Sam Allardyce leads calls for switch to summer season for children.
Three-quarters of grassroots community would welcome change to current timetable.
It has been a long, hard winter for football.
Fans have been left frustrated by frozen pitches or clubs and councils fearful of icy pavements outside grounds and the litigious culture that we live in.
But football at senior level has had it comparatively easy. Clear the pavements and many top flight games can go ahead, but what about the parks across the country where the only under-soil heating comes from the Dog & Duck FC needing some half-time relief?
The grassroots game ground to a halt when the big freeze first struck the country in late November and many teams only kicked a ball in anger again this weekend. Others may not do so until well into the New Year.
So what good is that doing for football in this country, in particular for the development of our younger players, when they can’t get out on the pitch for weeks or months on end?
Sam Allardyce has led calls for a move to a summer for all children under the age of 16.
Speaking at the launch of the FA's Future Game – Grassroots document at Wembley Stadium last month, Allardyce - still in charge at Blackburn Rovers at the time - said:
“We should change the season for youngsters. We have move to summer now, for me.
“We’ve got some really good coaches and fantastic people who work in football at grassroots level.”
“The big problem is we don’t have enough time. In the summer months, with lighter nights, you get more time so you get more natural development which is what we’re looking for.”
England under-21 coach Stuart Pearce echoed Allardyce’s concerns. He told Club Website:
“I know young players don’t want to be out in mid-winter when every touch is on a freezing cold foot with a freezing cold ball. That’s not going to improve their technique.”
“It would be helpful if we had better facilities or with the climate being better. If that’s the summer for younger players then so be it.
“Whether we’ll end up doing it I don’t know. I think it would be a big step because traditionally we are a country that plays winter football.”
Such a change would be a big call for the game’s authorities to make but, according to a recent Club Website poll, the sort of traditionalists who fear any change to the game are in the minority in the grassroots community.
Only 27% of over 5,500 people surveyed said “no” to a move to summer on the basis that football is a winter sport.
A further 24% said they did not want to see a complete shift in season, but would welcome a winter break, while almost half of respondents (49%) said they would welcome a move to a summer calendar.
Lee Addison is one of those in favour of the move. Debating the issue on Club Website’s Facebook page he said:
“Every year we end up having to cancel games and towards the end of the season we find ourselves having about six games in two weeks. Bring it on, that's what I say.”
Wayne Kay put across the other side of the argument. “Gutted to be missing matches but summer footie isn't great,” he said. “I have three boys who play football and cricket and they overlap too much already!”
Working logistics around the cricket season could prove a challenge but, if the FA wants to realise the vision outlined in The Future Game - i.e. future generations of English players all comfortable on the ball and able to play through the thirds - it is something they may need to consider.
Even now the thaw has arrived for many, what chance does a grassroots coach have of getting his kids to play football when they are playing on bog?
Not until spring arrives will players really be able to get it down and play so, whilst the FA look to the future, should they also be looking to the summer if they want to see the grassroots grow?
Dan Pope, Club Website editor
This article appears in the 50th issue special of FC Business, the trade magazine for the football industry.
Have your say!
Do you think the amateur football calendar should be looked at? Should the kids game be moved to the summer to help development? And what about senior football? Or are we better off sticking with what we know?
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Allardyce leads calls for switch to summer season for children