Tireless planning ensures Lancashire & Cheshire AFL ready for new season

The new amateur football season is upon us, with the 2020/21 season in the Lancashire & Cheshire AFL set to begin on 19 September.

Optimism abounds, teams old and new ready to renew and begin rivalries across eight competitive divisions. New players, new tactics, new protocols and procedures, club committees and players allowing themselves to think of the possibilities of glory.

The smell of freshly-cut grass, the thud of a ball, the rattle of the goalpost, the ripple of the net, the ecstasy of a decisive strike, penalty save, goal-saving challenge, the agony of a mistake costing a goal, a missed gilt-edged chance, just or unjust dismissal and suspension.

All these emotions are taken for granted and, that we are in a position to experience – or suffer – them all again, is a testament to the herculean effort from the league and club organisers to ensure competitive football can take place.

Under normal circumstances, it takes a great deal of planning to get everything in place for the start of the season; but these are anything but normal circumstances. No precedent was in place to deal with the effects of a global pandemic, no amount of crisis management experience can begin to prepare for the challenges we the football community collectively have faced.

Yet here we are, on the eve of a new season, with football ready to be played. For the players, managers and clubs to be able to experience the highs and lows of the game, it has required an extensive amount of work to put everything in place. This work started the Monday after football was suspended way back in March, and continues now. The new experience of dealing with an unfinished season, holding general meetings online, writing risk assessments relative to the return of football, ensuring Covid-secure procedures in relation to contact, distancing and hygiene are ready, grounds without changing, but toilets available are all over and above the already onerous task list for the normal close season.

This year, with 20 potential clubs to be interviewed remotely, and 11 accepted, has been an ongoing task until well into August, due the enforced lateness of every aspect of preparation work.

Brian Davies, league secretary said “My busiest period of the year is normally the summer, and the work needs keeping on top of all the time. The extra work generated by making changes to the normal procedures due to Covid-19 has been phenomenal. There have been several key people on the league committee, and every club has its own heroes, who have worked very hard to be in a position to restart. Now we are finally there on the brink of the 112th L&C season, it is down to the efforts of all the unsung volunteers.”

In what has been a real boost to all existing clubs in the league, their fees have been waived for the forthcoming season, carried over from 2019/20, which is of real benefit.

The league committee and other officials had to juggle the extra challenges posed by Covid with the usual responsibilities, while ensuring everything was conducted in a safe way.

As usual, the L&C enjoyed lots of interest for the season. It has resulted in a number of clubs joining, and others adding extra teams. What was a seven-league, 82-team competition has become an eight-league, 94-team contest for the forthcoming season.

This process, understandably, takes time. Brian explained: “We go through a process of getting applications in, doing various background checks on the clubs and the people involved, interview them if we want to take it forward at that point, and then the results of the interview decide if we want to recommend them to members for them to vote the clubs in. It takes a lot of time up.”

Covid also meant delays to the structure of the league. This is because of “lack of clarity” regarding the number of teams for each club, as well as who would be playing and whether pitches were available.

A process that usually takes six weeks had to be compressed into a week, but thanks to the hard work of the fixtures secretary, Malc Kershaw, clubs were informed of league structure on 23rd August and fixtures by 10th September. This included a one week delay due to the FA systems being overloaded – every club and league official trying to complete their preparation work.

Making sure all clubs and facilities are Covid-ready has been a significant undertaking. This has involved Keith Marsden making sure all clubs appointed a Covid-19 Officer.

In terms of facilities, Brian added: “We had to gather far more information than normal on facility availability. With changing rooms being closed, we had to ensure toilets were available, this was collated by Graham Ellis. This process continues and will do so well into October.”

The diligence and organisation of the committee in the most trying of circumstances means the beautiful game is ready to resume in the L&C.

League ready for the new season

THE Lancashire and Cheshire AFL has set up the programme for the first league fixtures of the season this coming Saturday after much hard work by league and club officials has been undertaken to make this possible with plenty more still to be done.

Fixtures secretary Malc Kershaw is hopeful that about 80 per cent of the teams will be involved as some clubs are struggling with venues and pitches still being unavailable for play due to Covid 19.

Plenty of teams have been involved in pre-season friendly matches to give them experience of the new regulations they will have to adhere to and they will looking to carry this forward in the coming months.

It looks set to be a very exciting season with several new clubs and extra teams from existing clubs in the new set-up of eight divisions increasing the number of teams in the league to well over 90.

With last season’s Premier division leaders Whalley Range moving to the Cheshire League and several new faces making their debut at the top level it promises to be a fascinating opening few weeks in the top flight as well as all of the other divisions

Reigning Altrincham and District League champions Sale Amateurs will make their debut in Division Three and they showed their intent with a final friendly derby win by 5-1 over local rivals Aldermere.

Didsbury FC make their return to the league as they will be made up from players from Chorltonians, who lost their pitches at the Police Club due to a new school being built there and decided to fold the club and revive Didsbury FC.

First fixtures of new season now available

With just over a week to go until the big kick-off, the first month of fixtures are available. They come with the caveat that some teams won’t play on home soil for the first few weeks because the requirements related to Covid-19 have not been met at some grounds. This, and other important items, are included in the latest update for all club secretaries.

  1. Fixtures in all divisions, starting on the 19th Sept up to and including the 24th October are now showing on Full Time. 17 venues are marked as unavailable on Full Time during this period. Clubs who play their home games at these venues will not have any up to the 24th October. They have been marked unavailable is because pitches and/or toilet facilities are not open. The league’s position on grounds without facilities, is that they must have toilets. Available venues will be heavily utilised until the position changes, and we will be unable to stick to the usual home/away format. As always, any fixture queries to Malcolm Kershaw fixtures@landc.org.uk.
  1. Team sheets are being distributed by committee members. I have added the new instructions for match sheets, referee reports and referee confirmation/payment to this page – https://landc.org.uk/secretary-reference/. These new documents are necessary for this season and are important so please read.
  1. The new instructions will be featured in a Zoom EGM on Thursday 17th Sept, 7PM. Please note the time/date, the agenda will be issued on 10th September.
  2. Clubs are reminded that you must have enough players registered (approved) with the league before your first fixture, and all your Covid-19 precautions are to be in place and followed.

Kartel Sports excited at ‘fresh start’

With the new season almost upon us, we’re previewing the new members of the L&C. Next up is Kartel Sports.

Established in 1991, the club have previously played in the Manchester League and, most recently, the Altrincham & District Amateur Football League (ADAFL), before deciding to make the move, similar to their long-standing rivals, Sale Amateurs.

Like Sale, Kartel Sports have an enviable reputation of ‘playing the game in the right way’, being one of the best run clubs in the area, and there are players who have been involved right from the beginning.

Its reputation of being so well run was established through the club’s much-loved founder, Paul Cheetham, who set the team up and was the Secretary until he sadly passed away last year after a long illness.

Stuart Howe is the Chairman of Kartel Sports. He assumed much of the responsibility alongside manager Jordan Kralski and Treasurer, and new Secretary Shaun Thompson in Paul’s absence, and he outlined just how influential a figure the club’s founder has been in establishing the reputation of Kartel in the area.

He said: “We suddenly found ourselves in a bit of a mess because Paul dealt with everything non-football related. Jordan Kralski managed the team but Paul went to all the league meetings, dealt with finances, pitches, insurance, basically everything about the club that didn’t involve kicking the ball. It was his life, and he loved Kartel.”

Despite being one of the ADAFL’s long-established clubs, Stuart and the rest of the committee made the decision to seek pastures new. There are a myriad number of reasons for this decision – looking for a “fresh start” after the trauma of Paul’s passing, the chance to compete in another competitive league, and the ability to attract more players.

Paul’s legacy is apparent in the way the club plays, the way it is organised and, as Stuart confirmed, the name he set the club up as will remain.

He said: “When it got to the end of the season, we decided to have a reshuffle, fresh start, obviously wanted to keep the Kartel Sports name, but felt like the right time to do something different.”

The club has enjoyed two 5th-placed finishes in the Altrincham League. Although the start was slow, Kartel had picked up form before Covid-19 brought the season to a premature end, with two successive wins that saw them net four goals without reply.

But the lure of moving to the L&C and enjoying what it will offer, as well as the potential of accessing another network of players, was too tough to ignore.

Stuart explained: “At the end of last season, we got a few new players who play 7-a-side with a couple of our players. They are based around Stockport, so we now have a split in the team, with half of us from Altrincham, Sale and Timperley, and the other half from Wilmslow and Stockport.

“We’d seen Altrincham Hale, and other teams who have previously been in the ADAFL, now in the L&C, so we were watching with interest last year and everything about it looked right for us.

“Lots of divisions, each with seemingly good numbers, some good outfits in there, and good pitches. We have an affinity to the Altrincham League, but it just felt the right time and the obvious choice became the L&C.”

They are joining a league that has restructured somewhat because of its popularity. During the close season, there have been applications from 20 prospective clubs, 10 of whom will join the league with 12 additional teams overall.

It means that there are now eight leagues instead of seven. Kartel will join Division A, a 12-team league on the fifth tier of the league’s structure.

The exposure to the L&C seems to have excited players, and is a major reason for interest in joining the squad. That, along with the club’s reputation as one of the friendlier teams in the area, means junior clubs are comfortable “pushing players our way,” According to Stuart, who said: “This has given us fresh blood.”

Like all teams who started training when Covid-19 restrictions were still in place, it has been ‘frustrating’ but the sessions have been popular and well attended. And the change to the sessions put on will, according to Stuart, ensure Kartel are better prepared for the big kick-off.

He said: “We have had pop-up goals, good passing and moving, as well as shooting drills. In a normal training session, it tends to be half an hour fitness, followed by an hour game.

“But this summer, it feels like we’ve done more ball work, running and fitness, and I think that has been quite beneficial.

“Everybody seems to have enjoyed doing more. We might all be better players for it when we start the season.”

Important information required about Covid-related restrictions on changing facilities

Most grounds will be without changing room facilities by the start of this season, as a direct result of safety measures relating to Covid-19. As such, we require vital information from clubs about forthcoming plans.

Having now received responses from all except six clubs on pitch/dressing room availability, we are now in a position to share some information with you. Only nine grounds will have changing facilities available. In our opinion it will be many months before facility providers open their changing rooms. With a handful of facilities open, we cannot run sufficient matches each week to complete the season if we stipulate our normal standard of dressing rooms/showers provided.

Therefore, we are considering how the league could run without changing facilities. The guidance says to arrive changed and go home in kit. We have seen enough rain recently to remind us of what a soggy experience that would be. Therefore the league’s conditions which must be met to play a match without changing rooms are :-

·         Toilets must be available and used one-in/one out

·         Hand sanitization must be followed

·         No changing into or out of kit in public view on car parks or by the side of pitches – the league does not want to receive any embarrassing complaints from members of the public about not using toilets or exposed bodies.

·         Clubs will wish to collect kit to avoid it being lost, so no handling – used kit goes in a bag for 72 hours and is then washed

·         Clubs could consider using tents/gazebos for use one-in/one out

We need to know and want replies to Brian, Graham, Malcolm and Keith by Wednesday 2nd September:–

  1. Where changing facilities are not open, are the toilets?
  2. If clubs feel they can meet these requirements, along with all the other Covid-19 requirements, in order to start the league programme from 19th Sept (now the earliest possible date due to the outstanding work required to generate fixtures).
  3. Would clubs with open facilities play at grounds which are not open?

League ready for an exciting season

The Lancashire and Cheshire AFL has had a very busy time in the lockdown preparing for the new season involving a lot of hard work by the league committee and clubs, and we are delighted to welcome new clubs into their structure for when the new season gets into action.

The league has had a tremendous response from new clubs with 20 prospective clubs applying and 10 of them will be joining, fielding a total of 12 new teams.

With some of the existing clubs also increasing their number of teams, the league now has 94 teams looking to get into action.

With the season likely to be shorter than normal the league will now extend to eight divisions with new clubs hopefully being placed into divisions that match their playing ability and ambition.

Most of the divisions will comprise 12 teams with several existing teams moving into higher divisions including AFC Oldham, Manchester Polonia and Radclyffe looking to enjoy life in the Premier division.

There has been plenty of action on the field in pre-season friendlies including the new teams with everyone eager to get the new season underway.

New club profile: Sale Amateurs

The reigning champions of the Altrincham & District Amateur Football League (ADAFL) will make their bow in the Lancashire & Cheshire AFL this season.

Sale Amateurs are moving to pastures new in search of a new challenge after this ‘band of brothers’ enjoyed an immensely fruitful time over the last three years in particular, which have yielded league and cup triumphs.

This coincides with the stewardship of Dan Creely, whose reign as secretary has seen significant changes – including the move to the L&C – while also retaining a link to the club’s beginnings.

The passion for the club runs in the family, as Dave Creely, Dan’s Grandfather, set up Sale Amateurs back in 1987. His dad and uncles also appeared for the club, a tradition his involvement has continued.

Now, Dan enjoys the valued support of Mike Gleave, Sale’s manager, and both have input into the team’s on-field fortunes. Sam Nolan is the Chairman and in another link to Sale teams of years gone by, Scott Bowden is the Treasurer and, just as significantly, is one of three players who still turn out for Sale Amateurs and also did so for Dave Creely.

It has been key in fostering what is a “special” bond felt within the squad, evident with the achievements since 2017.

The tide for the club’s on-field fortunes changed after an “epic” night in the Altrincham Senior Cup in 2018.

Dan explains: “I took over in the middle of 2017, and before that it was Sam Nolan, who is one of our Chairmen. Myself and Mike Gleave, the manager, stepped up.

“At first, I agreed to step in and hopefully the club would get a manager. Mike wasn’t keen either, but we took it on and ended up in a cup final which we won on penalties. It was an epic night with hundreds of people watching and we’ve gone from strength to strength since.”

In the semi-final, Sale Amateurs overcame rivals, Jolly Butcher, described by Dan as a “tough, physical side.” Down to 10 men, the club hung on for a 3-2 win, before seeing off Partington on penalties in the final – “a massive night” for the club which brought the first trophy for Sale in quite some time.

Since then, the quality on the pitch has shone through; in 2018/19, Sale Amateurs finished the season third in the league, just six points behind Partington, and with an attack and defence only bettered by the table-toppers.

Before the 2019/20 season was called to a halt, Sale Amateurs were sitting pretty at the top of the league, four points clear with a game in hand. They hadn’t tasted defeat in the league, and possessed its most potent attack and meanest defence.

Cup success was very much anticipated too, with a semi-final appearance booked in, before the pandemic put paid to that.

It paints a picture of a club ready for a move, looking for greater challenges on the pitch. Dan explained: “Since 1987, the club has played in the ADAFL but the league has shrunk and is now one league when it used to have three, so it was something we needed to address.”

Off the pitch too, the club boasts some of the best facilities amateur football could wish for; under Dan’s watchful eye, Sale have moved from their old Manor Avenue playing facilities to Banky Lane at Mersey Valley Sports Club.

Dan added: “They are the best facilities around by a country mile and are at North West Counties standard. There is a seating area next to the pitch and the whole club has a good setup.”

There will be challenges of course, in terms of playing and the extra demands on travelling to fixtures which, Dan concedes, Sale Amateurs “will have to adjust to.”

To help with this transition, player recruitment is important, as is squad depth; Sale Amateurs are struggling with neither. At the time of writing, 28 players had committed to the club, but through word of mouth, and the power of social media, there is a great reach.

Dan said: “What I find is when lads move into the area and want to play football, they find out through social media. I have had lads turn up who have moved from Stoke, two lads who have moved over from Brazil, one from Australia.”

This is underpinned by superb coaching – something the club’s secretary feels they are blessed with – and a core group of players who have a bond that is “special,” and feels like an extended family.

Dan concluded: “We respect each other and we are a band of brothers. It is very much a family.

“One thing I will definitely say, and I find it quite special, is that within this team, from the squad we’ve pulled together for the last three years, there are people that have absolutely no right to know each other but they turn up on Saturday and all of a sudden are the best of mates.

“We have a 44-year-old centre half who played for my Granddad and he’s still an unbelievable player. All the lads love him.

“He shouldn’t be around! But all these lads love each other and the respect they have is unbelievable.”

Clubs urged to submit Covid-19 Officer details

The L&C require every club in the league to submit information that confirms who is acting as their Covid-19 Officer for the upcoming season.

FA guidelines during the pandemic state that “all clubs must appoint a Covid-19 Officer who will be responsible for developing a Covid-19 plan and risk assessment prior to the restart of any activity.”

Keith Marsden, Registrations Officer for the L&C, said that just a “handful of clubs” have sent details to the league. Therefore, it is of vital importance that all teams submit the name, email address, and telephone number of their nominated Covid-19 official to covid@landc.org.uk as soon as possible.

Mr Marsden said: “We are still in the midst of a serious pandemic and it is vital that we do everything possible to create a safe environment for everyone involved before we can consider a return to competitive football.”