CHAIRMAN’S BLOG - Saturday 9th September 2017

Following our highly successful season and well-attended Annual General Meeting in late June, we began our Pre-Season training for the new 2017-2018 campaign in early July with some Sunday morning and Wednesday evening sessions before playing the first of five Pre-Season Friendlies from Sunday 6th August until Sunday 3rd September. For each of those five Friendly matches we had a squad of at least 16 players, and for most of them we had 18 or 19 turn up, which is certainly unheard of compared to any previous season where for most of our Pre-Season games we would only have one or two substitutes available due to holidays and social commitments. The Wednesday evening training sessions though...which we tried to continue throughout August...were far more of a problem because the large majority of new players being brought along were neighbours of our many Ilford/East London/South-West Essex-based players and it was impossible for them to get to Enfield Playing Fields until less than an hour before sunset. As we were training for free without lights due to the ridiculous expense of hiring a floodlit 3G pitch, there was simply no point in them turning up, and indeed living too far away will be the situation throughout the season as well and we will therefore not be training in midweek again. Not that it affected us last season anyway, and we are trusting our players to keep their fitness levels up of their own accord.
From our first Pre-Season Friendly onwards though, Manager Tony McKay was willing to give anybody a game, and we ended up with several players having a runout who were badly overweight and/or had let themselves go since the end of last season, thereby injuring themselves either in their first Pre-Season training session or after only five minutes of their first match in some cases ! That included a relative of Tony's who had just come along to watch initially, and when he was brought on...and had to come off injured almost straight away...I thought it must have been a classic case of the 'Ere mate, d'ya wanna game ?' shout to somebody walking past, which is something all Sunday League clubs have probably done at one time or another. In fact, three seasons ago we actually signed Chris Lue up when he randomly walked past exactly the same pitch and stopped off to watch a bit of our bare eleven losing 4-0 to Upshire (who were the best Sunday team in the country at the time). Simon 'Jacko' Jackson was our Manager back then and he said to Chris 'You look like a big strong boy. Do you play football by any chance ?' We also did it a lot back in the late-70's when we first started...which is where 'Overington's mate' and several others on the All-Time Appearances list on the website came from. They were actually played as ringers in League matches back in those early days because we were so disorganised and short of players.
As we have so many good players wanting to play for us now following our rare success last season, we decided to take on top Premier Division opposition from other Leagues for three of our Pre-Season Friendlies and half-decent sides from a similar level to us in the other two. This was so that we would have a good indication of whether we are strong enough to win Division One this season and gain promotion to the Premier Division where a club like ours should belong. Our first Friendly on the 6th August was against our old Waltham Sunday League rivals FC Alpha on a 3G pitch at Wadham Lodge in Walthamstow. With FC Alpha being one of the top teams in the Premier Division of the five-division East Herts Corinthian Sunday League, it was always going to be a big ask for us to get a result against them with us fielding seven new players in our squad of 17, most of whom did not really know each other. We only managed to lose 2-1 though, which was seen as a good result. We then took on another ex-Waltham League side in Riverside Corinthians, who are in the division below FC Alpha and a team we had never played before. That was the first of three Friendlies on grass at Enfield Playing Fields, but again we lost that match by only one goal, going down 3-2 in a game played in three 30-minute periods because we had so many players wanting a game...which was the main reason we lost really, as the amount of roll-on, roll-off substitutions we made reached record proportions. Our third Friendly on the 20th August was taken more seriously, as our opponents were Beehive BHP from the top division of the Edmonton Sunday League, who are managed by ex-Crown United and Enfield Rangers boss Steve Livermore, who is probably one of the most successful Managers in the country at Sunday League level. Consequently his teams are always packed with top Semi-Pros from local Saturday football and that showed in this match as they beat us 3-2 and they were most definitely the best side we had played for many a year in the way they were all comfortable on the ball and 'passed & moved' it about. However, with us fielding our strongest available side and only making substitutions when necessary, we were actually 2-0 up until the 70th minute and we even had a spell for 25 minutes or so where we were the better side. That was hugely encouraging for us and we only collapsed at the end through a lack of fitness caused by several of our players not having had any sleep the night before. Our fourth Pre-Season Friendly finally saw us notch a win as we beat last season's Barnet Sunday League rivals Northaw 5-1, but that was mainly due to them only fielding a squad of 13 and suffering a number of injuries during the course of the match. We fielded a number of players for that match who had been out injured or away on holiday themselves and we looked very rusty in the First Half. But then that is what Pre-Season is for. To shake off the cobwebs. Our final Pre-Season Friendly on the 3rd September was another good match-up as we took on a highly successful Belfry side who play in the top division of the Essex Sunday Combination. This match was arranged as a result of me filming numerous Cup Finals for them over the years, most of which they had won. Like Beehive BHP they were packed with ex-Semi-Pros and ended up beating us 5-3, but that scoreline doesn't tell half the story as we had twice as many chances as them but were guilty of some appalling finishing and dreadful defensive blunders for four of their five goals. I have certainly never seen any side in those Cup Finals give Belfry such a runaround as we did, and we really should have won the game. Ironing out those costly errors is something we simply must get right once we start our League season on the 10th September.
Although we lost four out of five in Pre-Season, there have been many bonuses. We have signed up nine new or returning players, with Leon Bernard, Raj Bumbra, Miles Levy, Vishal Patel and George House all looking particularly good and improving our squad for sure. Others have been useful as well and should get a chance if they stick around, but they still either have a bit to learn tactically or need to improve their fitness. As for the players who were with us last season, Jack Bangs, Tom Croake and Anees Ikramullah have all put in good performances in Pre-Season that have shown us they are certainly worthy of being match-day squad of 16 regulars at least, but unfortunately we have lost Connor Kavanagh, who is working abroad for at least a year, last season's Players Player Of The Year Aiden Kavanagh, who will be going to University in mid-September, and Curtis Baalam & Daniel Cascoe, both of whom got injured in Pre-Season, breaking a rib and a metatarsal respectively. Hopefully those two will be back at some stage before Christmas though. We also have Hal Ozkan and Johan Ahipeaud struggling with their fitness at the moment, but we have such a big squad of good players now that we are confident of being able to cope.
One thing we do need to clamp down on a bit from our Pre-Season matches (and from last season) though is players turning up at the venue half an hour or more after Manager Tony McKay's requested meeting time. In most cases this appears to be because they need a lift but they then ask their team-mate who is driving to stop off at a Tesco Express en-route so that they can get their 'breakfast'. Problem is, hundreds of other Sunday morning footballers have the same idea and they are then queuing up at the till for ages. only needs an o.a.p. in front of them buying a lottery ticket to delay our kick-off by five minutes.

For me as a Club Secretary, Pre-Season is a busy time sorting out our players registrations. Currently, the Barnet Sunday League's procedure for signing up new players is for the Club Secretary to type out the form on a PC with the player's name, address, date of birth and the club they played for last season entered, then the forms are printed off for the players to sign. They then have to be posted by 'snail mail' or hand-delivered to the League Registration Secretary's house in Cockfosters, which is about a 25-minute drive from where I live. The details from the form are then processed onto the League's Football Mitoo website and then copied from there onto the F.A.'s Full-Time website that the League also use. A five-digit registration number for each player is automatically generated by Mitoo and that number then has to be written down on the teamsheet before the Kick-Off of all League matches. As I am also the Barnet Sunday League's Website Secretary and one of their Full-Time Administrators, I often have to help the League Registration Secretary with these modern processes as it is not easy for somebody in their 70's whose first language is Italian. One of the biggest problems for him (and indeed anybody else) is that on Mitoo you enter the player's surname first, followed by his first name in the box underneath, but on Full-Time you enter the player's first name first, then his surname in the box underneath. Mitoo does not display registered players names publicly, but when logging in, it displays them surname first. Full-Time also does that when administrators login to see the list of who is already registered, but on public display it has them all with players first names first, albeit in alphabetical order of surname.  It is therefore very easy for League Registration Secretaries to get confused if they are using both systems, as the Barnet Sunday League are. We therefore had Taurean Bryan, Miles Levy and Rajpal Bumbra registered (and publicly-listed on Full-Time) as Bryan Taurean, Levy Miles & something like 'Bum Algebra' until I logged in and corrected it, while Lawrence Kill was down as 'Kill Laurence'. I know I sometimes upset League Officers by being a bit outspoken, but that is somewhat extreme !

What some Leagues are now doing for player registrations though is actually allowing Club Secretaries to use their Full-Time logins to register their own players online. This is now being encouraged by County Football Associations, in our case the London F.A. in conjunction with the F.A.'s Whole Game System, otherwise known as 'WGS'. This is because ideally, Referees need all clubs to register their players on WGS (or at least use the 'Data Cleansing' tool which copies them all over from Full-Time) because when they caution or dismiss a player, they have to login to WGS and report it on there as a mandatory procedure. If the player isn't listed, they then have to fill in the player's name themselves...and then invariably spell it wrongly, causing all sorts of problems. One classic example of that for us (albeit several years ago) was when a Referee somehow managed to spell Steve Cokell as 'Stepahen Cocan'. Although it initially had it's flaws, WGS is now much-improved and it is actually an excellent system for clubs to register their own players, especially if the League uses it to vet each player during the registration process in case there are any undesirables. As the Leagues we have played in have never allowed us to use it to register our own players though, I don't know exactly how that works, but presumably the system automatically flags up anybody who is sine due suspended and therefore cannot play again until money owed is paid. However, when a wrongly spelt name is entered, that player will slip through the net...and that is the problem with the system. Yes, numerous people entering data into it who cannot spell, whether that be Club Secretaries, Referees or League Registration Secretaries. It is not just that though. Some players will also deliberately give their new club Secretary a false surname and even a false address or date of birth so that WGS ignores their previous disciplinary record and registers them as a completely new player. For all the Club Sec knows, they may have previously assaulted a Referee. Another common problem more genuinely nowadays is the increasing amount of players using double-barrelled surnames because their parents never married. They register with one club using both, then the next club they just use their mother's name because they no longer get on with their father (or vice-versa). The biggest problem with WGS after that is once the Club Sec has found out that his new player's name is spelt incorrectly, it cannot be changed once it is on the system. It is greyed out, as is the date of birth. Only an address and contact details (e-mail/phone numbers) can be changed. Some Club Secretaries therefore delete that player from their list and then re-register the player as another new one in an effort to correct the spelling, but what happens then is that the player's original spelling & FAN number is still on the system. When that player then gets cautioned or sent off, the player gives the Referee the original spelling of his name or the Referee simply writes it down wrongly because the player is annoyed and won't spell it out for him. The Referee then logs in to WGS to record the booking and enters the player's name in a search box, then a list appears of five possibles as to who he means, and he doesn't know which one to choose. Also, when a player changes clubs because he has moved to live in a different area, that then also creates a new FAN number for him when it is not supposed to. Our own Tom Croake is a perfect example of that, as he played Youth football in Enfield, then moved to Clacton where he played for FC Clacton, then moved back to Enfield to work and started playing for us. Three different teams. Three different addresses. Three different FAN numbers. But the same person ! Also, a lot of our players are now at an age when they sometimes live in three different houses within the space of a year. They start off living with their parents, then they move out to live in their own flat, then they move to live with their girlfriend. All in different areas in and around London. In some cases players will sign for three different clubs during that period (Saturdays & Sundays) and use different addresses for each one...and sometimes different surnames, invariably because of double-barrelled names or spelling mistakes by the Club Secretary/Manager. I very much doubt that whoever devised WGS actually envisaged these sort of things happening because they probably have a traditional English name and a stable home background themselves. Some people (including myself) think that the FA will make a WGS player registration & Full-Time integration mandatory for all FA-affiliated Sunday Leagues within the next couple of years. Others (including our League Chairman) insist that they won't. If they do, I'm not sure how they are ever going to resolve the spelling and double-barrelled surnames problem, but whatever way registrations are done, people are always going to make mistakes with the input of data.

Although registering players can be a problem, at least the Barnet Sunday League has four divisions this season with at least 10 teams in each, including 10 new teams in total. However, various Essex Sunday Leagues, the Hackney & Leyton Sunday League and also the East Herts Corinthian Sunday League are really booming with twice as many new clubs joining them. Some Leagues have even introduced an extra Division to cope. This appears to be because there are plenty of pitches still available in that part of the Greater London area whereas in Barnet and particularly Enfield, a large number of Council pitches are no longer in use due to Council staff cutbacks and sell-offs for housing. Also, many private grounds in Barnet & Enfield (like our own Edmonton Sports & Social Club) have had to increase their pitch fees to around £100 per match because of increased costs imposed on them by the local Council. This has forced some long-established teams to leave those venues and play on cheaper council pitches instead, therefore lessening the availability of pitches in our area even more. Enfield Council now has an even greater problem after travellers broke in to Firs Farm in Edmonton recently and vandalised all the pitches and changing rooms, putting them all out of action for the foreseeable future and forcing the Edmonton Sunday League to use all the remaining pitches at Enfield Playing Fields for this season for their Firs Farm-based teams instead. This has now meant both the Barnet Sunday League and the Edmonton Sunday League will find it difficult to get any more new teams to join them this season because they have nowhere to play. That leaves just 10 teams in our division instead of the ideal number of 12, and with at least one of those 10 teams failing with their administration quite a bit because nobody wants to be the Club Secretary, that number could go down even further. In those Essex and East Herts Leagues though, because there are so many pitches available, new clubs are forming in huge numbers because they are taking advantage of the FA's 'Grow The Game' grant which pays their pitch fees for their first season. A lot of these new clubs then fold up at the end of that season and then re-form for the following season under a different name to get the grant again. And so it goes on, all because the pitches are available for them to do that. The Leagues that cover those areas are therefore booming, while the Leagues in Enfield & Barnet are really suffering. There are some new 3G pitches being built, but nowhere near enough to meet the demand from an ever-increasing population in those two Boroughs, while the cost of hiring those 3G pitches for a season is nowhere near covered by the 'Grow The Game' grant. With the Edmonton Sunday League now down to just 21 teams, it certainly looks likely that both Leagues will have to merge into one at some stage, which will be very sad for both, but there just won't be enough pitches to go round for either League to expand on their own.




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