Special Report: Leagues rule out switch to summer

Jonny Grayson shoots for Hunslet Club (SR1002/784c) PIC: Steve Riding
Jonny Grayson shoots for Hunslet Club (SR1002/784c) PIC: Steve Riding
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WEST YOrKSHIRE’s football leagues are counting the cost of an unprecedented fifth consecutive weekend ruined by the weather, writes LEE SOBOT.

But Garforth Junior League supremo Craig Pearson insists summer football is not the answer. Instead, there are calls for clubs to make their own decisions on whether pitches are unplayable – rather than be restricted by complete council shut-downs.

The Garforth Junior League has been one of the worst affected by one of the wettest winters in memory with Chapeltown FYDC Under-14s having played just five Division One league games. The Leeds outfit must cram in a remaining 13 between now and the second week of May and the problems extend to open age football – especially on a Sunday front – with HT Sports and Thornhill Lees in particular also facing a jam-packed fixture schedule between now and the end of the campaign.

HT have played just five league games though boss Lee Connor is refusing to moan.

“It’s not good but we have to get on with it,” said Connor.

But HT and Thornhill will be facing a plethora of mid-week games which will also be required in the Garforth Junior League with chairman Pearson stating every effort will be made to avoid any over overflow into June. Summer football, he says, because of cricket and other sporting commitments – is not the answer.

Pearson admits that, frustrating as it may be, when faced with Mother Nature, hands are simply tied. Yet the chairman cannot help but feel that a proportion of postponed matches could have been saved with Pearson believing blanket bans laid down by Leeds City Council and Kirklees Council concerning their pitches need re-assessing.

Pearson said: “Five weeks running is probably the longest that I’ve ever known problems like this being consecutive. It’s been very troublesome and we are getting to the stage where we are getting a fixture backlog and we are definitely into mid-week games. Added to the problem for the older age groups is the County Cups because those games have still not been played and they roll over week on week.

“Garforth Rangers Under-14s are now onto their third week attempting to play a game and we can’t schedule their fixture until they have played the County Cup.

“We’ve got our own cups to run as well and we’ve got to get those finals played on certain dates that we have booked the venue for. But I don’t know if summer football is the answer because then you are going into cricket and treading on other sports that take up time as well.

“Probably longer seasons is the answer – and better weather! But better facilities and better drainage of the pitches would help and there was one frustrating weekend where Leeds City Council called off all games. I believe some games could have been played that week – had they left it up to the managers and the referees to decide if the pitches could be deemed playable. There’s been no scope for us to get games on and the only ones that have played are clubs that have private pitches.”

The irony of the problem is that back in the autumn – given consecutive months of calm weather – Pearson and company considered themselves too far ahead of schedule given a lack of postponements. There was even a suggestion of putting on extra cup competitions to prevent clubs from twiddling their thumbs in March and April. Not any more.

“We’ve gone from being ahead of schedule to well and truly behind,” admitted Pearson.

The Leeds Combination League are also experiencing problems though general secretary Mick Druce says his organisation were somewhat prepared for the situation and thus limited each division to 12 teams when there was easily scope for more. Druce said: “This season seems to be worse than the previous couple but a plan was put in place a couple of years ago. As more and more agencies said that we were going to have wetter winters the league made a conscious decision to keep the divisions at not more than 12 sides unless absolutely necessary. This has helped alleviate the problem. However, if we suffer a couple of more weeks like the last few then we may have to ask for an extension.

“More investment is needed in the maintenance of parks pitches but even with better drainage I don’t think that recent games could have been played.”

And the bad news is that Garforth Junior League chairman Pearson can already envisage a sixth successive weekend of disruption – though there is at least one positive from being based in West Yorkshire. Pearson warned: “I’ve heard the weather is going to be bad again this weekend. But at least we don’t live down south. We are not underwater anyway.”

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