Sunday football league facing closure in ‘three to five years’ due to spiralling costs and low numbers

A SUNDAY football league is in danger of folding, with sides being forced to shell out around �100 per match.

The Welwyn Hatfield Sunday League has been running for more than 50 years, but is facing a bleak future with spiralling costs at King George V Playing Fields in WGC and declining numbers.

Now officials have given the league “three to five years” before being forced to close, unless something changes.

League secretary John Spavins said the decline had been steady for a generation.

“There’s hundreds of kids playing but nobody’s picked up on the fact that none of it is coming through to the adults,” Mr Spavins said.

“At 14 or 15 years old, they’ve already had enough.”

Mr Spavins said Sunday trading meant many players had to work on match days, while the loss of so many pubs in recent years – a traditional source of teams – was having an impact.

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But he also singled out Welwyn Hatfield Council contractor Finesse Leisure for criticism, saying the company was not doing enough to preserve adult 11-a-side football in the borough.

Last month, the WHT reported how Finesse blamed wet weather for not getting the pitches ready for the new season – the first time since the drought of 1976 that the league had not kicked off on the first weekend of September.

The relationship between Finesse and the league was further soured by an increase in costs and an apparent reduction in service.

This season, Finesse charged an annual fee of �1,572 for the use of two pitches at King George V.

With the home team paying the pitch fees, that could average out at more than �100 for certain sides, based on exiting cup competitions early.

League officials are also carrying out a number of maintenance jobs themselves, including re-marking pitches.

Finesse managing director Mike Barlow said: “Finesse is aware of the problems facing the 11-a-side game and we’ve offered to help the Welwyn Hatfield Sunday League by displaying banners and posters at other facilities we manage in order to promote the game.

“The pitches at King George V are regarded by many as being among some of the best facilities in the area.

“Even using your worst case scenario of around �100 per match, that still equates to less than �4.60 per player per game.

“When compared to other sporting activities this represents good value for money for what remains a subsidised activity.”

Mr Barlow said the income offset the costs of grass cutting and maintenance, as well as heating, lighting and cleaning the changing facilities.

Finesse has also organised monthly meetings with league officials, to discuss ways of improving services.

Mr Barlow said having volunteers mark out pitches freed up his staff for other works.

Mr Spavins said he was yet to see any other additional works take place.

“If we don’t do something, in three to five years we will not be here,” he said.