Melton Times Sports Editor’s blog: Have working hours led to borough’s football crisis?

Welby Lane United club secretary Darren Sisson and manager Richard Tait (right) had to admit defeat in 2012 due to player shortages EMN-150708-104837002
Welby Lane United club secretary Darren Sisson and manager Richard Tait (right) had to admit defeat in 2012 due to player shortages EMN-150708-104837002

When the phone call came through breaking the news of Asfordby Amateurs’ demise, it was a bolt from the blue.

But as sad and unexpected as the message was, the passing of a senior football club is no longer that much of shock. The story has become easier to write as the scenario has grown more familiar.

I’ve had to scribe the obituaries of several clubs during my time in Melton which next month reaches a round decade.

And since 2005, the situation of local men’s football has worsened, from worrying to full-blown crisis.

With Asfordby’s fall there are now just two clubs in the borough offering men’s football on Saturday afternoons.

Of these, Melton Mowbray were in danger of going under last season over ground issues, while Holwell Sports, despite playing at the highest level of league football, continue to struggle financially.

Melton Building Society, Welby Lane United, Long Clawson and Asfordby Village have fallen by the wayside, to name but a few, although there remain honourable exceptions at Bottesford and Croxton Kerrial.

Men’s Sunday football was almost lost entirely a handful of years ago when the Melton and District League shrank to just five teams.

So are we, as often told, just getting lazy?

Cutbacks to council budgets across the country, leading to facilities closing, hardly helps set the nation abuzz with activity.

Blaming Joe Public for not taking up sport while swimming pools and leisure centres are shutting their doors, is like scolding a man dying of thirst in the desert for not drinking more.

But perhaps a major underlying reason for the fall in numbers in senior team sport is shrinking leisure time.

Maybe it’s not the case, as is lazily assumed, that people don’t want to get involved, rather the opportunities are not there to do so.

Job cuts can lead to longer hours to cover the workload of redundant former colleagues, while financial insecurity can even force some into second jobs.

Longer working hours during the week, if not spreading directly into the weekend, impacts on Saturdays and Sundays, particularly for those with family commitments.

Sport England recently reported the percentage of those on the lowest incomes participating in sport has hit the lowest level since records began in 2005/06.

A major shake-up of sports funding is now being considered across the UK with money potentially to be diverted away from national governing bodies.

And sports charities such as Parkrun could receive more of the £1bn Sport England spends every five years to fund community sport and encourage participation.

This leads to a difficult dilemma of exactly what kind of legacy we are looking for post-2012 - elitist or mass appeal?

Do we want record medal hauls at Olympic and Paralympic games, or greater numbers of people taking part in grassroots sport?

In an ideal world we would covet both and the latter would lead to the former.

We are lucky that here in Melton, we have an exciting opportunity to launch a new sporting legacy with the proposed Sports Village.

But for it to fully pay off, it must be affordable and available to all.

And most importantly of all, our employment culture has to change, otherwise there maybe even more tributes left to write.