Winter disruption affects nine out of 10 footballers

As record winter rains cause unprecedented disruption to grassroots football, with many clubs not playing for two months, the debate has reopened about moving to a summer season

Wellies in waterlogged pitch

Nine out of 10 members of the grassroots football community have had fixtures cancelled due to the heavy winter rain, a Club Website poll can reveal.

At least 86 percent of Club Website members have had one or more games cancelled, with many missing out on more games and some not playing at all for weeks.

Seven out of 10 people have had at least three games cancelled due to the weather and almost half (47%) have missed out on five games or more – meaning no football at all for many since the start of December.

What’s more, as the poll ran from just 8-20 January, the results will be an underestimate of the winter washout, but the picture is fairly clear, even if the skies haven’t been.

December was the wettest month ever recorded in UK, with flooding in many counties prompting football’s authorities to setup an emergency relief fund to help the worst-affected clubs and leagues in 10 counties in northern England.

Not everyone has been so badly hit but, with local authorities up and down the country forced to call off matches for weeks on end, leagues are having to cope with an unprecedented backlog and some have decided to make radical changes.

The Bolton, Bury and District Football League (BBDFL) is moving its junior football season from winter to summer to avoid the bad winter weather and provide better playing conditions for players.

BBDJFL logoThe league, which caters for 620 teams and 8,500 players from under-7s to under-21s, have lost 12 weeks of football to the winter weather this season alone.

Member clubs were asked to vote on the proposal and a landslide mandate was provided.

The new season structure will kick off in March 2017, with the season running until November, including a six week break for the school holidays.

The league has encountered some opposition, notably from other sports, but BBDFL chairman Warren Barlow has invited those involved to get in touch to build a “mutual cooperation” and ensure long term benefits for all sports in the area.

But this winter’s washout means that something had to be done.

“Doing nothing just isn’t an option as we have a duty to our members to help provide them with the best possible conditions to play football,” Barton told The Bolton News.

“Bolton Council have confirmed that this season 10 weeks have been lost to the weather to date and it is highly likely that more weeks will go.

“It would be unacceptable for any sport provider to continue like this, without exploring options to improve the situation for its participants.”

A Club Website poll in 2013 found opinion divided on summer football, with half of our members wanting to move kids’ football to a summer season – including one third of all respondents wanting to move the whole grassroots calendar – whilst 26% wanted to see a winter break, with 23% not wanting to see any change.

However, a recent simple ‘yes or no’ poll by the Save Grassroots Football campaign found 89% of respondents in favour of shifting the season, suggesting that an appetite for change may have grown across the country.

So we’ve decided to re-open the debate and test the current mood of the grassroots community across the country. You can vote on our new poll on your club or league website – or here on our demo site – or just give us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Our friends at Genesis Sports are also looking into the same issue and have setup a short survey on the subject – so please get involved with that as well.

CW poll results: How many matches have you had called off due to the heavy rain so far this winter?

* 5+ 47%
* 3-4 23%
* 1-2 16%
* None 14%

Total votes cast: 1,133 (poll ran: 8-20 January)

New CW poll: Should the grassroots football season be changed to March – November to avoid the winter weather?

Vote now on your club or league website, or here on our Parkside FC demo site.

This article appeared in The Clubhouse – the monthly newsletter from Club Website. To get the best grassroots news, offers and competitions straight to your inbox every month, sign up today!

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Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, with a passion for grassroots sport. A right back turned football writer, Dan is the former editor of Club Website and has been lucky enough to work in the field of grassroots and community sport for the last 10 years.

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  1. Ian Breeze on January 28, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    I love football, and I can fully understand the frustrations of weather affected call offs. However, I also really enjoy Athletics, Cricket and Tennis and I believe playing lots of sports at a young age encourages a healthy lifestyle. I believe that playing organised football all year round is detremental to the individual and goes against the mantra of ‘Sport for All.’

  2. Mike Turner on January 28, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    If you want to kill other sports go ahead. If you want a huge crop of injuries related to playing on hard grounds go ahead. If you want to cause untold strife and insurance issues on shared facilities go ahead. Football is a winter game, always has been, always should be. It’s been a difficult winter without doubt, but it’s one winter only. Something like this may not happen for another fifty years and is hardly an excuse to ruin the whole fabric of British sport.

  3. Derek Moody on January 28, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Whilst I am in favour of looking at changes to the grassroots football, I think we have to be aware of children who participate in more than one sport. My daughter plays for a girls team but is also a member of her local athletic club for which she competes during the spring and summer months.Should our league change we would be in a difficult decision deciding which would be her main sport.It would seem the way forward should be more significant investment in 3G and 4g pitches

  4. Gary Cornforth on January 28, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    I am aboard member of a not for profit trust which took over the running of a large, high quality sports ground when the local university closed it as uneconomical. We cater for football, cricket and rugby and the most obvious affect of a switch to summer football would be the resulting clash between football and cricket and in our case the large loss of income we would face. As it is we struggle to break even and certainly could not keep the ground open without football income from September to April. Our ground is in great demand in the area as one of the few good standard sports grounds available to local clubs and schools. We have 7 and 9 a side pitches in addition to full size pitches all of which are used extensively in the current traditional football season. We have also suffered with the wet weather and have not had any games this month. We hope to have the first games of 2016 this weekend although it is touch and go at the moment. Notwithstanding our recurring difficulties caused by wet winters I would urge caution before rushing to summer football. On the face of it playing in the summer seems the obvious answer. However has any thought been given to how amateur sports such as cricket and football could coexist if expected to play at the same time of year Our ground is a relatively large 25/6 acre site but there is only one part of the ground where a football pitch and a cricket outfield do not overlap. Even here where there is space for one football pitch health and safety dictates that the 2 games could not be played at the same time. I am sure this is the case at many other sports grounds public and private up and down the country. I would suggest that another, far more achievable remedy to the wet weather problem could be for the Premier league, Football Foundation and the FA to make good their promises and really invest in grass roots football. Our ground is desperately in need of investment in new drainage and or an artificial pitch or pitches neither of which we have the funds to achieve. The grant processes are tortuous at best with no guarantee of success. It would be nice to think that the games governing bodies could find ways to help grass roots organisations such as mine and thousands of others without blindly opting for such a drastic re timetabling of football which if goes ahead would end up bulldozing cricket and other sports aside.

  5. Thomas Hall on January 28, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    What about all these tournaments that juniors
    have in the summer kids will play 52 weeks a year
    no wonder when they reach adults they have had enough

  6. Alun Auty on January 28, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    It is not only England that has been affected , the weather has decimated football here in Wales. Most Welsh League clubs have played only 5 games since the start of November, except those fortunate enough to have 3G facilities. The WL has been extended twice now until 28th May. One Div2 team has only played 8 league matches to date, just how they will fit in the remaining 22 is a problem as some clubs share facilities with cricket clubs and must be off middle of April.

  7. Martin Murray on January 28, 2016 at 5:33 pm

    The trouble with playing in the summer months is that squad members missing games through family holidays etc. Football has always been a winter sport and should stay that way. Our team’s in it to win it and every squad member is key in our aim.

  8. Mike Turner on January 28, 2016 at 6:58 pm

    Can I just say how much I agree with Gary Cornforth’s comment. The situation of his organisation mirrors that of my own almost exactly. Not only is there the question of health and safety/insurance, but also the question of changing facilities where two sports are being played simultaneously. The plain fact is that if football became a summer sport cricket would disappear, our income stream would be halved and the result of this would be that we would close. So football would disappear as well. A great result!
    All the surveys in the world won’t change these facts.

  9. msb03 on January 28, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    I agree with Gary, Football isn’t the only sport so why should it dictate when it wants to play. What about those shared grounds with cricket clubs etc. We need to invest money in facilities, in the current pitches we have, invest in drainage and proper ground maintenance. Everybody seems to want to go down the route of 3/4 g pitches but can the costs justify have so many of them. Approx £800,000 to build one from scratch, they have a shelf life of 8-10 years when they need to be relayed and a great cost, To maintain it properly it should be brushed once for every 4 hours of playing time, so you need to add in the cost the machine to do this and someone to do it. New generation 6g pitches are being tested/built in the states so in a few years time that will be the thing to have, your existing 3/4 g pitch will become obsolete like the old carpet astros but will still have the high expense of running the facility. its approx £25k to lay a proper fully drained grass pitch, so that’s approx 32 decent grass pitches for every 3/4g pitch which clubs are better suited to maintain. Yes you will probably lose some games due to weather but certainly not as many as you do now. Lets invest the FA’s money in existing pitches get the FA to work with local clubs and councils to take over the running of the facilities so they are there for everyone to use rather than the first thing councils cut when they need ti tighten their belts.

  10. Sam Taylor on January 28, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    Simple fact – Grass roots football does not work with current facilities in the North of England. The boys and girls lucky enough to be at an academy continue to play as they have great all weather facilities. This widens the gap between grass roots and academy.

    Our local council football pitches have been a no go area since Halloween and this was the case last year too.

    This will not destroy junior cricket. My son plays county, district and club cricket….all of which is played during the week. He also played in the BBDFL Summer football league without one clash.

    Yes of course investment into well drained pitches should be made but it’s so costly that it’s not profitable….hence the current state of affairs. Until that golden age of fantastic facilities for all arrives, and I won’t be holding my breath, it’s summer football here we come.

    Did someone mention injuries on hard surfaces….please!!

  11. Louise Masterson on January 29, 2016 at 11:53 am

    My youngest daughters u13 team haven’t played a match since 28th Nov 2015 and even that was called off during the second half due to the unplayable weather conditions! Moving the kids football season to the summer would be a great move and should allow the kids to play their games without all this interruption under much better conditions. I’m definitely all for it.

  12. Steve on January 29, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    All been well having summer football but what happens to those clubs who share pitches with cricket.One of our senior sides share with the cricket,so we have the pitch for 6 months of the year,cricket played in summer so where would we play at?.

    Football is a winter sport,yes teams want games on but let’s be honest here this winter as been the worst for rainfall for years pitches are bound to suffer that’s life.One local league as already extended the season due to cancellations of fixtures we haven’t played for 12 weeks.We don’t have a full size 3G pitch round us only 3/4 size can’t even book that for training or a game on a Saturday due to the fact local junior clubs are booking the pitches to play tournaments during the winter as they have a break.

    Time for the FA to really start investing serious money into grassroots as we are all suffering.

  13. Mike Turner on February 2, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    I’ve been groundsman at a grass roots club for seven years. Up to November 2015 we had only called off three games in total during that time. In the three months since then we have managed only three games. It’s one year, folks, let’s not get too wound up about it.

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