Summer loving in grass-roots game as football looks at seasonal switch

Fabio Capello might not have seen it as the blueprint for a revival in the English team’s fortunes but a switch to a summer football season may improve his successor’s chances of success.

The debate is on-going about whether or not junior players, tomorrow’s potential internationals, should ditch the dark winter mire, freezing conditions and unplayable pitches in favour of a move to the warmer part of the year.

The grass-roots game has long suffered at the hands of this country’s inclement weather and the growing number of matches being lost on the calendar is one reason why solutions are being sought.

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The Tyne and Wear Youth League, and its 150 clubs, has challenged the Football Association to allow it to start its season on June 1 this year.

It seems likely to fail in its immediate bid but it does not mean such a transition will not happen in the future.

The FA are conducting a review of the junior game to see if it is feasible and to gauge opinion, something many in the Yorkshire region are keen to embrace.

Such a drastic upheaval is bound to polarise opinion given the history and tradition underpinning the sport and plenty will oppose the idea which is being touted potentially for 2013-14.

But there are many who firmly believe it is the only way forward.

The Craven Aire & Wharfe League, which operates Under-11s to Under-18s, has had to cancel all bar one of its League Cup competitions this season due to a massive fixture backlog created by so many postponements.

It is the first time in its 30-year history such desperate measures have had to be taken.

Such has been the severity of their problems, they have booked all-weather pitches for two consecutive weeks in an attempt to ensure their league competition alone is completed.

It all adds up to a complicated mess; while the Premier League continue to avoid a winter break for players at the top end of the sport, its youngsters are effectively having an enforced one when they want to be honing their skills.

“We’ve had the longest lay-off I can remember,” said Craven Aire & Wharfe league secretary Mike Breeze.

“The difficulties we have with finishing the season raises the question about summer football.

“We have teams that still have 14 games to go – there’s just far more games left than Sundays in the season.

“We’ve also had three clubs withdraw, all of which could be related to the fact children just haven’t been playing for weeks.

“They lose interest, look at other things and you can understand why. It’s not a good thing for football.”

It is a salient point. With so many other activities on offer, the growing dominance of computer games and television before you even bring into account other sports and leisure, even football – the seemingly omnipresent global game – cannot afford to be presumptuous in maintaining its appeal.

Adam Lowthorpe, the chief executive of East Riding FA, concurs with the need to ensure it does not give people a reason to leave.

“We’ve started to discuss it now (summer football) with member clubs to see what their views are,” he said.

“Certainly, at a younger age, children would be playing in an environment which is conducive to coaching and developing the players without having to make sure they are kept warm for the duration.

“That would be a big benefit.”

By playing on firmer grounds and largely out of the snow, rain and sludge, the thinking would be that the nation’s youngsters would certainly improve their skill set and ability which could only be a good thing for those long-term chances.

“As a committee man, I’d love football in the summer and think it’s a great idea,” said Garforth Junior League chairman Michael Myers.

“We’d like to get a game every week.

“During the winter, I’ve known some teams in our league which haven’t played for six weeks because of the horrible weather.

“Some might argue they don’t want to play on hard pitches in the summer but would you prefer that or no game at all like we’re getting in the winter?

“Personally, I’d go for the summer but I know we will get opposition to it.”

One of the biggest factors in its way is cricket.

So many junior footballers, of all ages, don their whites during the summer months and football kit the rest of the year, often with an overlap.

“A lot of Garforth Junior League players do play cricket and that’s what we’re up against,” added Myers.

“But they only go up to Under-15s at the moment while we do go on to an older age.

“I’d like to know how many teams would prefer football in the summer and we’re keeping an eye on it.

“We had a meeting on Wednesday night and nothing was brought up but we know the FA and West Riding FA are thinking about it.

“We haven’t got a definite answer from them yet though – a yes or no.”

Another factor which may deter some clubs, rather than players, is that many of the larger outfits across the county host summer tournaments in a bid to keep revenue coming in.

That source of income would, of course, be redundant if clubs played throughout that same time period on a weekly basis.

The question needs to be asked, furthermore, will people be willing to give up their time during the summer with so many factoring in holidays?

Lowthorpe added: “The time is right for some sensible debate about how it would look.

“Also, would there be enough facilities given many would have to share with cricket clubs or play on local authority pitches where posts are taken down during the summer?

“The Tyne and Wear Youth League have made a move for a switch this summer and if that gets sanctioned, there will be a lot of interest in how that goes.”

Breeze added: “It is going to happen some time.

“There’s no doubt a lot of kids play cricket as well as football and they might have to choose.

“Some might opt for cricket but you could say we face the same problem in winter with rugby anyway.

“If another league got the go-ahead we’d have a case to point to. We’d be able to say ‘They’ve done it – now let us.”

As always, the FA will have the deciding vote. If they remain true to the belief that they need to vastly-improve the national team, maybe they will make the biggest jump of all.