Knowsley Council Leader, Cllr Graham Morgan, has written to the English Schools Football Association (FA) to ask them to reconsider a ruling which leaves young footballers in Knowsley without a viable team, mid-way through the season.
What has happened?
A merged Knowsley and St Helens team was created by the respective Knowsley and St Helens Schools FAs, after the Knowsley team began to struggle to recruit enough players to field a full team.
The merged team was put together in accordance with all relevant mechanisms, and there were understood to be no local objections to this.
The resulting team has done relatively well so far this football season and has so far proven an effective way to ensure that both young players from both boroughs have the opportunity to participate.
So what has changed?
However, the team were recently informed by the English Schools Football Association that they had overturned their decision to permit the merger, and that the teams must once again separate. This effectively leaves the Knowsley players unable to field a team, mid-way through the football season, and is a bitter blow to these young players, as well as the volunteer coaches and others who have been giving up their time to support the team.
Council leaders have now stepped in to ask the FA to reconsider their decision
Writing a joint letter to the English Schools FA, Cllr Morgan and his counterpart at St Helens, Leader of the Council Cllr Derek Long, urge them to reconsider their decision.
They write: “Over the years, the production of top quality footballers from this area of the country has been well publicised.
“So we hope that you will appreciate and value the efforts we make to promote participation in our area. Indeed, we would expect the English Schools Football Association to want to support our efforts – so, in that respect, part of your role must be to make participation worthwhile.
“However (…) the obviously outcome [of separating the team] is that these players will cease to participate and the good efforts of a number of volunteer coaches and supporters will have been wasted.”
The joint letter concludes by urging the English Schools FA: “We very much hope that you will step back from the position which has been taken and look at it from the perspective of those young people who have been affected so negatively.”
Read the letter in full:
Dear Ms Chilton, (Chief Executive, English Schools Football Association)
It has recently been brought to our attention that – mid-way through the football season – a decision has recently been taken by the English Schools Football Association to reverse a locally-led decision with the effect that Knowsley schools are effectively left without the ability to form a team.
We share a number of concerns with regard to this outcome, and the purpose of our letter is therefore to set out those concerns and invite your explanation, comments and – ideally – a change of heart.
Both Knowsley and St Helens Councils are very keen to support grass roots football and, despite substantial Government cuts to our funding in recent years, we continue to invest heavily each year in the provision of facilities and other support aimed at encouraging our young people to play football for all of the obvious health and wellbeing reasons. If you would like further details of that regular and ongoing investment, please let us know and we will be happy to provide evidence of our collective commitment.
Over the years, the production of top quality footballers from this area of the country has been well publicised. Knowsley alone has produced three European Cup-winning captains, most recently Steven Gerrard of Liverpool in 2005, but also Dennis Mortimer of Aston Villa and Phil Thompson of Liverpool. Peter Reid of Everton is yet a further example of an international footballer and subsequent manager raised through the Knowsley system.
So we hope that you will appreciate and value the efforts we make to promote participation in our area. Indeed, we would expect the English Schools Football Association to want to support our efforts – so, in that respect, part of your role must be to make participation worthwhile.
In recent years, the school age population in Knowsley (which is a relatively small metropolitan area) has reduced to the current position whereby it is not practically possible to generate a large enough pool of players to generate a competitive team.
Please note at this point that by “competitive” we do not necessarily mean “winning” – you will however appreciate the disincentive to being involved in regular practice and coaching when there is no prospect of forming a team which can actually play and compete at the end of that process.
As a result, we understand that the respective Knowsley and St Helens Schools Football Associations met and decided to pursue a process of merger. They duly followed that process and adhered to the relevant mechanisms, and we understand there to have been no local objections to the approach taken. At the end of that process, a merged “Knowsley and St Helens” team started to compete. The team has done relatively well in the current season, and the ability to form a team which is capable of playing matches at a competitive level has had the benefit of maintaining participation rates etc.
However, very recently – mid-way through the season – your organisation announced that this decision had been overturned and that the teams were required to separate. The effect in Knowsley was to leave the Borough with a team of only 9 players. The obvious outcome is that these players will cease to participate and the good efforts of a number of volunteer coaches and supporters will have been wasted.
In effect, there is a choice between a merger which encourages participation in schools football or an adherence to the current arrangements which does the exact opposite.
We do not believe that the aims of your organisation are to discourage participation. On the contrary, we would anticipate that your aim is to foster participation and also to ensure that competition is fair (as opposed to wanting to arrive at a situation where teams have no chance of competing).
With that in mind, we request that you explain the decision which has been made, and, in particular, its timing. It would appear that, in the absence of any local objections, somebody somewhere must have taken a contrary view – who took such a view, and why? We very much hope that you will step back from the position which has been taken and look at it from the perspective of those young people who have been affected so negatively.
Councillor Graham Morgan, Leader of Knowsley Council.
Councillor Derek Long, Leader of St Helens Council.