Today’s lesson in how to keep our grass roots game alive comes from one of Non Leagues most respected coaches, Hugo Langton.
So another non league football season has drawn to a close. I can safely say the last few months has been very tough due to a ridiculous fixture congestion. I joined the management team at Hastings United in February on the back of their outstanding FA Cup run.
Every year the Ball is Round ask me what I would like to change about non league football. Well this year I would like common sense to be introduced by those who run the leagues. Let me explain why…
When I joined Hastings United in February, the club still incredibly had over half of their league games to play. The weather this year has been awful too, and so there were long periods when no one could play games. In our league, the Ryman Premier League, we weren’t alone. Other teams like Lowestoft and Concord Rangers also had a huge back log of fixtures. It resulted in us playing games every 2 days for 4 weeks.
I had to laugh at league officials tweeting stuff along the lines of “teams in the 1970s and 80s managed to play 3 games in 3 days, so what’s the problem? Man up and get on with it..”! Obviously the game hasn’t changed at all in the last 30 years has it?
Bear in mind we are all part time, everyone has their day jobs, how are players expected to play 4 times a week (often getting in from midweek away games at 2am), manage their day jobs, sleep and more importantly recover? This sort of pre historic attitude to the modern game in my opinion places players at a very high risk of injury, which in turn affects their work life as well as their own health. Science has showed that players need 3 days to recover properly from a game, so playing every 48 hours is a big ask. Research has proved that teams who play again within 48 hours of the last game, have a 40% higher chance of losing the next game, especially if the opposition has had sufficient rest.
The easiest solution obviously is to extend the season, something our league was against. I understand that clubs budget for a 38 week season, and those with pretty big budgets would have to find extra money.
We at Hastings picked up a lot of injuries in the final month of the season. I have a very proud record over the last 3 seasons of having only a handful of players miss games due to muscular injuries, as the way I warm players up and down minimalizes injury risk. However, it was too hard to control injury risk with such a busy schedule. I know Lowestoft also recorded a higher number of muscular injuries during a similar schedule, and Concord Rangers at times were down to the bare bones.
Hastings United in the end were relegated, and this is not a whinge that we did go down. I am not stupid enough to say we were relegated because we had to play pretty much every 48 hours (over the season we drew far too many games), but it had a huge effect on us in the latter part of the season. In a nutshell we ran out of steam. I was shattered and I hadn’t played, so I dread to think how tired the players were. They deserve credit for having a real go, but no one is super human. You can accept it for one week, but for four weeks in a row it was too much. Lowestoft might argue that they could have won the league had they not run out of steam too. Our league campaign finished on April 27th, we were previously able to train on March 21st.
So in my mind, this cannot happen again. Players cannot be put at risk like this in the future. My worry is that those who run leagues do not understand this side of the game, and care more for their prawn sandwiches and the red carpet hospitality they expect wherever they go. I saw one league official tweet a manager who was complaining that his side had to play 3 times in 3 days (what a joke) that he should get on with it as the games were meaningless. What an insult to that manager and that club.
No doubt we won’t learn from these experiences, especially as our league are increasing the amount of clubs in the league, so we have to play 4 more games next season. The season must start earlier in August, and most managers will tell you they want to play midweek every week for the first few months, especially while the evenings are still quite nice.
We managers, coaches and players move with the times, isn’t it about time that those who run the leagues do too?