Pitching in at King's Lynn... or are they?

King's Lynn Town home - The Walks

The Walks is home to the first team - but it is proving difficult to find pitches for some of the younger age groups - Credit: Chris Lakey

The first thing you need when you start a football club is a pitch to play on.  

This may seem obvious and an easy problem to solve, but I can assure you it is not.

King’s Lynn Town launched an Under 15s team and an Under 13s team this season and set up a regional talent centre for our Under 10s. We would have created more age groups if we could. More than 200 children came to The Walks in the summer for a trial event, but we simply could not find pitches for them all to play on.

There is a 3G facility at Lynnsport which is owned by Alive West Norfolk which in turn is owned and controlled by the local council. On this facility, King’s Lynn Elite play football, but whilst the name leaves some to believe that they have a connection to the club, which is compounded when visiting their website (as pictures show their teams playing in previous strips worn by our club under a deal agreed at the time) they make no attempt to explain that they are a stand-alone entity which has no connection with King’s Lynn Town FC. This in itself is not a problem.

Recently, Alive West Leisure took the Elite under its own wing so it could be argued that in doing so, it indirectly became the local authorities’ team. Our club has found it impossible to hire pitches from Lynnsport for any of our youth teams - it seems that they are simply not available to our youngsters.

Our enthusiastic coaches were not to be deterred and found pitches at King Edward VII Academy (KES), which is fast gaining a reputation as a place of sporting excellence and a magnificent learning institution to boot. The teams were formed and our Under 13s and Under 16s entered the Junior Premier League, known more usually as the JPL. King’s Lynn Elite also re-joined the same league.

Clearly, as the light fades the older age groups who train later face difficulties in training as there are no floodlights at KES. I approached the council about the situation and have a meeting booked for November and spoke with Tommy Goode, who is head of performance and development for Alive West Norfolk. Whilst the chat was friendly, Tommy asked me to disband our youth network!  He would accept a partnership (terms never discussed) but only if it was “in our brand” and furthermore stated that this was a “red line for Alive West Norfolk”.

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If we agreed to his demands, then they would help our club promote itself to their members and various other soft incentives were offered. I explained that the club did not have to compete with his offerings; as an example, if his Under 10s ran on a Wednesday we could run on a Thursday. Having two young boys, I know that they will play as much football as they can, so neither party would be disadvantaged. This proposal was turned down.

The Local Football Facility Plan identified King’s Lynn as an area needing a second 3G pitch and they have set their hearts on doing this at River Lane, which are open playing fields in King’s Lynn and would be under the control of the council via Alive West Norfolk. Norfolk FA promised me that our club would have access to any new 3G pitch, but after speaking with those around Lynnsport it is clear that this would only be for our first and ladies team. I have called and emailed Norfolk FA for days to ask for confirmation that our youth team would be able to play at any new facility, but sadly my messages remain, as yet, unanswered.

Most of the cost of the pitch will be covered by grants from the Football Foundation and other charitable bodies and the better alternative would be to place the pitch at KES, who can help towards the finance and would be far more of a natural fit. I have asked the Norfolk FA to consider it as an alternative site, but the response has been lukewarm, at best. 

I was surprised to see that King’s Lynn Elite have been awarded by the Norfolk FA an award for being the Best Grass Roots Football Club as, after you reach the age of 16, there are no further teams at King’s Lynn Elite - the pathway is over.  I would argue that the set-up is essentially an income-generating coaching organisation, but certainly not a grassroots football club. Surely to qualify for that you need to have a senior team and a ladies football team. I have no idea what the criteria are to judge the awards; maybe it is simply down to results achieved, so I had a look at those for this season.

Our Under 13s have beaten Yaxley 6-1 twice, Lowestoft Town FC  7-3, but went down to Kettering Town FC 2-1, and are currently top of the league. King’s Lynn Elite lost to Coventry 7-2 and 11-3, lost to Corby 12-2, but picked up a point when their game against Rushden was called off and the points were shared! 

Our Under 15s beat Newark 2-1, Corby Town 2-0 and Peterborough Junior Blues 5-1 and are also top of their league. King’s Lynn Elite Under 15s lost to Coventry 7-1 and 6-1, lost 15-0 by Corby Town but were given one point when their game against Rushden also failed to go ahead. The Elite are bottom of both leagues.

Our Under 19s have beaten Alfreton 2-0 and Chesterfield 4-2 in their only two fixtures to date and are also top of their league, but the Elite do not have a team in this age group, as mentioned.

Our Under 15s have found winter facilities in Wisbech at Thomas Clarkson school’s 3G, our Under 10s when it rains will go indoors at KES into their sports hall and our Under 13s have plans to get through the winter.

What does not kill you makes you stronger is the old adage and although our backs are against the wall, it has made everyone fight that little bit harder. We are one big team. I was taken aback when the Under 13s gave me a card and a bottle of whisky and thanked me for my help when in reality they have done all the hard work themselves.

This week I saw that Everton will be loaned £30m by their council and given a £15m grant towards their new stadium. Many other councils have made similar donations to their clubs recognising their invaluable role in the community.

All I need is a football pitch to train the local youngsters and give them a purpose - is that too much to ask for?

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