of affiliated teams since the late 60s, with just 22 teams forming three divisions.

While the league committee remain positive and are actively looking for new teams, they admit changes in society, poor team management and a lack of commitment from players have led to a decline.

It was formed over 50 years ago and started with just 10 teams.

Within a few years the second division was formed with 12 teams taking part and by the early 70s the third tier was in place.

The late 80s saw a real boom as a fourth division was created and was followed up two years later by Division Five, with a record 57 teams taking part.

The teams came from as far as Anston, Harworth and Todwick.

Dinnington had three teams in the league; Clowne had two representatives, while the Creswell and Whitwell areas had six entrants.

But the early 90s saw the first decline, when teams from out of town began to fold and the league was reduced to four divisions.

This was sustained for over 10 years before the loss of more teams left the committee with no option but to revert to the current format of three leagues.

While the areas of Carlton and Langold have maintained a strong hold of teams in the league, teams have been and gone from Edwinstowe, Balby and Glapwell in the last decade.

The decline is not just a Worksop problem – Retford’s league has disappeared, and the Mansfield and Sheffield Leagues are no different.

A spokesman for the Worksop Sunday League told the Guardian: “Nathan Batchelor a delegate from Sheffield and Hallamshire CFA this week told us that the FA have recognised their is a national problem with the decline in football between 18 and 35-year-olds across England.”

Highlighting what the committee believe are the causes for the decrease in the number of locals wanting to play football on a Sunday, the spokesman said: “Every team needs a good secretary, someone who is on the ball with paperwork, emails and general administrations duties and unfortunately over the years there haven’t been enough of them which has seen several sides collapse.”

“You see stalwarts like Alan Fisher of Langold Old Boys putting nets up, collecting subs, paying referees, ensuring Langold have a team to compete year in year out and its eople like Alan who teams require to show the same amount of dedication andloyalty to keep their squads organised and running.”

“Player loyalty is no longer the same. League president Greg Packard played for Worksop Borough for over 15 years and his teams-mates played for the club for the same amount of time or longer.”

Packard himself added: “We would go out for a beer on a Saturday and would all be ready at 10am the next morning for a good completive game of football.”

“These days the pubs are open much longer hours and the players struggle to get up the following morning.”

“I recently managed a team and was having to get players out of bed, and once they were subbed for a game or two they were leaving to sign for another club.”

“Emeralds FC folded this season as they were struggling to field 11 players on a Sunday morning, and within three days of the team folding 15 of their registered players all signed for other clubs, yet the couldn’t turn up for the Emeralds.”

“I just don’t understand it.”

Manton Inn are the latest club to fold, just last weekend, leaving the three divisions with a decidedly uneven look.

Division One has seven teams, Division Two has six and there are now just nine in Division Three.

The league are desperately trying to arrest the decline.

Press officer Paul Illingworth said: “Myself and league sponsor Rob Horne have visited local towns and villages, displaying posters, advertising our league and the good standard it offers.”

“I have emailed over 50 local under 16 and 18 clubs in the last four years inviting them to join the league and have only had one response.”

“Talking to others I think only four teams have joined the league after the under 16s have finished in the last 20 years.”

“I just don’t know where youngsters who finish playing at under 16 and 18 levels go.”

“We have over 620 players registered with our current 22 teams and some of them struggle to get 11. If each of the 620 players made a squad of 20 it would give us 31 teams. So the players are out their.”

“I’m sure if the youngsters want to stick together after the under 16 and 18 are finished, with the right direction they could be a successful part of out league.”

League secretary Dave Crisp has been on the committee since 1970 and he still believes in Sunday League football.

He insists the Worksop League have done all they can to make football cost effective for local teams.

“We offer the cheapest league and pitch fees out of all the leagues affiliated to the Sheffield and Hallamshire CFA,” he said.

“Our yearly affiliation costs are £85 which includes your first 15 player registrations and an £8 donation to the Benevolent fund which is insurance for players who are injured whilst playing in our league.”

“A council pitch can be provided at £19 a game, a council pitch in the Sheffield area is £60 a game and you have to cut and mark out your own surface, which is something Bassetlaw Council do for us.”

“As for a private pitch in Sheffield you’re talking £100 a game and that is without paying your referee.”

This season the league has brought the registration system back in house, costing £1 a player, making a saving for all teams who were previously paying £2.50 a player with the County FA.

But there are also mandatory costs, set by the County FA, including a yearly affiliation fee of £88, insurance cover at £45, referee fees at £22 per home game and 35 pence per mile in travel expenses.

Nets, flags and kit need to be provided.

If a team can fundraise, or find a financial backer, there are benefits.

Crisp added: “We have the lowest operating costs in all of the County FA, we have seen an increase to 18 qualified referees where some leagues have as few as five, and we offer the support and help of an experienced committee.”

“We are determined to keep three divisions, we’re here to promote our great league – times are tough but Sunday League football in Worksop is here to stay.”

“We have a history and tradition that is unique and can’t be compared to other leagues, we have great cup finals every year, the league has a main sponsor in Horne’s Construction Ltd while the league and cups all have their own sponsors in Matthew Bell, Top Deck Trade Centre, DB Signs and David Savage – all good local people and businesses who are putting their hard earned money in as they want to see Sunday football in Worksop for many years to come.”

Anyone wishing to join the league or wanting more information can contact Dave Crisp on 01909481248 and Rob Horne on 07789 646199.

Failing that you can join the league’s Facebook page at HCL Worksop Sunday League.