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Cheltenham League chairman John Hunt: “Grassroots football is a dying trend”

Cheltenham League chairman John Hunt has admitted that there is a fight to save local football as they try to recover from a second successive voided season.

Gloucestershire clubs were left disappointed earlier this month as the Gloucestershire FA announced their decision to abandon the league season once again due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This was a decision that was not taken lightly by Hunt as it is one that has had major financial ramifications that put into doubt the future of the league itself.

Cheltenham League chairman John Hunt (Left) celebrating Charity Cup success with former club Bishop‘s Cleeve

He said: “We are concerned about keeping the Cheltenham League going as it wasn’t that long ago that we had six divisions and we are now down to four.

“Grassroots football is a dying trend and if we keep going the way we are going then football in Cheltenham could be out of commission in 10 years’ time.”

In an attempt to get clubs back playing the Cheltenham League have organised a revamped Charity Cup competition that starts on April 3.

However, even with the new tournament being brought in Hunt has concerns about clubs affording match fees when they return.

 “Clubs obviously make no money on home games and big money on the away games as they don’t have to pay for pitch fess or anything,” he said.

“At the present moment I know some clubs are worried as their first games back are both home games and they don’t know how they will be able to afford it.”

Credit – FA Full Time: Voided fixtures from Cheltenham Division One North

Grassroots football clubs usually charge around £6 per person per game to cover match fees including the pitch and referee. In total a home match can cost a club anywhere between £110-£115.

However, with back-to-back broken seasons, many clubs have minimal funds meaning even standard fees may be a stretch.

Despite this Hunt says that the league is in no position to support any clubs financially and it is down to them to be self-sufficient.  

He said: “At the end of the day we can’t give teams any financial support because we don’t have the money ourselves so we’ve got to expect teams to look after themselves.”

The league took the decision last season to reduce fees to repay clubs for missing half a campaign but with another year without any other avenues of income Hunt admits that the finances have taken a hit.

“There have been implications on everybody including us. Just like the clubs who haven’t played for months nobody has had no money coming in.

“We generate our money through clubs’ misdemeanours like fines for paperwork, people assume that we get the fines for yellow cards and red cards but that all goes to the GFA.”

Hunt has other concerns that threaten the league’s future including retaining current players and attracting new ones.

The Cheltenham League chairman believes that young players have found new interests and older players are taking a different path.

Hunt believes young players are staying in the U18s system rather than progressing to men’s football

“Youngsters are finding their Xboxes… the older players are joining these vets’ leagues.

“The youth system also has a good process going on with their league where they are keeping kids in it for longer.

“We are stuck in the middle here where older players are leaving earlier and younger players aren’t coming through.”

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