Bucks Herald Sport is this week launching a campaign to try to drive down the cost of local grassroots football.
In a series of articles over the coming weeks, we will be looking into the grassroots game in Aylesbury and gauging opinion in a bid to address spiralling costs in what has always been a ‘working man’s sport’.
We kick off the campaign with an impassioned plea from local footballer and coach Stevan Wilson, who was so concerned at the state of the grassroots game he has suggested a raft of changes to arrest the decline.
Wilson says the game is ‘going downhill fast’ and lays the blame at the door of Aylesbury Vale District Council, which he says is pricing players young and old and even entire clubs out of the sport they love.
“Last season at (Sunday side) Britannia we were having to charge players £7.50 per game to cover the cost of the pitch and refs, that’s just to cover costs for 11 players,” he said.
“Then you might have a few players that don’t turn up or a few fines that build up and all of a sudden the club is in debt and managers are having to fork out a lot of money because it’s got out of control how expensive it is.
“The local councils are on you for the money regardless and that’s why last season the Sunday game (SLN Combination) was down to just 17 teams in two divisions, it’s just too expensive for the players and teams, especially if you also play on a Saturday.
“I’ve seen loads of teams fold over the years and the quality of football has gone downhill, you can even see it in the kids.
“They’re not allowed to play anywhere by the councils, there are signs everywhere, saying ‘No ball games’ and they aren’t even allowed on the school fields anymore.
“When I was at school we used to go in early to play football on the field before, it just doesn’t happen any more.
“The council say the prices for the teams are to cover maintenance and costs but they get government grants to help with sport and sports facilities but we don’t see any of that or benefit locally.
“It’s always the footballers and football teams that have to pay up.
“But the pitches are for everyone, not just footballers.
“You can go and walk your dog on the pitches and let your dog do its business on there but it’s the footballers and the football teams that have to pick it up.
“It’s no wonder we can’t win a World Cup or do well on the international stage. Players are being priced out of the game from a young age.”
Wilson says it is particularly the more deprived children who suffer.
“Over the years it’s the more deprived areas generally that produce the players with raw talent but then they don’t get the coaching or guidance because it’s all about money, you pay to play, to be coached everything,” Wilson added.
Among a number of suggestions, the 49-year-old has called on the council and local FA to act before it’s too late and suggests:
Lowering cost per player to £5 for sides using council pitches.
Getting local clubs to do free coaching sessions in schools.
Devising bigger cup competitions as incentive to players.
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NEXT WEEK: The council responds to the campaign and has its say on making football affordable in Aylesbury.