Flourishing local league well ahead of the game
9:56am Wednesday 27th February 2013 in Sport
ORGANISERS of Bolton, Bury and District Football League get a strange sense of déjà-vu when they read new FA edicts on how the junior game should be run.
This is because the recomendations of Gareth Southgate’s recently published youth development review are like a carbon copy of the BBDFL handbook.
The local league has swelled to such an extent that there are more than 500 teams involving up to 6,500 children competing within an eight-mile radius of Bolton town centre, and it is testament to how forward-thinking and progressive its organising committee are.
It started back in 1996, with just 12 local teams. By the time league secretary Lesley Allon and her husband Tom, who is responsible for the under-14s section, got involved two years later there were already 60 teams competing.
It continued to expand and is now one of the largest leagues in Lancashire, with many teams from outside its decreed boundary wanting to join the party.
But there are strict rules on how far teams must travel for fixtures, so unless they are within the eight-mile limit, they are not allowed in.
According Lesley, the BBDFL adopted the concept of small-sided matches on smaller pitches with smaller goals for youngsters long before it became FA policy, and initially they met opposition from the football’s national governing body.
“The FA recently made a goal to the ratio of the size of an 11-year-old child for an adult. For a man to have the equivalent size goal, it took them 30 seconds for them to walk from one goalpost to the other it was that big,” she said.
“Our concept was that children were best served playing on a smaller scale. Southgate’s review has put forward that u7s and u8s should play five-a-side, u9s and u10s seven-a-side, u11s and u12s nine-a-side and u13s onwards 11-a-side.
“It doesn’t become mandatory until next season, but we’ve brought it all in this season. Everything Gareth Southgate has put forward, we have already done.”
Husband Tom – also a referee with 21 years of experience in the league – added: “It’s as if Gareth took a look at our handbook and thought: ‘right we’ll do that’.”
It is not just the development of young players that the league are ahead of the game in, however. Their approach to discipline and respect for officials has been highly successful.
“Over-competitive parents are not so much an issue in our league,” said Tom.
“You get the odd instances, but the respect codes have had a part to play. At the last (monthly) league meeting parents were asked to re-read the codes and sign an undertaking to abide by them.
“But we do not fine anyone. These are children’s clubs, and it’s difficult enough raising money to keep things going. If there are problems, we believe in talking things through and if they cannot be resolved teams can be excluded, but this is a last resort.”
The league’s approach has been endorsed by Bolton Wanderers with whom they have a special relationship. Wanderers recognise the BBDFL as a rich vein of potential talent since 15 of their 19 academy players have played in the league.
“We are delighted by their interest and they will often send players to our presentation events at the Victoria Hall,” said Lesley. “It is a very good, mutually beneficial relationship.”