This past weekend we saw a precedent happen which you would hope is not something to become the norm over the next few weekends/months/seasons.
The emblem you see above is that of St Francis Rangers FC, up and until early on Monday morning members of the Southern Combination Football League Division One before a statement released by the club stating their intention to resign with immediate effect as members of the SCFL.
The weekend previous saw themselves and Midhurst unable to field a team at this level for the first time this season, Cowfold a division lower also found themselves in the same predicament. Whilst Midhurst are set to host Steyning Town on Tuesday evening and Cowfold presumably ready for the coming weekend’s game, the name of St Francis Rangers will probably be gone from the league table within a few days and possibly from the footballing map for good, at least at a senior level.
After the resignation of manager Jack Stevens on Friday, coupled with reports of player loss at the same time, Rangers had to forfeit Saturday’s trip to AFC Varndeanians and ultimately their place in senior football citing these losses as a final hurdle too high to overcome.
They had come close to being in this exact position 3 years ago and pulling the plug, but the fact you get fined for forfeiting a game and pulling out of a league stopped them doing so. 36 months later and the gallant volunteers have decided enough is enough and the choice is forced upon them. Like so many across their division, they can’t afford to pay their players and to compete against those who choose to is becoming an almost impossible task not just in Sussex but across football in general, it’s the biggest mismatch around.
Just 5 volunteers were running this club. 5 people to look after the Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer duties, running the ground on a matchday, paying bills, ensuring the teams have washed and clean kit to wear on matchday’s, tea bar and possibly a main bar equipped with stock needing to be bought, pitch marked, the list goes on and on. I for one and some of you readers out there know it doesn’t end there and all for the love of football, grassroots football which is where the name of the game should still be enjoyment.
The fear is in Sussex this could just be the beginning of clubs disappearing off the radar altogether, but that fear surely must be felt across the country at this level, higher and lower. Only last season Thurrock at Step 3 resigned their position and so far haven’t shown signs of returning. Clubs much lower than County League level are struggling to survive with increased costs of hiring pitches and paying for officials and at a time when there has never been so much money in the game, surely now it’s time for the FA to actually stand up and look at what they are supposedly policing and do something about it.
St Francis Rangers won’t be the last club to go to the wall, but if you surveyed clubs at Step 5 and 6 I’m sure most will tell you existence is very much week to week, month to month and most have probably looked at throwing in the towel amidst all the hassle and stress many must go through on a regular basis.
Avid readers will know I have my own experiences this season and I won’t lie in saying it’s not a tough gig. Competing against 6 other clubs inside a 5 mile radius in the County League has it’s own challenges, some pay money, some have a good social aspect off the pitch, the competition for players and managers has probably never been harder.
What we don’t want is a generation of youth players coming through with nowhere to play once they reach and finish Under 18 level, that is the stark reality facing grassroots level and once clubs disappear the volunteer base is not there to bring it back again, another challenge all clubs face up and down the footballing pyramid.
This is possibly the FA’s greatest chance to help out it’s clubs on the back of the summer showing of the England team in the World Cup, it might have been 6 months ago now but that feeling has festered itself into the football fabric once more, it would be a massive shame to let such an opportunity turn into a dark mess across grassroots football and the loss of talent which is yet to aspire……….