As the Morpeth Sunday League comes to the final stages of its 53rd season, there is concern regarding its future.
League president Syd Johnson, who has administrated the league over that entire period, in addition to being a councillor for the north east division of Northumberland FA for 36 years and vice-president of Northumberland FA for 24 years, is well aware of the current crisis in grass-Roots football.
He believes the threat to the Morpeth league is a perfect example of the parlous state of local football, which is also recognised by the FA.
From having four divisions, and 44 clubs in 2004, there are only ten clubs left this season.
There are several reasons for this state of affairs, and most leagues in the county, both Saturday and Sunday orientated, are losing members.
The social side of sport and leisure is changing. Sponsorship from local businesses, clubs and pubs is no longer as available as it used to be, and the cost of local authority facilities has increased immensely.
The leagues have worked with the local authorities to spread the cost of pitch rental over the season as it gives clubs a chance to meet other day-to-day expenses, such as equipment, referee fees, insurance, disciplinary charges and such like.
Morpeth Sunday League have taken drastic action to reduce the financial factor by reducing league fees from £100 to £25, and the bond fee is cut from £100 to £50, which is refunded should the club expire without any financial liabilities to the league.
League meetings are kept to a maximum of four and fundraising draws suspended, which reduces the clubs’ financial outlay.
These are drastic measures, which could not be in force for any length of time, but are seen as a further attempt to help clubs’ outlay.
Insurance liabilities have also been tackled, and the league have a competitive insurance scenario, with premiums of various amounts for individual club choice.
The Morpeth Sunday League have a more rural catchment area, and in this respect it probably suffers more than other leagues.
The league management committee are dedicated to continue next season with the loyalty of current clubs essential, as well as hopefully new clubs.
The league has been competitive this season, with the title being decided last weekend, and could have gone to any of four clubs before Ashington RAOB clinched it.
An excellent ES Johnson Challenge Cup Final was played out last Sunday at Craik Park before a good crowd, who saw Amble Tavern come back from a goal down, to finally account for Bedlington Market Tavern 3-1.
The newly created Ken Gray Memorial Cup will be played at Ashington FC on Sunday, May 10, at Woodhorn Lane, between Ashington RAOB and Shambles Morpeth. Kick-off is 2pm.
The league have suffered two body blows this season with the untimely deaths of long-serving chairman Ken Gray, and life member Joe Knox.
Ken held his position for more than 40 years and the league were only too pleased to accede to the wishes of his family to introduce another charity competition alongside the George Cave Memorial Cup, the proceeds from both competitions going to local charities.
This, added to the uncertain future of the league, has made the management committee more determined to continue next season, and any club wishing to play in the Morpeth Sunday League next season will be given every assistance.
Syd Johnson can be contacted on (01670) 531224, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
League secretary is Alan Parker, who can be contacted on (01670) 819459.