Adam Binnie is a journalism student at Strathclyde University and a recent graduate of the YFS Sports Journalism and Media programme. Below, he tells us why summer football is the way forward for youth age groups.
The Coronavirus pandemic has had a variety of implications on professional football in Scotland that have stirred up debates of league reconstruction, potential corruption and the distribution of league titles. Beyond the battle-lines of club statement warfare, grassroots football could be facing its own reformation for the 2020/21 season.
On the April 21, the Scottish Youth Football Association announced in an email sent to all member clubs that the 2019/20 season would be abandoned and that no further league fixtures should be played. However, their email addressed a specific issue that has lingered in the air of grassroots and professional Scottish football for many years: summer football.
The SYFA stated: “We also want to take this opportunity to raise the matter of summer football. Some of you will be aware of the petition regarding switching our 11-a-side age groups from a winter season to a summer season. In addition to this petition we have also received three emails from club officials supporting this change.”
It is evident that there is a healthy appetite for summer football in Scotland, both at grassroots and professional level. Craig Burness, a coach at Bervie Caley in the Aberdeen & District Juvenile FA, lodged a petition last month to convey grassroots football’s support for a summer season for juvenile age groups. His petition has received 769 signatures thus far and the SYFA have confirmed they are considering the proposals brought forward by Mr Burness.
On the back of Burness’s petition, Youth Football Scotland conducted polls on social media platforms to survey desire for a revamped grassroots football calendar. 81% of 3,600 participants were in favour of the switch to a summer season on Facebook and 76.5% of participants on Twitter also supported the change.
The introduction of a summer football season (March-November) offers a host of financial, logistical, and sporting advantages.
Firstly, this will simply increase the volume and frequency of football that is played. The current August-May season is a victim of Scotland’s harsh winters, subsequently severely limiting the amount of football played, particularly between the months of November and February.
I have been playing at grassroots level for over a decade now and every winter is the same. There is nothing worse than waking up to the dreaded text on a Saturday morning that notifies you the game is off. Unless, of course, the postponement is announced by the match referee during the warm-up!
In my league alone, 40 games were cancelled, postponed, or abandoned between the months of November and February. Of the ten sides in the league, six were unable to complete more than half of their scheduled fixtures between this period, with my side managing just nine league games in 31 weeks.
On February 15 of this year, Rangers had their Ladbrokes Premiership tie with Livingston postponed as a result of adverse weather conditions. Ibrox Stadium is a UEFA ‘5-star’ elite stadium, one of just 27 with such a prestigious accreditation in Europe. If weather is too large an obstacle for a UEFA ‘5-star’ elite stadium, then what chance do our dog-littered public parks stand?
The March-November season model is already being used in Scottish Women's Football, Club Academy Scotland and Scottish Youth FA age groups at under-12 level and below. Surely, if the SFA deem the summer season as the most viable option to develop our young players at academies, the SYFA should adopt the same approach for developing grassroots players.
The CAS games programme allows for a 33-week league calendar with each team playing 32 games. This is 10 more than the average number played at grassroots level in the Central Region, despite a longer matchday calendar of 44 weeks.
In addition, it is important to recognise that a summer football season would not only be more practical and allow for more football to be played, but it could also save grassroots sides money.
The winter season weather forces clubs to hire artificial pitches in order to keep games on, not to mention the costly hiring of indoor or floodlit training surfaces through the week. With the average rent of an 11-a-side artificial surface exceeding £100 per hour and indoor training venues such as games halls or five-a-side halls charging around £30 per hour, a severe winter can see grassroots sides fork out as much as £260 every week in pitch hires.
A summer season could limit weekly pitch hires to just £40 per week, or nothing at all for the many grassroots clubs who own their own pitch.
However, for a game built on volunteers, a nationwide rejig would require extensive consultation and planning to implement this new structure effectively. Nonetheless, the SYFA are still willing to bring this to fruition, should they agree it would be of betterment to the grassroots game:
“We have a duty to listen to our members and respond appropriately and responsibly to such suggestions and as such will be conducting an extensive consultation project, initially with our member leagues, in order to discuss the practicalities of this suggestion”
With this proposal now being investigated, players could return to the field with small but significant adjustments. By moving the goalposts just slightly, the SYFA can make grassroots football more affordable, enjoyable, and accessible for all.
The coronavirus outbreak, and subsequent national lockdown, has robbed us of thousands of hours of football across the country. We cannot allow another harsh Scottish winter to place a further burden on grassroots football, we must protect our clubs and officially adopt a summer football season.