THE chairman of the Chester & District Sunday League is worried for its future.
Graham Johnson believes that the league is struggling to survive in its current guise, with three teams having folded this season.
The league, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, now has just 18 teams in two divisions and, according to Johnson, is facing the most challenging period of its history.
“It is getting really serious now and we don’t know how we can address the situation,” said Johnson.
“When I first became involved in the league there were 48 teams and we had players come from all across the region and up the Welsh coast to come and play on a Sunday. It was thriving.
“Now, we have 18 teams and have lost three teams in our two divisions this season and it is getting very, very hard.”
Long-standing league members Tattenhall were forced to fold this season and were joined by newcomers No Man’s Heath and Ferry Athletic, who amalgamated with Saltney Ferry.
Johnson believes the rules forbidding players who play in the Welsh leagues on a Saturday from playing in England on Sunday are contributing to the decline of the league.
“We used to have loads of players who played Saturday football in Wales come across and play Sunday league in Chester the following day,” said Johnson.
“That has all changed and it is one of the reasons why we’re struggling. Some teams simply can’t get a squad of players together.
“Another reason is that some teams are one-man-band operations and they just have one person doing all the work behind the scenes.
“I have done it in the past. It is a lot of hard work for very little thanks and some people have had enough of it. Most players just want to turn up, play and go home. They don’t want to know about anything else.
“There are matches on TV now on Sunday lunchtimes and lads would rather watch that than play. We have discussed moving times but we are bound by rules and regulations and start as early as we can.”
Johnson revealed that the league were being assisted by the Cheshire FA in a bid to reverse the decline but believed it was a tall order.
“We welcome the help of the Cheshire FA but I don’t know how they will be able to do anything different than we have already tried,” he said.
“They are based in Northwich and will know their own patch but we know this area like the back of our hands and haven’t been able to find a solution.
“I’m fearful for the future and just hope that we can find some way to get people engaged again and get the numbers back up. It’s very worrying.”
The league is actively looking for new teams for next season and anyone interested is urged to contact league secretary Trevor Jones as soon as possible on 01244 375404.
Chester & District Sunday League sides were in action in the Bill Gresty Memorial Trophy at the weekend, where AFC Lock Vaults progressed with a 5-0 win at home to AFC Hilton thanks to four goals from Aaron Hinchcliffe and one from James Simpson.
Elswhere St Theresa’s beat FC Bull & Stirrup in a thrilling 5-3 encounter. Chris Larson was the star of the show with a stunning hat-trick.
FC Hickory’s progressed to the next round with a 2-1 home triumph over Custom House while Spital Vaults beat Waverton on penalties after the two sides battled out a 2-2 draw.