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PostPosted: Thu Nov 03, 2016 11:17 am 
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Joined: Tue Jan 26, 2010 1:51 pm
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Location: Scotland
So is Amateur Football Suffering? Is it in decline?

With teams folding, all I hear about is how amateur football is struggling. There's a litany of posts on twitter which lightly scratch the surface on what is a bigger problem - and a problem that is not solved with one solution, because the problem is in different areas of our game. It's something I've thought about for a while and had numerous conversations about. I've had my opinions on what's wrong and my opinion has changed a number of times. This is where my thoughts are at on things at the moment - and I am more than happy to have my thoughts challenged - I think it's healthy to have open discussion about our game.

I don't think there's enough of proper discussion about our game, I feel that any negativity is discouraged, it's driven down, hidden and protected from the masses by what's often called a social media policy. The world is digital, it's online. The conversations we all had in the pub, at games, at training now take place online in forums & Social media.... anyway I digress.

So my take on things.. I think the main problem areas are:

- Players priorities. Are players really bothered any more?
- The amount of teams. Are there too many? Do they understand what's involved in running a team?
- Clubs looking at themselves? Do clubs look at what they are doing to keep players and bring new ones in?
- Changes in how our lives are? It's not the 1970's anymore. Things have changed - has football changed to reflect that?
- Does the Amateur football system need an overhaul? It's worked for a long time, but does it need changing or even just some refinement?

Player Priorities
So, I think that there's a player commitment issue. Now before some of you get all worked up and come to tell me how there's loads still committed - I know this. I know there are still many who want nothing more than a ball at their feet. But at 33 year old, I've seen the change in how the game is thought about. When I was younger (and if I was still playing today), football was my priority on a Saturday. I would be late to family do's on Saturday, I wouldn't be out on a Friday. Before I drove I would get 2 busses and travel an hour for a game of fives and the same journey back again. But does that happen still? I know of a few who still prioritise football in the same way - every weekend I wake up to Chris Dunnett's moans on twitter about his travels across Glasgow on public transport to play a game of football... but he's a rarity now. In my opinion, football for the majority coming into the game is a convenience. It's a nice to have. It's something they would like to do but not the priority.

The Amount of Teams
I think there are too many teams starting up. Sure, there's some folding and with each team that folds the players disperse and end up at other clubs. Are there too many teams running with thinner squads than what is necessary? Would it benefit teams to combine and work together with double the pool of players and double the coaches..? Just a thought.

Clubs looking at themselves
I posted on another forum a post in relation to this. Has there ever been an introspective look at why clubs are losing players. Does the club to everything it can to keep boys? Is the training good, enjoyable but with purpose? Do they players get looked after on game days? Are players treated fairly and consistency with no favourites? Or is it too easy to look outside the club and blame everything else from lack of interest, or players not sticking around if they aren't playing... surely there are factors that can be managed? The clubs I played for in the past held big squads, decent sides mind, but importantly the manager was fair in the decisions made. Consistent with team selection and based his choices on team selection on the same things each week. We also had a brilliant coach, who got on with everyone but also done some great drills that we could see taking into a game. So guys who weren't maybe starting every week were still staying around because they knew if they done better or trained harder (which they enjoyed) then they would get their chance.

Looking at this personally, I now run a team - Rossvale Amateurs. The committee and I are at every game an hour / hour half before KO to get the dressing room ready, strips hung up, I supply fruit and sweets for the boys. We bring towels/shower gel/deodorant for the team. As a management team, we try to set a standard of the park that I want matched by the boys on it. When they turn up on match days, the cones are out, bibs are ready and where they need to be to warm up.. we have a chat in the dressing room, I speak personally to those not in the 11 and my reasons for it then I announce the side to play.
We​'re a decent outfit​​ (we will continue to get better)​, but since I've got involved the standard has jumped. I​n​ terms of commitment (maybe 12-14 at training), level of each individual player is higher, the effort and fitness is higher. And in the first few months of the season we've got better. Now we AVERAGE 16-20 at every single training.... and we're becoming a better team for it.

So, given we're in the bottom division of an afternoon league (with serious ambition to move through the divisions) - playing an average standard of opposition... something must be attracting players and making the existing ones want to stick around and improve. Personally, I think how I and the rest of the committee treat them makes a huge difference. The effort we put in off field especially in game days makes a difference. ​How many other clubs can really say that they do what they can (within reason) to keep players at their clubs? ​

Life - it changes!
It's a fact. The only consistent in life is change. Life changes, our routines change, work changes, how we work changes. More and more people are working more hours and at different times. At my club, I am in the minority in that I work a Monday - Friday 9pm-5pm. I'm now beginning to think that the standard model might need changing. I think there should be more flexibility in when games can be played*. There's no reason why any league couldn't issue games to be played but instead of specifically on a Saturday at 2pm, it could be played any time that week at a time to suit both teams? Would this be possible. Sure, major cup comps can stick to their own slots... but I think flexibility is needed in today's world. Personally, I think the afternoon/morning division is needless these days. Morning leagues are more and more allowing kick offs up to 11:59am and afternoon leagues are almost all allowing teams to kick off from 1pm on wards. Is there a reform needed?

*Granted, I know this is not ever going to be easy. There's issues with pitches and availability and the council opening parks etc... but if this is something that needs to happen - there needs to be a starting point somewhere.

An Amateur Football Overhaul?
Lastly, the Amateur football community has existed largely in it's current form for a long long time. There's Committees for committees, there's an executive for this and an executive for that. For many it's a badge of honour than a pride of duty. I think there could be organisational changes which would benefit the association and its member leagues which would allow the SAFA and Associations to be more agile and capable of change. However, my main focus on this point is not in the guys who oversee the game but in terms of the leagues who house the member clubs.

Is it good to see the West of Scotland league with only 9 teams? Does it encourage teams to be in the P&D when there's only 17 teams? What about the Lanarkshire league with 16 teams? Should there ultimately be a league audit, a reshuffle to stream line the leagues in order to provide the teams a better structure for them to play in? I know there will be many up in arms at the thought of this... there's an eternal power struggle with some people's pride coming before what's ultimately best for the member clubs that they are clinging onto.

Would a Scottish amateur world look better with a few less leagues, but with every league sitting with 3 divisions all filled with teams? I think so. Would teams rather be part of a system that looks like that and has a clear path of success that they can attain to, than winning a 1 division league with only 9 teams? I think so. Would it encourage more teams to be run better if the ambitions of the league they play in match that of their member clubs? I think so. Would better run teams have a better chance at bringing in more players, better players and making those players better committed? I think so.

AND FINALLY... A suggestion... maybe a solution?
This is something I thought of and chatted about to a few mates over the years. It's not something I've pursued (I don't know if anyone else has) before. But here goes...

How about a 'Development League' ran by a committee not aligned with a specific league. The purpose of the development league is for new teams to participate in for 2 seasons. To allow them to understand what is involved in running a club, to fight the battles of getting players and sponsors. To see if they can stand the test of time. Call it a 'vetting period'. And at the end of 2 seasons - competing against other teams that are in a similar position as they are - if they are still going and want to move into a properly established league, then they can apply for membership.

The benefits are there for all IMO. It lets new teams find their feet without disrupting an established league by teams dropping out. It lets new teams find their levels and see what they need to do to get better - without getting battered every week... I don't think anyone likes seeing teams getting beat 18-0.

From the established leagues perspective it means they are only getting applications from teams who have came through a period of development. Teams who've been going for a couple of seasons and have a far better chance of survival in a league.

Oh - and another thing... everyone likes to talk about what the SAFA should do about the money in the bank. The numbers mooted range from £200k-£350k depending on who you listen to. But regardless of the amount, I believe that the development league gives teams a better chance of dealing with one of the biggest obstacles facing Amateur teams, and that is finances. I think that new clubs in the development league could have their participation subsidised in order to help them understand what financial outlay is involved in the game. Perhaps year 1 50% subsidy, year 2 subsidy is 25% then when they move on to an established league they are on their own. But they know what to expect.

I think a development league would benefit everyone in the game. It would better prepare teams for joining the Amateur leagues properly. It would see better, more established teams joining the proper leagues. It would cut down the impact on leagues when teams fold/drop out mid season as the quality of whats joining is better.

Anyways, there you go. That's some of my thoughts on the game at the moment. I find myself questioning some of the points I've raised, so feel free to pick it apart. If nothing, I hope it gets you all looking at the sport we play with a view to helping it improve.

Don't forget. We are the ones funding the game. It's our fee's each season which drives the sport.

Cheers for reading,


Site Peace-Keeper


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