Junior football: Trying to get the balance right for the game’s future

Snow covered football pitches in Leeds earlier this month.
Snow covered football pitches in Leeds earlier this month.
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Junior football in West Yorkshire could soon undergo a revolution as a handful of leagues consider a switch to the summer.

Several sources told the Yorkshire Evening Post that there are leagues across the county that are interested in piloting a scheme that would see junior football played in the summer months rather than the winter.

Daniel McGeachie.

Daniel McGeachie.

This follows the announcement of a similar pilot scheme in Bolton. The Bolton, Bury and District Football League is planning to make the change to solve the issue of matches being postponed due to bad weather and to provide a better development condition for young players.

The Bolton, Bury and District Football League represents 8,500 players, 620 teams and age groups from under-7s to under-21s. A vote over the issue seems likely to pass by the January 29 deadline, with 59 of the 60 clubs that have voted having said that they would like to play in the summer.

While people on the internet have begun petitions in response to Bolton’s plan, calling on the Football Association change the rules to allow summer football elsewhere, there is currently no rule stating that football has to be played in the winter.

In fact, all that is required for a switch is for clubs and league committees to agree to a move.

With interest brewing in Leeds and across the county, a switch could happen sooner rather than later for some leagues.

The Goals columnist and West Riding County Football Association spokesman Daniel McGeachie revealed a switch could receive backing.

He said: “I think it’s something that if a league wanted to do it for pilot purposes and wanted to be our pioneers, like the league in Bolton, it would be something that we could support.

“It’s not going to be an overnight decision, there are critics from other sports, issues with local authorities and parental pressure and other things like that.

“It’s not something we would prevent a league doing if their member clubs voted to do so.”

There are clear benefits in a move to the summer, not least in developmental terms as it would allow far more football to be played by juniors.

However, McGeachie also admitted there are some issues to be overcome too.

He continued: “The main focus and the reason that a league would take it on is the development of the kids and being able to get as many games on as possible over the period.

“The transition into adult football and would it be totally different – that’s one of those elements that critics of moving the season will draw upon. It would have to be managed.

“This is why it’s going to run and run, it’s not going to be an overnight debate. What age group would you stop it? Adult football is going to remain as winter football.”

McGeachie felt there would be issues, not least in terms of what football is traditionally: “From a personal point of view, there might be an argument saying that it’s part and parcel of what football is.

“Although it is not brilliant getting up and going to play on a muddy park pitch in the middle of winter, people are away in summer and there are other things to do in summer, like cricket.”