Junior football set for summer switch

Mick Clark of the Russell Foster League at their new HQ at Newbottle
Mick Clark of the Russell Foster League at their new HQ at Newbottle
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JUNIOR FOOTBALL is poised for a major overhaul with a switch to summer football.

The Russell Foster Tyne and Wear Youth League has plans in place to create a new season for children aged ten and under, running from June to May, but with two major breaks – the summer school holidays and no football at all in December, January and February.

The new schedule will affect around 180 mini-soccer teams – who play seven-a-side games – and is intended to make recent winter woes a thing of the past.

This season, the league has had to cancel 12 weekends in a row, due to frozen or waterlogged pitches, going way back to November 20.

“It has become a bit of a farce,” said league secertary Mick Clark. “And this is not a one-off winter.

“For the last three years, we have not been able to provide football throughout December and January because of the weather.

“It has become a waste of time. Week after week the kids are looking forward to playing football only to have their games called off. Even if some games do go ahead, there is no pleasure in playing or watching football when it is freezing cold.

“We even tried to move games indoors but were hampered when facilities were closed due to poor road conditions.”

A meeting between clubs received unanimous backing for the changes after an experiment with summer football last season proved a resounding success.

“We had a trial run last year with younger age groups and it went very well,” added Mr Clark.

“Everyone seemed to like it – there was no disappointing people because of bad conditions. The worst weekend was just a bit of light drizzle!

“The kids loved playing in better conditions and families came out in their droves to watch – grandparents, aunts and uncles and so on. Everyone could plan for the games and know they were going to be on.

“At first there was some scepticism and doubts about how it might affect people’s lives, but the trial was such a success that everyone wants to go ahead with it as a permanent change.

“We know everyone works hard and long and deserve their holidays – so we will not play during the six weeks summer holidays, the Easter holidays, Whit holidays and so on.

“The summer break will also allow for any pitch renovations that are needed, but individual clubs will be free to organise any of their own tournaments if they wish.

“The main point, though, is that it can only be good for the kids to play games on a regular basis and in the best conditions possible.”

Eleven-a-side football at older age groups will continue with the traditional September-May season, but the change to the mini-soccer schedule could be a sign of things to come for football in general.

“My personal view is that I would like to see summer football extended up to U12 level, with games of nine-a-side,” added Mr Clark. “But that’s not on the agenda yet. We’ll take things one step at a time and see how things go.”

The next step for the league is to agree with the council for pitches to be available throughout the new schedule. Mini-soccer games are now played on council pitches at Ford Quarry, Fulwell Quarry, Downhill, and the Northern Area playing fields in Washington, as well as Soccarena in Durham and several private pitches.

But pressure on pitches will be eased this summer when the league’s new 32-acre site at Newbottle gets into full swing, with room for 20 pitches.

The development is now almost complete, with plans being set up for an official opening which will be carried out by Football Association chairman Sir Trevor Brooking in April.