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Concern at number of teams withdrawing from Norwich Sunday League

PUBLISHED: 12:10 27 January 2012

Ben Casey: 'They have got the choice of when and where to play football to fit in with their lifestyles.'

Ben Casey: 'They have got the choice of when and where to play football to fit in with their lifestyles.'

©Archant Photographic 2009

Norwich Sunday League secretary Ben Casey has admitted "concern" after the number of teams that have withdrawn from the league since the start of the season grew to five.

Caseys Cosmos, from Division 3a, became the latest side to pull out, citing a lack of players.

They followed in the wake of Premier Division outfits Wymondham Rangers and former treble-winners Poringland Wanderers; Division 1a outfit Hainford YCOB, and Division 1b’s Costessey Sports, who have all quit during the current campaign.

Last season defending champions Quebec, past treble winners, and like Poringland one of the league’s all-time greats, were among those who fell by the wayside.

“It concerns me until we see it level off, and I think there will be a levelling-off point. It isn’t just Sunday football though it’s local football in general,” said Casey.

He believes the latest withdrawals are part of a growing trend nationally, linked to changing lifestyles. One factor is the growing popularity of five-a-side tournaments, which have increased in number and quality, giving players the chance of competitive action during the week – leaving them free for other pursuits on Sundays.

“They have got the choice of when and where to play football to fit in with their lifestyles.

“I don’t think five-a-side football is the reason for the decline – it’s just another avenue people have in which to exercise their choices,” commented Casey.

Difficulty in meeting the rising costs of running teams and attracting sponsors during financially-straitened times are other factors making life harder for Sunday sides, traditionally run on a shoestring, to survive.

Extended nightclub and pub opening hours, and live televised Premier League games, could be other reasons why Sunday morning matches have tumbled down the list of priorities for today’s youngsters who, it would seem, have never had it so good taking into account the list of options indoors and outdoors at their disposal. Throw in the fact that the once-special Sabbath has been turned into just another working day for many and it becomes clear that the golden days when the vast majority of players lived for their Sunday football have long gone and will never be seen again. But despite the setbacks, the Norwich area remains a Sunday soccer hotbed compared with other parts of the country, thanks to the league which was founded in 1958, and is inextricably woven into Norfolk’s sporting fabric. “I look at the FA website and every Sunday league I look at has four or five divisions at the most. We have got nine – which makes us one of the biggest – if not the biggest – in the country,” said Casey. “I have already had applications for new teams wanting to join next season.”

Sze Ming Cheung, who stepped down as Caseys Cosmos secretary in November to concentrate on his refereeing commitments, said he was disappointed to learn that the team had folded.

The team used to be Bystanders, a side which can trace its roots back to the 1960s and became renowned for winning the league’s sporting award on several occasions. Despite some fearful beatings over the years the players never threw in the towel and their exemplary sportsmanship shone like a beacon. The team changed its name for the 2010-11 season when Sze Ming’s Reepham Road fish and chip business became sponsors. At the time he announced a food-based bonus system linked to performances on the pitch. He told me this week: “It’s very disappointing that the club has folded. At the time when we started I had big plans for the club at Sunday morning level. At one point we had about 40 players signed on.”

The website for the Recreation Road, Earlham-based club still bears testimony to his ambitions which are listed as: “To be a Premier Division team within six years and to win the Norfolk County FA Sunday Senior Cup within eight years.”

Sze Ming, who is secretary for Anglian Combination outfit CNSOBU on Saturdays, said the club would be applying to field a team in the Norwich Sunday League next season.

More teams wishing to join can contact Ben Casey (01508 493791) for a form to be submitted by April 1.

• What are your thoughts on Sunday football? What do you think the future holds? Write to me at Evening News sportsdesk, Prospect House, Norwich, Norfolk NR1 1RE or email milton.lindsay@archant.co.uk

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