Players finding alternatives to keep busy
11 February ~ It's 10.30am on a Sunday. Just three miles away from St Mary's Stadium where Southampton hosted Stoke City in the Premier League the previous afternoon, the heavily pockmarked pitches at the Veracity Recreation Ground are deserted, save for the odd dog walker skirting round the edges in an attempt to avoid the shoe-sucking mud. The two City of Southampton Sunday Football League games which had been due to kick off – Athletico Tin Hut v Fleming Sports and Itchen Saints v Shelfside – have been added to the mounting list of fixtures to fall victim to waterlogged pitches.
The news that the games were off would, no doubt, have been achingly familiar for everyone involved. Two months of record breaking rainfall has caused cash-flow issues for teams and fixture congestion of the kind which saw Guernsey FC play a staggering 17 games over the space of one month last April on their way to promotion into the Isthmian League.
At grassroots level the inclement weather threatens to exasperate an existing crisis. Recent figures from Sports England revealed that the number of adults aged 16-plus taking part in football at least once a week fell by 183,100 between October 2005-06 and October 2012-13. The poor conditions are presenting an additional, and unwelcome, challenge for those struggling to keep teams together.
Another local competition, the Southampton and District Sunday Football League has in the past few years withered from four divisions to just two and has recently seen the withdrawal of two further sides, C&G FC and Hamble Club FC. With a third side, Foresters AFC, seemingly on the brink League official Greg Dickson told the Southern Daily Echo at the beginning of January that "When a bit of bad weather comes along and postponements happen, players go off and do other things. So, when fixtures kick off again, they are used to not playing and don't come back".
If such observations only add weight to existing calls for more investment in facilities at grassroots level, there is an irony that the Veracity ground was – as several signs proudly proclaim – itself in receipt of £600,000 in funds via Barclays Spaces for Sport initiative and the Football Foundation in 2006. The new facilities included a skate park and four hard-court mini-pitches, along with the refurbishment of the two existing grass pitches. Sadly, however, there were no full-size all-weather pitches, meaning that for another week the only football any of the 44 players that had been due to compete at the Veracity Ground on Sunday might be playing is on a Playstation or Xbox. Neil Cotton