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Why are youth football teams in Norfolk struggling to keep up with demand?

PUBLISHED: 14:04 06 November 2019 | UPDATED: 14:04 06 November 2019

Youth football teams in Norfolk are struggling to keep up with demand. Picture: Alan Palmer.

Youth football teams in Norfolk are struggling to keep up with demand. Picture: Alan Palmer.

Alan Palmer

Youth football teams in Norfolk are struggling to meet the demand for young people wanting to play the so-called beautiful game. But why? James Walker reports.

Youngsters take part in the Junior Football tournament at Taverham. Picture Simon Parker.Youngsters take part in the Junior Football tournament at Taverham. Picture Simon Parker.

It might be the age of Fortnite and Xbox, but it seems youngsters want to play football even more than ever.

Despite there being 76 clubs in the Norfolk Youth Combined league, with many having more than one team per age group, managers are still finding themselves with waiting lists of children wanting to play.

To play the beautiful game, it seems the demand is higher and the age is younger nowadays.

Speaking on the issue, youth managers feel it is a good problem to have, but only if pitches and coaches are available to facilitate them.

Daniel Brown, manager of one of four Cringleford FC under 8 teams, is still getting calls from parents who want to sign their kids up.

"Up until last week I was getting 20/30 phone calls a week just to sign up to Cringleford. We've had to form four teams when there was originally meant to be two.

Players a the Lowestoft Town Football Club tournament. 
Picture: Nick Butcher.Players a the Lowestoft Town Football Club tournament. Picture: Nick Butcher.

"Everybody wants to play and if one team is full you have to go elsewhere, as the league only lets you sign on 10 players each team."

David Powles, an FA Level 1 qualified coach for Hethersett under 7s, said: "Our club already has hundreds of players signed on throughout the age groups but the general theme is that we can't keep up with the demand and most of our teams have a shortlist.

Speaking on why he feels there are more kids wanting to play the game, he added: "I think it could be a culmination of many things, perhaps there aren't the teams and coaches there used to be, but also I think parents are more keen these days to get their children into official teams and tasks at an earlier age. When I was young I didn't sign on for an official club until I was 10.

"If there is a need for more coaches I'd highly recommend it as I have found it a wonderful experience and it's great to see the kids develop as players and, more importantly, people."

Fakenham Town under 7s Ghosts manager David Coslett worries about the lack of pitches available, with the increased interest of boys and girls wanting to play football.

"All our teams share pitches, so I think a problem could be how many teams can you have with limited pitches available?"

Over 750 children took part in a youth football tournament hosted by Dereham Town Youth Football Club at Aldiss Park in Dereham earlier this year. Picture: Alan Palmer.Over 750 children took part in a youth football tournament hosted by Dereham Town Youth Football Club at Aldiss Park in Dereham earlier this year. Picture: Alan Palmer.

Speaking on behalf of Costessey Sports FC, Scott Hoffman also believes more young people want to play the sport.

"I've got 13 in my team, in our age group at Costessey we've got three teams and all are full," he said.

On how Hoffman became a coach, he explained the situation was probably common with many other teams around Norfolk.

He said: "Our main coach was coaching 18/20 boys each week and for him to do that by himself would have been bonkers.

"It's unusual for our club to have three teams an age group, there is definitely an increased demand for kids wanting to be involved as kids are enjoying it more."

But could the fact kids are enjoying it more could be down to the new development system introduced by the league?

Over 750 children took part in a youth football tournament hosted by Dereham Town Youth Football Club at Aldiss Park in Dereham in 2019. Picture: Alan PalmerOver 750 children took part in a youth football tournament hosted by Dereham Town Youth Football Club at Aldiss Park in Dereham in 2019. Picture: Alan Palmer

Steve Kenny, the under 7 & under 8 divisional secretary helped bring in the Mercy Rule to the Norfolk Youth Combined League.

"To ensure the game is still fun we have brought in this rule so if one team is particularly stronger, the opponent can bring on up to 2 extra players to level the playing fields."

While the new rule might have helped increase the fun, Norfolk will have to come up with coaches and pitches to help with the boom of youngsters wanting to play the beautiful game.

"The problem now could be a lack of coaches. You could have 100 kids, but if there isn't a parent or responsible adult willing to coach or isn't qualified, the kids can't play," Mr Kenny added.

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