Protest at pitch fees hike

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S&B Rangers boycott their matches this weekend. Photo: Sb Rangers/Facebook

Thousands of boys and girls did not play football this weekend, in protest against Sefton council plans to hike the cost of using football pitches.

The council wants to bring in a £20.5m cuts package. Rental costs of seven-a-side pitches could increase from £180 per club per season to around £750.

For a 11-a-side pitch, the fees could increase from £700 to around £1700 in April. A decision will be made next month.

Over 50 teams will have to pay up to £800 per season compared to around £350 this year, according to Liverpool FA.

On top of this comes cutting of grass, pitch markings, ground repair, water and electricity bills that all will need to be paid for by the clubs, pushing the figure up to the region of £2,000.

Junior teams in neighbouring leagues unaffected by the rises joined the boycott to show their support.

A petition has been set up by the football club S&B Rangers, saying: “Most parents are already paying £20-35 per month per child to play football and with a lot of households already struggling to pay, any increase would see a drastic reduction in the number of children playing football.

“For a lot of these kids it is the only exercise they get and it teaches them teamwork, social skills and respect.

“Once these kids are priced out of football it cannot be reversed, and a whole generation of kids will be lost to the X-Box or hanging around on the streets and to obesity which will have a knock on effect in the long term socially and economically.

“We all pay council tax and understand the need for cost-cutting, but there must be other ways.”

The petition is supported by Liverpool County FA who are spreading the word on their Twitter account. Ex-Liverpool footballer and BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson also supports the campaign. The petition can be signed here.

Kenny Saunders has been a football coach for over 30 years in Woolton, and is the man behind the protests.

He told JMU Journalism: “I was given documentation three weeks ago regarding extortionate pitch fees increase for junior football in Sefton.

“I spoke to Sefton council regarding the situation, and was told that there was nothing I could do about it.

“I said we’ll see about that, and took it upon myself to speak to leagues, managers, coaches and parents about the situation.

“I am a coach who never would call a game of football off, not even a training session. I have been known to coach on Boxing Day, so for me to make a decision to get as many teams and leagues to boycott their games this weekend was not an easy one, but I thought it would bring maximum publicity, which I have got,” he said.

He fears that there are many other boroughs who are waiting to see the outcome, and will jump on board if it goes ahead.

“It is a disgrace – three months on from the Olympic games legacy, that this is starting to happen.

“As I said, if I cannot stop this in Sefton I as a coach will pack in, because I will not be prepared to ask a kid at the start of the season in a mini soccer game to pay £60 pitch fee, £20 for the kit and £20 signing on fee totaling £100. Not everyone will be able to afford this.”

According to the Liverpool Echo, at least 8,500 children from clubs across Merseyside gathered at Buckley Hill in Netherton to protest on Sunday morning.

About Arild Skjaeveland, JMU Journalism