Why are so many giving up on adult grassroots football in Norfolk?

Norfolk FA has launched a survey to find out why teams are folding in Norfolk. Picture: Norfolk FA/A

Norfolk FA has launched a survey to find out why teams are folding in Norfolk. Picture: Norfolk FA/Aaron Murrell - Credit: Archant

Norfolk FA have released figures that show a five per cent drop in the number of teams affiliated to play in the county during the 2013/14 season.

Five per cent might not sound a great deal until you consider the fact it amounts to 25 teams dropping out of the game.

It's the first decline Norfolk FA has seen in the number of affiliated teams and the figures have prompted the association to find out exactly why. More importantly, they want to find out what they can do about it.

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'For the first time in a long time we have a concern that teams were signing up to leagues at their AGMs in June/July and then, when it came to getting fixtures arranged in September, we've lost five per cent of our teams,' said Norfolk FA chief executive, Shaun Turner.

'When we have asked why that is we are told it is down to player commitment. We all have our opinions on what player commitment can be but no-one has ever asked the players 'what's the issue?'

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'This is what we are now trying to do. Everyone has got an opinion on football – that's what makes it the fantastic sport that we love.

'We just thought we would go ahead and ask for the first time and hopefully players past and present will engage with what we are trying to do. Ultimately we can then listen and implement, if we can, what's needed to entice people either back to the game or to continue to play it.

'This is probably the most important survey that we've ever done – it will be the most important piece of research that we've ever done if we want to keep moving things forward.'

Interestingly the number of players registered with the FA has remained the same for the 2013/14 season. However, whether people retain the commitment of playing every weekend is the burning issue.

There is every excuse not to play – there's a game on the television, the Canaries are at home, you want to spend time with the family – just three reasons among many why people have stopped lacing up their boots every weekend.

But the FA wants to know if they can help combat these issues and see if they can entice players back into the game.

'There hasn't been a decline in players so there seems to be a decline in being able to, or wanting to, play week in, week out,' added Turner.

'Are the disciplinary procedures too tight for people? Is it too expensive? Are the pitches not good enough? Can we get people to run the team and all the bureaucracy and the admin that's required? Are more people having young families?

'We genuinely don't know – we think we have an inkling but I think people get bored of people telling them what it is. We really want to give people the opportunity to say either 'you're spot on' or 'you couldn't be more wrong'.

'If there is a complete apathy and no-one wants to take five minutes to take part in the survey then who knows what we do next?

'That would then come down to us to regulate the game with the best intentions in the world but knowing that people aren't actually that interested in the regulatory side of it and they just want to play.

'We know there are going to be a die-hard cohort of people that play football but for the first time in a long time we have seen a decline in all areas of the modern game.'

Turner insisted the survey should take no more than 10 minutes for anyone to complete either on-line or by post.

He hopes by the end of November they will have had the chance to fully collate the findings and the Norfolk FA board will then have the opportunity to analyse the results.

The findings will then be discussed at the League Development Day in January when representatives from all of Norfolk's 19 leagues will come together to make plans for the following season.

'That whole day will be shaped around the results of the survey,' added Turner. 'That will then hopefully shape next season which means it can then go through the relevant committees here to approve the necessary changes before, if needs be, any changes go to our AGM in June ready for implementation in the 2014/15 season.'

It is a genuine chance for players and officials to have their say on how the game is run in the county and Turner insists that no idea, however left-field, will be discounted without it being investigated first.

'We are desperate for people be honest with us. We've got a completely blank piece of paper and we want to hear what people are saying. Football is one of the most complex industries around in that everything is about the members.

'The members have all the power to ultimately approve and amend rules or support rules.

'If it was something like people wanted to abolish fines for red and yellow cards we have to be realistic from the start. We can't do that because that's a national FA regulation that's actually dictated by FIFA.

'If it was that there is too much travelling involved in the County Cups then we have control on that so I can put forward proposals for people to support.

'Similarly people may want flexible formats and want to kick off on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon. If that's what it takes to get people playing I then have to put those recommendations forward to the relevant leagues for the clubs within those leagues to make those decisions.'

Turner and his team are bracing themselves for a very busy end to the year but hopes by confronting the issue now they will be well placed to instigate a turnaround.

'It's probably the most relevant challenge that people will see,' he said. 'We've overcome a lot of challenges with a lot of different things internally in the past. We've re-structured the council to make sure that there are more representative of clubs on there and we implemented a training programme for all referees last year.

'But ultimately if there are no people playing football we don't have a county Football Association.

'This is the first year we've seen what we class as a worrying decline. We're not panicking but if we don't address it and it carries on then in 10 or 15 years' time there won't be enough teams to run the level of football that we want in the county.

'In the current format it probably is the most important, daunting and exciting problem that we've encountered.'

The survey will run from today until October 31. Go to www.norfolkfa.com or call 01603 704050.

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