With all the snow recently and the total wipeout of UCL fixtures on Saturday, I’m sure most people were glad of a Saturday off – particularly the volunteers that run our clubs.
It got me thinking about volunteers – are our clubs struggling to run due to lack of help? Are the numbers of people getting on board dwindling or expanding?
From speaking to people are various clubs locally, most clubs are run by a very small handful of people. They are not like pro clubs where people are full-time, or even paid part time - people do it for nothing out of their free time.
While some clubs have many volunteers such as Whitworth and Desborough, many do not.
Looking on the Desborough Town website, they have 12 people on the committee and 11 of those are ‘retirement age’.
Compare that to the likes of Irchester United, Rushden & Higham and Thrapston Town etc and you can probably count the volunteers on one hand.
I know from my experience at Irchester that Glynn Cotter is secretary, chairman, kit washer, tea maker, ball boy, and fundraiser, amongst other things.
The groundsman Melvyn is well into his 70s and spends countless hours on the pitch every week and the two Petes (Shipton and Bowden), both in their 70s, give up their time every home game to man the gate, do car parking duties, help with hospitality and are on hand to open and close the changing rooms any time someone needs to go in there during a game.
Mark Wheeler (in his 30s) helps out now and again but due to work commitments his time is limited.
I know that Scott and Jo Freeman put in a huge amount of hours to keep Rushden & Higham going, and are at games well before players arrive and long after.
As well as being secretary, Scott also manages the Under18s which takes up another two evenings of his week.
Most volunteers at most clubs are retirement age, or close to it, and are generally ex players of their clubs.
You do wonder who will replace them, as generally players aren’t committed enough to playing for their teams week in week out these days, let alone staying on after they retire and giving the commitment to running a football club at this level that it needs.
People just don’t want to give their time anymore, partly because of work and family commitments, but mainly because people just can’t be bothered anymore and won’t give their time to something if they aren’t getting much back, whether it be recognition or financial.
The running of clubs is getting harder and harder too these days, with more and more demands on clubs from the FA with their never ending ground grading rules and requests for extra stands, bigger changing facilities or added features such as pay boxes and fences.
All fine if you can get the funding but many clubs struggle to and even when they do, it is almost a full-time job getting new changing room blocks and clubhouse improvements built.
Again, from my time at Irchester United, I saw the facilities grow and grow, and the time and stress it cost the volunteers.
Player demands are also changing – it used to be mainly the top Premier clubs where players demanded a wage. But now very average and or over the hill players in Division One are picking up a fair wedge and some clubs that do not pay simply cannot compete.
The new restructuring of the UCL next season to accommodate new extra leagues at Step 4 and Step 6 may have an impact on our local clubs.
Some of them may find themselves relegated to Step 7, or moved across to another Step 5 or 6 league. New clubs from elsewhere will be added to the UCL to replace some of our more traditional clubs, and I fear this will lose some of the sparkle of the UCL, and some local derbies may be gone forever.
Players and managers may not want to leave the UCL and will look to move to UCL clubs that survive the changes, and while this may strengthen the remaining clubs, it may end up killing off the clubs leaving.
What do I predict for the future? I think a lot of clubs will go the same way as Northampton Spencer and fold due to a lack of people running these clubs rather than lack of players.
Unless retiring players offer to stay on and help their clubs run for future generations, or more locals come through the gates to support their club in various ways, I can see local football at this level going to the wall in the next few years.
Football is now all about money; not the community.
The rich get richer and the poor gradually get killed off one by one…
Thanks for reading, and I’d like to know your thoughts. Over the next few days on the unofficial UCL Facebook page, I will be posting articles from committee members at UCL clubs about how they run their clubs and the struggles they face.
Keep enjoying your football…
Dan Beaman is the administrator for the unofficial UCL Facebook page, which you can visit by clicking here