Lancashire and Cheshire AFL Statement end of July 2020

The key question everyone is asking is when will the league start – not before the 5th September, but that may not be possible. This statement was prepared before the government announcement of 9:30PM on 30/7/20 of Greater Manchester restrictions for which we will issue further instruction when we can.

Following the FA announcement of 18th July, and the L & C notes on distribution of that FA and Government material on the 20th July, there are now more detailed instructions from the league following the special committee meeting of the 23rd July. The league broke the information down into different topics.

  1. Grounds

Currently, grounds may only open their pitches, dressing rooms remain closed, and the advice is to arrive changed. There is no information as to when council pitches will be open. It was agreed that the league fixtures would not start without dressing rooms, toilets and showers being open. When they are open, they may have a social distancing regime, restricting numbers at any one time. Please see the Return to Football – Grounds 30-7-20 from Graham Ellis which gives more detail, and links to FA and Government documents.

  1. Friendlies

Allowed from the beginning of August, the league strongly advises clubs not to proceed with friendlies unless full precautions, Covid-19 officer and risk assessments are in place, as friendlies have all the dangers of a full competitive match. We also strongly advise ensuring a referee is appointed and is made aware of the full safety arrangements.

  1. Club Covid19 officer

This is the key role which every club must appoint and name to the league. Keith Marsden has compiled the communication COVID-19 Officer statement 270720. It must be a responsibility of this officer to put a risk assessment process in place, and record a full contact list of all those who are present at training or matches, and to provide this to the relevant authorities.

  1. Risk assessment

Risk assessment is to be carried out before each training activity or match. The FA template is 22 pages long and was not focussed specifically on Covid-19. The league saw this as a problem, that clubs would feel they had to write their own, and there have been some excellent plans sent to us, for which we are grateful and thank the clubs who have helped us shape and populate the spreadsheet. We have developed a risk assessment League Risk Assessment – 30-07-20 which will provide a standard approach. Tim Roebuck and Brian Davies have worked on this. 

  1. Equipment There are many constraints around handling of equipment, and the FA guidance issued relies upon individual players keeping their own kit. This does/can not happen in open-age football in the case of kit, as kit would be lost. The team is not the same week to week. There must be cleaning materials provided, a cleaning regime and team assigned to do it under the control of the Covid-19 officer. Handling of match sheets has been raised by club as a source of contamination, and further details will be issued before match sheets come into use.
  2. Referees Stephen Howard has received communication yesterday from the FA to referees with guidance and instructions, which are being reviewed. Many referees are asking for games, and Steve is being asked for referees for friendlies. We feel that Steve should only help with appointments if it is clear that adequate precautions are in place so that it is safe to play before a match starts.  Payment by cash has been raised as an issue, Stephen Howard has a solution to this, on the Wednesday confirmation call, the ref gives their bank details and how much the fee is, the club then pay direct into the bank.
  3. Insurance Reckless acts are  an exclusion, so going into a match unprepared could be deemed reckless, and public liability insurance would be invalid.
  1. First Aid

First aiders and other officials on the touchline will need adequate protection equipment eg face masks, and this and first aid kits will need to be checked before a match goes ahead. Mouth to mouth resuscitation is now not recommended. We have had serious health issues in this league so this must be resolved.

  1. Further notes
    1. Travelling to matches will have to be within government guidelines.
    2. The implications of a player/referee receiving a positive test for Covid 19 following a game, could see both teams being required to isolate for 14 days.
    3. In an excellent initiative, Gill Bowden has purchased a temperature scanner (approx. £40) with which she will check all participants. We recommend every club Covid-19 officer has one. We will issue further information soon on this, and are looking into whether any funding is available.
    4. We are mindful that there will be a risk to clubs of loss of players if we start later than other leagues, and similarly we will lose referees.
    5. There is a limit of 30 people allowed to be present, this will be exceeded, what is the FA position?
    6. For further guidance and support visit MFA Covid-19 page ​

      http://www.manchesterfa.com/news/2020/jul/18/return-to-football

We would like to thank all clubs for their co-operation and assistance over this difficult period for amateur football, and are also mindful of the tragic consequences this pandemic has had on society.

Kind Regards

Brian Davies

League Secretary

Lancashire and Cheshire AFL

L&C response to FA’s ‘Return to Football’ Action Plan

We have reviewed the information sent by Manchester FA regarding new guidelines for the return to competitive football, and feel it is of vital importance to be even more decisive than the guidelines outline.

All club secretaries have been advised by our own secretary, Brian Davies, to replace the word ‘should’ with ‘must’ when following new guidance. This will ensure the highest chance of safety.

For example, where the guidance says ‘everyone should self-assess for Covid-19 symptoms before every training session or match’, all of our members are advised that it is COMPULSORY to do so.

Brian said: “The approval of the FA’s plan brings the point at which there are real risks of contamination to only two weeks from now.

“Clubs and facility providers have a great deal to do to ensure these risks are minimised.

“The Manchester FA summary is a good starting point to what can become a huge amount of information to digest.

“In my opinion substitute the word MUST instead of SHOULD in almost every instance, and delete the ‘if you can’ references. If you can’t, DON’T.

“Be in no doubt, if anyone thinks this is the signal to ‘get back to normal’, it is not. It is still a life-threatening situation, if not for those directly involved, but for other members of their households and communities.”

The L&C committee will be meeting this week to discuss, and all input from clubs is welcome.

Clubs reminded not to arrange any friendly matches at this time

Manchester FA has warned that there have been reports of “referees being requested to officiate friendly matches.”

As part of the organisation’s most recent update, its communications department has reminded clubs in the region, including those in the L&C that football games of any nature at grassroots level must not go ahead under any circumstances.

In response to easing of lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government issued guidance at the start of June regarding grassroots football and informal football activity outside of the professional game.

It states that football training is permitted in groups of no more than six, who must keep two metres apart at all time.

Crucially, it states that “physical contact with anyone outside of your household is not permitted, therefore playing of any games is also not permitted at this time.”

This means that any clubs trying to arrange a friendly match would be contravening these rules and all teams in our leagues are reminded of this guidance.

Outcomes from L&C 111th AGM outlined

The Lancashire & Cheshire Amateur Football League has reviewed the 2019/20 season and outlined plans for the coming campaign in its Annual General Meeting.

Held on 4th June 2020, the 111th AGM was unlike any other in the league’s long and distinguished history.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, the meeting was held via video conference and was attended by more than 60 league and team representatives.

Mike Yates, L&C Chairman, opened the meeting by highlighting the very real loss suffered by many during the Covid-19 pandemic; the famous Bill Shankly quote about football being more important than life and death was evoked by our chairman, who rightly said this isn’t the case and offered all our condolences to those who have lost love ones to the dreadful virus.

A minute’s silence was held as a mark of respect.

The meeting discussed the way in which the league season was ended; the FA’s options were to null and void the season, or decide standings on a points per game basis. The league, as we know, voted unanimously to void the 2019/2020 season completely – a decision that has received widespread support from the clubs involved in the L&C.

As discussed in the AGM, the L&C left some wiggle room so that cup competitions could be completed if it was safe to do so; initially, a deadline to salvage cup competitions was set for the end of May but given that current FA guidelines state that non-contact training is the only option at the moment, the league reluctantly agreed the cup competitions should go the same way as the league.

It is, as Mr Yates said, “a huge disappointment for everyone, particularly those clubs who put themselves into a position to win cups and medals.”

The unprecedented conclusion to the season actually clouds what was proving to be a “very difficult season” before anybody had heard of Covid-19.

We endured the wettest February in the country on record, with two major storms wreaking havoc. The onset of coronavirus exacerbated this and the cost to the league as a result has been hefty.

Those at the meeting thanked the teams for their understanding, without which “the cost would have been considerably more if the season had come to a natural conclusion.”

Plans for next season were spoke about at length during the AGM. As things stand, the L&C expect to have a net gain of teams, though a decision is yet to be made regarding the number of divisions. It is expected this will remain at seven or we will add one to make eight.

In terms of teams, definite changes include Chorltonians reducing to two teams, while Radclyffe and Village Manchester will run two teams each. Unfortunately, Denton Town have resigned from the league, but in more positive news, Salford Victoria will certainly be adding a third team, and there is scope for a fourth too.

The L&C is delighted to welcome new clubs, all of whom have received committee and member approval.

Woodhouses FC will be based at Hollinwood Sports club and should have access to two football pitches; the L&C has confirmed a ground inspection will take place in due course.

Elsewhere, Shaw Athletic will bring one open age team to the league and are hoping to develop junior teams in the future. Similar to Woodhouses, a ground inspection will be required for Shaw, who have a prospective pitch that Oldham Council has ratified. Training will take place at Royton and Crompton Schools.

We welcome Hattersley into the L&C; the club already have two Sunday league teams but want to start one for Saturday. The team will be coached by Gareth Howell, who is applying for a UEFA B coaching place and has been managing teams for more than a decade.

Stretford Paddock have committed to bringing one team into the league. Chairman and manager Stephen Howson is a well-known personality, with a podcast that has seen many Manchester United legends interviewed. They have a squad of 40-50 players to choose from and have a verbal agreement with Dean Trust, Ardwick, to play their games there.

It was a straightforward choice for the panel to approve the membership of Salford Albion, whose committee have had dealings with the league previously.

Kartel Sports will join the league next season, having competed in the Altrincham & District League since being established in 1991, and are in negotiations with Timperley’s Manor Farm to base their competitive games on those excellent pitches. Training during the winter months will take place at Soccerdome.

Finally, Sale Amateurs will take part in the L&C. The team have already started training in accordance with FA guidelines and have a strong bond, having played together for three years. The players have committed to continuing their journey in the L&C and will play home games at Mersey Valley FC in Sale.

Before the meeting ended, plans for the forthcoming season were outlined. The earliest that the campaign can get underway is Saturday 22 August. However, it has been stressed that the structure of the season or possible start date is not yet known and is subject to change.

Registrations are now open, but we have recommended not sending these to the league for approval until after the first week of July as a precaution, in the event of any problems arising with the switch to the new season.

Spurley Hey return to training marred by fly tipping

SPURLEY Hey FC’s celebrations after being given permission to return to training have been marred somewhat by the actions of ‘mindless offenders’ who have dumped rubbish at the training ground.

Sadly, this type of behaviour has been a common occurrence during Covid-19 lockdown, especially in the early days when waste recycling tips were closed. And on their return to training, it is apparent that Spurley Hey have fallen victim to the same thoughtlessness.

The club’s long-serving secretary, Dave Jameson, said: “Today brings to Spurley Hey some good news with the approval from the FA and Stockport Council to resume football training.

“However, it seems good news is followed by some bad.

“Some mindless offenders have decided to save a few pounds and stop a couple of hundred children and adults start some well needed football coaching by dumping a couple of massive load of rubbish at our facility

“The words ‘vile’ and ‘despicable’ come to mind after seeing what’s been dropped from plumbing, building waste and general waste.

“We are now forced to fork out money which we don’t have or hope the council can help and take this pile of rubbish away.”

The club have put out a call for any volunteers who may be able to help with the clear-up operation.

Mr Jameson added: “If any volunteers are willing to help us remove this rubbish to the local trip then please get in contact at rickb@spurleyhey.com.”

New members of L&C AFL announced

It has been confirmed that new football clubs will join the league next season; in the latest update, the identity of these clubs have been confirmed. Elsewhere, more guidance is available about the resumption of football activity and when it is safe to do so.

  1. The results of the AGM ballots were verified and completed and Hattersley, Shaw Athletic, Stretford Paddock and Woodhouses Football Clubs were successful in their applications, and are now members of the Lancashire and Cheshire AFL. All rule changes were accepted, and a majority were in favour of all items voted upon. AGM minutes will follow.
  1. If any clubs want to pay for their registrations now, please request the invoice from Philip Faulkner, treasurer@landc.org.uk.
  1. On Whole Game system player registrations, please detach players who have left your club, unless they have done so owing money. If they have, please ask us for guidance (registrations@landc.org.uk ). Keith also requested at the AGM for clubs not to submit any registrations to league for approval until we give the signal that they can start.  You can still prepare player info, eg starting with online consent, into Whole Game System but just stop short of sending them in.
  1. A reminder that L&C clubs have had some excellent coverage in local papers and on their websites. If club secretaries want to highlight any initiatives, members doing any charity enterprise, talk about lockdown experiences, club plans or history, for them to be featured, get in touch. Geoff Garnett is available for them to be sent to him email ggggarnett@aol.com and John Train is able to take calls on 07845655156 and will record and write up the articles, or email on john.william.train@gmail.com.
  1. For the latest guidance on resuming football activity, see here http://www.manchesterfa.com/news/2020/jun/12/updated-football-restart-guidance. If you do start training, please stay off pitch areas to allow the maximum grass growth and recovery time.

L&C AGM to go ahead via video conference

The L&C has confirmed that the pre-planned AGM will still go ahead, but via video link. This latest update also contains important information about the future of cup competitions for 2019/20, as well as important information when planning training or friendlies.

  1. The 2020 AGM was already planned for 4th June, and with uncertainty as to when we will be able to hold any conventional meetings, we will hold the event over video conference.
  2. From a list of potential software to deliver this we have two new shortlisted possibilities : Zoom and Microsoft Teams. It would obviously make sense to use the one which more clubs are familiar with. Could you let me know which you have experienced, if either? Both require software to be downloaded. Another possible solution is the FA Webex system.
  3. The deadline we set for a decision on whether we play the season 19/20 cups to conclusion was set at 31st May for two reasons – teams will need time to prepare, and we would not want to impact on the main family holiday season. Also we think that if any team feel unable to play (when it is deemed safe by government and FA) we would scrap that cup for all. We will defer the decision until the end of this month as we are no clearer now than in March.
  4. Any training or plans for friendlies must be provisional pending FA clearance.
  5. Information has been issued for possible funding streams available – take advantage whilst they are available.

Planning for 2020/21 season underway

With the 2019/2020 season cancelled, the L&C has turned its attention to the 2020/2021 football season and have set out the following guidance for all club secretaries.

We are now ready to receive information from you on your intentions for your club. Anyone leaving should have informed us by 31st March, so if you have not already please let us know now.  If any first teams leave us it is likely to be from the premier division, this will create an uplift throughout all divisions to fill the gaps above.

If the number of teams you wish to run is different to 19-20, let us know.

With the possibility of teams leaving, and four new clubs joining us, it is inevitable there will be restructuring of the divisions, which has become a yearly event.

If you have a request for a particular division, please let us know. We do our best to accommodate requests, however with the general request being downward, it is not always possible to.

L&C outline financial assistance available to clubs

The league management committee is now able, following detailed consideration, to issue further information on the financial assistance we can offer to 2019-20 member clubs. In acknowledgement of clubs’ potential financial difficulties, the Committee have been looking at the best ways to help, which are as fair as possible for all clubs/teams, and are now able to announce the following :-

  • League Fees – to be carried over from Season 19/20 to Season 20/21 – a saving to every club of at least £80, more to those with multi-teams.
  • Cup Fees – if the cup competitions for Season 19/20 complete then no action. If the competitions cannot be  completed, then the cup entry fees will also be rolled over to Season 20/21 with a saving of £28 per team.
  • New clubs entering the League for the first time will be charged all fees as normal.
  • Invoices will be issued at the beginning of August as usual and the appropriate credits as  above will be shown. These will also include any outstanding amounts carried over from Season 19/20 in respect of unpaid fines, and the second half of registrations for Season 19/20. However we are pleased to announce these registrations will be at a one-off discounted rate of £2 per player. 
  • Invoices will be asked to be paid by Sept 30th, but any club with issues meeting this date should contact the treasurer direct at the appropriate time.
  • Of course should any club prefer to pay their registrations in advance of August 2020, then please let the treasurer know and an invoice can be issued.

We trust that everyone will be able to see that the League, being a not-for-profit organisation has made a substantial effort to provide assistance. The savings to clubs detailed above will result in a contribution from the League of approximately £7,500.

We hope that you and your families are keeping well, in what is a very difficult time for everyone.

If there are any queries, please contact Philip Faulkner treasurer@landc.org.uk

Amateur football participation: L&C members taking proactive approach

It almost seems a different world away now, but as recently as February, participation numbers in the Lancashire & Cheshire AFL were causing real concern.

The amateur football league, which has been a vital part of the various communities in the region for more than 110 years, has suffered from declining numbers that have resulted in the reduction in number of leagues and in the 2019/20 season, seven teams have been lost – victims of declining participation.

The coronavirus outbreak has put paid to the league season, which has been declared null and void; wiggle room has been left for the cup competitions to reach a conclusion, though that is of course subject to change.

Over the course of a matter of weeks, the narrative has changed; football has rightly taken a back seat to the much more fundamentally important issue of health.

But the L&C is more than just football; the league provides a sense of community, togetherness and belonging – all of which will be important when amateur football is able to resume.

When that happens, the participation question will remain an important one to answer for the future of competition, but football clubs in the league are working hard to find solutions to the falling numbers.

The current league structure consists of seven divisions – Premier Division down to Third Division, followed by Divisions A, B and C.

As recently as 2013, there were 10 divisions but slowly, these have fallen away; that season, Division F was dissolved, followed by Division E three years later, and finally Division D in 2018.

The falling numbers are highlighted by the fall in the number of teams over the past eight years.

In 2012, there were 117 sides competing in the L&C. Five years on, that number was 90 and now, there are 81.

The voided season has seen seven teams unfortunately drop out – Old Ashtonians, Unicorn, Didsbury, Swinton, and Barr Hill have all folded, whilst Chorltonians and Spurley Hey have each lost a team as the battle for player numbers became too much.

It is undoubtedly a pattern that will cause concern, but the league’s remaining clubs remain defiant, and are responding proactively in order to avoid a similar fate to those teams that have gone before them.

Networking and the power of youth

Milton currently run two teams; half a decade ago, this was three, but they too have fallen victim to the changes in grassroots football participation.

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The club’s secretary, Sam Johnson, has highlighted change in work and life circumstances as key drivers in changing player participation; the 28-year-old said the cohort of players who he has played with have grown up together and provided consistent numbers, but are at the stage where life understandably changes and so do commitments.

He said: “I’m 28 now so you’re getting to the stage where people are getting married, have other commitments, are having children, have weddings. This is combined with lower participation in younger children, late teens, people going to university and not getting into playing football.”

But Milton are working hard as a committee to find solutions to these numbers; a common theme has been tapping into youth set-ups, and partnering with these.

The hope is that, by affiliating with under-18s and junior clubs, Milton can encourage a cohort who have played together for years to come through the ranks at the same time, as playing with friends is a vital pull in the grassroots game.

All those who play key roles in helping the club function understand the power of networking too, reaching out to friends, work colleagues, friends of family, to offer opportunities.