PLANS to overhaul youth football in England have been met with strong resistance from the local junior league.
A meeting is due to take place later this month between the Cheshire County FA and Chester & District Junior Football League (CDJFL) to discuss a long list of concerns.
The proposed changes, ratified by shareholders at a meeting of the national FA in May, form part of a long-term plan to enhance the quality of England’s underachieving national team.
From 2014, junior teams across the country will focus more on smaller-sided games in an attempt to improve players’ technique – copying the approach used by countries like Spain and Holland.
The changes are mandatory but Chris Andrews, secretary of the CDJFL, claims they are unworkable and have been forced through without sufficient consultation. He says a lack of facilities in England – from suitable pitches to new equipment – would ultimately see clubs hit in the pocket if they tried to make the new approach work.
“We’ll fight this all the way down the line,” said Mr Andrews, who has written to the Cheshire FA to express his concerns.
Part of his letter reads: “The reaction from member clubs and our committee is of extreme dissatisfaction with the FA, and frustration with our own county FA, for not realising the implications of the proposals.
“We are unhappy with the FA statements, from county and at a national level, that the proposals are well documented, have been well researched and that consultation has taken place.
“Quite frankly, we do not believe them to be true.”
But the FA insist that sufficient consultation DID take place.
Their stance will be backed by the Cheshire FA at this month’s meeting with officials from the CDJFL, which provides organised football for about 3,000 youngsters.
Simon Gerrard, chief executive officer of the Cheshire County FA, said: “We are due to meet before the end of the month to discuss the issues raised. The Cheshire FA will make every effort to ensure there is smooth transition to the new set-up for youth football. The changes proposed are for the benefit of the children.”
The changes have been backed by high-profile FA figures such as Sir Trevor Brooking and Gareth Southgate.
But concerns remain for the CDJFL. The league has joined a national organisation which was set up in May to oppose the FA’s plans, called the National Conference of Youth Leagues (NCYL).
The NCYL, which claims to represent more than 6,700 teams, is expected to hold two regional meetings next month – one for its members in the north and another in the south – to draw up an agenda for fighting the FA’s changes.
Mr Andrews has calculated that clubs in the CDJFL will collectively have to find an extra £37,430 in the first two seasons from 2014, purely to maintain the same general numbers they had in 2011-2012.
He says new goals, footballs and pitch markings would have to be provided to cater for the smaller-sided games, causing problems at venues which are shared with adult football.
Ken Berry, Upton JFC secretary, shares Mr Andrews’ concerns.
He said: “On the face of it, it’s a great idea, but the FA have imposed these changes without any real consultation with grassroots junior football teams. They will say there has been consultation, but there have been no forums to ask questions about the major changes they are making.
“What is the logic for these changes and where is the support to implement them at grassroots level?”
The proposed changes, which received overwhelming backing from FA shareholders at a meeting at Wembley in May, are the result of a two-year Youth Development Review by the FA.
Nick Levett, the FA’s national development manager for youth and mini-soccer, said the review had been ‘an open and democratic process involving all stakeholders in the game’.
In a memo sent to local county FAs, he wrote: “The NCYL have made claims that youth leagues were not properly consulted in this process. The FA feels that listening to the views of over 350 youth leagues in every single County FA on several occasions is a fair process.
“The FA are comfortable with the extensive consultation process and recognise that whilst the proposals will not please every single person in the game, they represent the majority views of the shareholders.”