LAST week I had a splendid evening when attending the Liverpool County Football Association’s Christmas Dinner.
It was a really smashing event and I enjoyed sitting amongst so many good folk of Merseyside who put so much time into running and regulating local football.
Liverpool has always been a city teeming with would-be footballers – famous local players who have proudly worn the Red, Blue or White of their famous local professional clubs.
And, therefore, it was fitting that last week’s event was held in the Brian Labone Suite at Goodison Park.
Harry Catterick, Everton’s great manager of the sixties and early seventies, once described Scouser Labone as ‘the last great Corinthian’ – a player who took both manners and majestic defending onto the pitch week-in, week-out.
Just looking at some of the artefacts of Labone’s playing days, housed in glass cases, took me back to a time when even as a rabid Liverpudlian I still couldn’t find fault in Everton’s late, great skipper.
And it was with interest and concern that I recently read the heartfelt views of another ‘Corinthian’, the pen-named column, by which amateur football news is brought so diligently to the readers of the Liverpool ECHO.
In an emotional piece ‘Corinthian’ outlined how he felt the amateur game was in decline on Merseyside, indeed nationwide. However painful to read, it did highlight key trends – not least the number of clubs, teams and leagues fading from some elements of the local football scene.
But the amateur game has changed on Merseyside, like it has up and down the country.
Undoubtedly, the pressures and alternative pleasures of modern life mean that certain aspects of our long- established football framework have come under threat and we all have to acknowledge that people’s circumstances have changed – money is extremely tight - but the wider picture also needs to be recognised.
Merseyside’s player participation rates stand up strongly against other parts of the country and in certain categories we are showing the way forward.
The County Association’s refereeing department is also dedicating both resources and time to bringing through new sets of qualified officials – and proud to be doing so.
Indeed, there are still decent numbers participating in local football , given the myriad of alternative ways people can now spend their leisure time, and have to carefully stretch their hard-earned cash.
We cannot stand still and look back at the past. Now the organisers of the local game need to be inventive, intuitive and creative in designing a football framework that fits the future and the demands of a clientele that have so many different ways of spending their free time.
And, I am impressed with the level of thought and expertise that is going into the LCFA’s tackling of the issue.
What is also true is it needs help from external partners as well. In that context it is disappointing to see Sefton Council potentially charging fees for some elements of the pitches’ upkeep in junior football.
Surely, getting youngsters out to enjoy the fresh air and fun, and the controlled competitive edge that organised sport can give them, is exactly the right way to be directing scarce resources in these tough times.
A recent piece on the LCFA website asked those with a dormant interest in local football to consider doing three things.
One, volunteer at your local club. Whatever your skills or enthusiasm it will be harnessed very readily by the football organisations you offer your time to.
Secondly, organise a game of football with your mates – re-discover the thrill of kicking the ball again, perhaps the perfect antidote to that extra slice of turkey and dollop of Christmas pudding that’s around the corner.
And thirdly, put your coat on and walk to the park and watch a game of amateur football. It’s free, it’s fun and it’s full of fresh air. What a hat-trick!
Sure we have to deal with the reality of the changing shape and face of the football we all played as young people but we should still encourage those young enough to participate in the game fully knowing that it guarantees a lifetime’s memories.