NEIL BONNAR: Bolton's rich sporting tapestry could be enhanced by its own football league
11:00pm Thursday 28th February 2013 in Sport
AS head of sport at this paper it comes to my knowledge every day just how rich this town is sporting-wise.
Amir Khan, Jason Kenny, Bolton Wanderers... of course we have our national heroes who fly the flag for Bolton and of whom we are very proud.
The Bolton Arena is churning out professional tennis stars of the future with such regularity it has been given the highest possible status in British coaching, the only centre north of Birmingham to have it.
But there is so much more. Boxing is exploding in these parts, in both the professional and amateur scenes, rugby is well represented in both codes, there are up-and-coming cyclists, and the town’s many running clubs are booming to name just a few of our successes.
But it could be better. Amateur football is big in Bolton, although you have an argument on your hands if you try to convince people who are steeped in the local game.
And they’ve got a point. A decade ago there were four open-age leagues here: the Bolton Combination, Bolton Sunday League, Bolton Pioneer League and Horwich Sunday League.
Now there is one, the Bolton Sunday League.
With the onset of alternative leisure activities, people drifted away from playing football here, in line with the rest of the country.
The biggest casualty was the Combination, a well-run league full of high quality teams which had been the envy of other towns for decades. Many teams folded and others moved into regional leagues.
Today we have 18 teams playing in the West Lancashire League, Manchester League and the Lancashire Amateur League.
Being spread around regional leagues puts a dent in the local identity of our amateur football scene. It is also a costly existence. Being in the seventh tier of the national non-league pyramid or just below in the case of the Lancs Am comes at a cost.
Teams have to travel, some as far away as Barrow and neighbouring Cumbrian towns in the case of our seven West Lancs League teams.
That cripples some of them financially and threatens their existence, while for others, like our top team, Eagley, it is the right place to make a name for themselves and develop.
But while a few are set up for the amateur big time, most would benefit from being pulled together into a vibrant local competition the Combination used to provide.
Derbies, low cost, less time wasted and bragging rights. It would make Bolton sport even better.