NCFA’s Paul Cooper (PC) chats to Eric Kershaw (EK) (pictured above) of the NCYL
FA snub for Volunteers claims the NCYL website. At the NCFA we believe that all voices in the children’s game deserve to be heard whether we agree with it or not. I was interested to read about why the NCYL formed and felt the need to lobby the custodians of the game about their concerns for the now mandatory changes in grass roots. I spoke with Eric Kershaw one of the founder members of the NCYL and felt that his financial/volunteer views are representational of a sector of grass roots football that I still recognise – also his thoughts about the kids chime with many families and volunteers on the front line.
NCYL state on their website; Our caring, sharing F.A appear to have snubbed the NCYL’s invitation to talk. The NCYL has now written 3 (Three) times to the F.A inviting them to meet and discuss the disharmony that now exists in the Youth/Junior game. The first letter was sent to the General Secretary dated 1st December. His response was to ask 2 members of staff to contact the NCYL – No further contact was made. A second letter was sent on 30th January asking when contact would be made – The response said nothing about a meeting but simply described a possible future conference. (Yes another !) A third letter was sent on 2nd March clearly stating that unless the FA were prepared to talk then the NCYL will take the necessary action to protect its members interests. From the lack on any proper response it would now seem that the FA don’t care that 50 leagues are on the verge of leaving the Football Association. Are these the actions of an organisation that professes to listen to its members ?
PC. Can you tell us when the National Conference of Youth Leagues was established and why?
EK. The NCYL was established in May 2012. Initially I was contacted by several Youth Leagues and individuals who expressed varying levels of dissatisfaction with both their relevant County FA’s and the FA itself. After making a few enquiries, 10 League Secretaries agreed to meet with a view to establishing a forum where they could swap ideas and utilise the experience of their peers – With the intention of finding ways to improve the game for everyone involved.
PC. What are your organisation’s aims and objectives?
EK The initial aim of the NCYL is to meet with other leagues, swap ideas and look for ways to improve the game. Sadly, at the first meeting, it became apparent that many leagues are extremely unhappy with the FA’s ‘interference’ in the actual running of the game. When the FA first became interested in junior football around 10/15 years ago, most of their changes were simply tidying up and standardising rules but now they are introducing mandatory changes that involve massive expense and extra work for an already struggling volunteer workforce. In many instances the changes will lead to clubs deciding not to run teams at certain age groups because they cannot fulfil the criteria set down by the FA.
Subsequent investigations into some recent FA changes revealed a startling flaw in the way in which new rules are imposed upon leagues and clubs. In short, the very volunteers charged with carrying out the changes do NOT have a say in how the rules are decided. We believe that the decision making process currently employed by the Football Association does not adequately represent the views and opinions of the volunteers that run the game, nor does it recognise the problems encountered by Administrators at local level and we intend to pursue a course of action that will give Youth Leagues a clear voice both at County and National level. We believe that the FA’s current ‘One Size Fits All’ policy is damaging to Youth Leagues and, more importantly, to Clubs and their Players. We intend to pursue a course of action that will restore decision making to the clubs and not by an autonomous authority that does not fully understand the local problems at grassroots level.
NCYL fracture with the FA
PC. Who can join your organisation and how many members do you have so far?
EK. Any League or organisation that operates for the purpose of providing football for youngsters is welcome to join. The NCYL currently has over 50 member leagues representing over 15,000 teams.
PC. Are there any high profile supporters, league, and organisations supporting NCYL?
EK. We have not made any attempts to recruit high profile supporters as we hoped that the FA would agree that their voting process is undemocratic and fix it. Unfortunately, despite 3 written requests to meet, it would appear the FA has chosen not to listen to the grievances of their members. Therefore, the situation now takes on a different outlook and we will make a decision on the future at the next meeting.
PC. Did you attend the FA’s ‘Your Kids Your Say’ travelling road show and if so how what did you think of Nick Levett’s presentation of the ‘Future Game’.
EK. Mr. Levett has clearly put a lot of time and effort into his studies – Many of which are extremely good – Unfortunately, he appears to have overlooked the impractical nature of trying to implement the changes. Yes, I attended the Roadshow and most of the people I’ve spoken to agree that it was simply a series of lectures on how the clubs and leagues have got it all wrong, parents are out of control and players are leaving the game. Any questions were simply deflected as being irrelevant. My own experience as Secretary of the Huddersfield Junior League is quite the opposite. The League has grown every year since its inception in 1973.
We now have over 10,000 youngsters playing every week from September to April. The problem of parents is minimal – The League currently plays over 9,000 fixtures a year and trouble due to parents constitutes less than one half of one per cent of all games played – In other words, less than a handful. If players are leaving junior football then why are leagues across the country reporting record entries and why do the FA trumpet the massive numbers playing the game ?
The Future Game or No Future?
PC. There has been a lot of publicity in the media over the last few years about problems with touchline behaviour. Do you think this is warranted?
EK. No. The media and the FA concentrate on the problem games because such poor behaviour sells papers and helps to prove that Leagues are out of control but, the reality is quite different and for the FA to paint such a shocking picture of parents ‘living their own dreams through their children’ is an insult to all caring parents. The vast majority of parents are sensible people who simply go along to junior games to cheer along their offspring when they win and offer some comfort when they lose. The idea that they are arguing and fighting all over the place is ridiculous.
PC. I understand you would like youth leagues to have more say into the running of youth football – does this include a voice for the players themselves – the children?
EK. Yes, of course the children should be involved – Anyone, including the payers – MUST have a say when it comes to deciding their own leisure time. Parents go to work all week and children go to school – They need to have the opportunity to do what they want at the week-end – Not what an autonomous authority with its head buried in television rights wants.
PC. On behalf of the NCFA I would like to say thank you Eric for your time and informing us about your work.
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