CAMPAIGN: ‘Running a team is an expensive nightmare’ – councillor

Bucks County Councillor Paul Irwin is backing Herald Sport's campaign to Make Football More Affordable in Aylesbury Vale
Bucks County Councillor Paul Irwin is backing Herald Sport's campaign to Make Football More Affordable in Aylesbury Vale

A Bucks county councillor who helps run a football team in Waddesdon is backing The Bucks Herald’s campaign to Make Football More Affordable in Aylesbury Vale.

Last week Herald Sport launched the campaign on the back of the strident views of passionate local footballer and coach Stevan Wilson.

Wilson warned local football is dying and laid the blame at the door of Aylesbury Vale District Council, which he said was pricing clubs out of the grassroots game.

Since launching the campaign, a number of people have echoed Wilson’s sentiments including Bucks County councillor for Waddesdon and Stone, Paul Irwin.

Councillor Irwin is also the chairman of Waddesdon Lions FC, who have just completed a year since forming.

But Irwin says just getting through the first year without folding was a remarkable achievement in itself.

He said: “I read the article on local football and clubs struggling with the cost and the views of Stevan Wilson and could not agree with him more!”

“We have just completed our first year (at Waddesdon Lions) and to be frank it has been a nightmare.

“We rent our pitch from the parish council, to which we pay very little,but we are charged business rates and the pitch repairs, which were very expensive because the pitch had not been used for so long.

“We have been charged so much in fines it just seems we take two steps forwards and three backwards.

“It just makes no sense to make it so hard for clubs when we keep talking in Bucks about health and fitness all the time.”

Last week we reported that on average players were having to fork out between £7.50-£8 per game just to enable clubs to cover costs.

The Bucks Herald put it to Aylesbury Vale District Council, which sets council pitch hire costs throughout the area for the majority of local grassroots clubs, that increasing fees were pricing players and clubs out of the sport.

Lesley Davies, leisure services manager at AVDC, empathised with the situation and said prices have been frozen for next season.

“The council is always looking at ways to encourage sporting activities across the Vale, particularly during what is a very difficult economic climate,” she said.

“We took the decision to freeze the pitch fees for 2013/14 to minimise the risk of clubs folding or having to reduce their use of our pitches. The pricing structure will continue to be reviewed under the next budget.

“The council is committed to providing high quality pitches and has certain obligations set by the football league to meet.”

While the prices for pitches next season may have already been set, there is hope that the campaign could help drive the prices down in the future.

Davies added: “We are continuously seeking to reduce the costs of pitch maintenance where possible.”

Last week Wilson warned the town would become a graveyard for Saturday and Sunday clubs who simply could not afford to operate anymore due to costs.

He also accused AVDC of failing to invest enough money in sporting facilities in the town and said the benefits of government grants are not seen locally.

But the council denies the government issues handouts to help fund football pitches in the area and has confirmed the money comes from the taxpayer and pitch hire income.

That means players who live and play in the district are paying twice for the privilege.

A statement read: “We can confirm that the costs related to the provision of football pitches in Aylesbury is funding from the Aylesbury council tax precept and income from the hire of pitches.

“There is no government funding for this service area.”

Sports editor Damien Lucas says the council may find itself in a situation where it is cutting off its nose to spite its face.

“While pitch maintenance and upkeep is essential and the use of council land to bring in funds is unquestionable, it is the level of pricing that is putting people off meaning the income they generate will be higher in the short-term but will drop as clubs fold and people stop playing.

“Subs were around £4-£5 just a couple of years ago, which seems pretty acceptable, but that has risen sharply and has had a detrimental impact on the Sunday game, which was down to only 17 teams in two divisions last season.”

+ NEXT WEEK: More from the council and should players share the blame?

We want your views. Leave a comment below or email sport@bucksherald.co.uk