This topic has been a popular point of discussion for as long as I can remember but I feel it would be remiss of me to do a blog on Scottish amateur football and not cover the issue of playing football through the winter time.
From the month of October, any amateur team Manager who plays on a grass park starts to panic about the weather conditions in the days leading up to his match. Weather apps are checked regularly and a visit to the park to give it a look are usual pre match routines. The weather creates a lot of uncertainty, with players worrying if the park will be playable and on occasion making plans on the assumption that it will be called off.
Rainfall or snow in Scotland is not new of course and we are all used to it here but the problem now is the ferocity of the weather. According to some research I have done we are receiving no more rainfall now than we have since 1965 but when it does rain it is coming down harder than it ever has. So that short spell of rain on a Friday morning can be a disaster for your team. This, coupled with the recent relentless storms that came from the States this year means there are a lot of teams who currently have a major back log of games to get through before the end of May which is only 8 weeks away.
Obviously the weather is the main problem. If we played in sunnier climates then this discussion wouldn’t happen but in my opinion we have other issues. The quality of the grass parks which are supplied and maintained by the local councils falls way below the level they should be at for the price we are paying for them. The location that some parks are built on make it impossible for them to adequately drain water during periods of rain and most have very poor drainage systems built into them anyway. If these parks had been built with some good foresight to be able hold the rain, then in the long term the cost would be reduced of having to repair or replace poor workmanship. Taking £60 for a game for one of these parks is atrocious when you consider the condition of some of them that we are expected to play on. If you buy cheap you buy twice.
The saviour of grassroots football saw the introduction of artificial surfaces all over Scotland with Toryglen being the flagship facility in the west of the country. These parks could be a whole other topic but they are important for this blog so where do I start? Firstly, trying to book one of these pitches without a let is near on impossible in the event that your game on the grass is in danger. There are simply not enough of them for everyone who needs them. My local council will only allow a booking one week in advance plus you have to set your alarm for them opening to be able to try and book it. Generally the phone is engaged with several other Managers having the same idea as me. Rather than one centralised booking number you also have to phone every pitch individually to check availability, it’s crazy. This system is totally flawed and no doubt played a part in the photo on Twitter a while back that was retweeted hundreds of times showing an empty indoor Toryglen during peak football hours on a weekend. A total scandal, as is the price to play on that park.
So artificial surfaces, if you can get one then great your game will be 100% on and you tell the boys and start to prepare. It rains all week and you don’t care because your on 4G and there is no way it will be off. Saturday morning comes and your up, fed and ready and making your plans. Then the phone call you weren’t expecting comes. The game is off. The park is waterlogged. Seriously! We build ALL WEATHER parks at a cost of nearly £100,000 a time to withstand the Scottish weather and we still can’t get that right. Who are these cowboys. I’ve heard a load of times this season from various teams saying their 3G or 4G game is off. That shouldn’t be happening. If you are going to charge a team over £100 for a park then you better make sure it is of the very best standard because you are killing us with these prices. You have us over a barrel and you know it. We can’t blame the weather on the councils but we can blame their shoddy planning and facilities for not being what they should be.
I read from a few teams on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that they hadn’t played a game since early November and tonight I had a quick browse through the leagues to see that these backlogs I mentioned earlier are prevalent in every amateur league. I’ve always thought a change in the playing season would help with a winter break being the equivalent of the summer close season. The issue here would be the major finals being played around November time which doesn’t sit right with a lot of people. Having a pre season in January or February would also be strange and throws up all sorts of questions like where would you even be able to train.
The other problem that has been spoken about at length is that the councils would not allow teams to play on grass parks during the time we currently have a summer break so that essential maintenance and regrowth of the grass can be carried out. Apparently this work cannot happen in January/February time as the parks wouldn’t be able to knit. My argument would be that if the parks are only played on in the good (by our standards) weather then surely their wouldn’t be as much treatment required on them anyway. I don’t know if the SAFA have taken this up with local councils in the past and if they have then I think this needs revisited. Any avenue that can be pursued on this should be. Teams are in danger of losing disinterested players, associations are in danger of losing teams who lack players and the SAFA are in danger of those teams never being replaced. We need our game to thrive and we need everyone on the same page on this. We have a big problem that is only going to get worse. Every season is another that goes by where our parks age and detiorate and the rainfall gets worse. Something needs to be done and soon.
Get the games played.