THE Wearside Combination League will fold at the end of the season – 70 years after its formation.
The closure of the league, whose roots go back to the Non-Conformist League which began in 1921, is another casualty of the crisis affecting senior Saturday football nationwide.
These days, lads don’t seem to want to play on a Saturday – they watch Sunderland at the Stadium or from a pub instead of playing, but it’s not just here, it’s nationwidePeter Maguire
The league held an emergency meeting this week, following Cheers’ decision to fold because of problems fielding teams.
Their resignation left the Combination with just nine teams to see the season out – and at the emergency meeting another three revealed their intention to leave at the end of the campaign.
That left the league’s future untenable.
The remaining clubs voted unanimously to seek a merger with the Wearside League, to go into their new development division.
The Combination’s demise is a sore blow to league manager Peter Maguire, who has been involved in the league for most of his life.
He told the Echo: “At this time, it is not clear how many of the six clubs will go over (to the Wearside League’s development division), but it was a very sad day for me.
“I’ve given 40 years to the Combination and it’s sad to see it go, but, on a brighter note, with the merger the Wearside gets its development division and the Combination history and trophies will lay a good foundation for the new set-up.”
On the troubles affecting Saturday football, Maguire commented: “I use dto say that when Sunderland we badly, we did better (with team numbers) and when Sunderland were in the Premier League we lost teams.
“These days, lads don’t seem to want to play on a Saturday – they watch Sunderland at the Stadium or from a pub instead of playing, but it’s not just here, it’s nationwide.
“We have spent a lot of our reserve and sponsorship giving new clubs free league fees and the others half-price fees, but, in the last three seasons, we have had five teams join the league and fold before a ball is kicked.
“This season alone, we had two.
“It’s been hard work but it’s a sign of the times.
“When I took over the Combination in 1976, we only had 12 teams. I was able to get one more team in that season – Shields Packaging from Washington.
“By the mid-80s, I got the league up to four divisions and a youth division. Only five years ago, we had 28 teams.
“The league had dominated the Durham Minor Cup in recent years, with Oddies, the holders, in the final again this year.
“I have been down to see our sponsor, Terry Richardson from TWR Trade Frames, to break the news. I am in talks with Terry to transfer the sponsorship next season to the Wearside League.”
Maguire is also the Wearside League’s chairman, and he is determined to make the new development division work.
He added: “We are looking for applications from new and established teams. The division would be an ideal mover for youth clubs moving up to senior football.
“The ground standard have been set to allow teams to develop at the own pace before entering the national league system in the future.”
Interested teams should contact Maguire on 07545 549830 or league secretary Kevin Harrison on 07402 766833.