St Edmundsbury Football League close to folding with too few clubs

DESPERATE TIMES: From left: Roger Cox (league chairman), Peter Utting  (honorary vice-president and life member) and Paul Glasswell (sponsor)
DESPERATE TIMES: From left: Roger Cox (league chairman), Peter Utting (honorary vice-president and life member) and Paul Glasswell (sponsor)
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It’s been running for 110 years and is one of the oldest continually running football leagues in the country, but the future of the St Edmundsbury Football League is in peril.

The league, formerly called the Bury & District Football League, has been on the decline for a number of years as teams have chosen to join other tournaments, but the problem has now become desperate.

This year only 11 teams will take part — just enough teams for one division — a far cry from its heydey when all the local teams took part.

And the league’s secretary, Bill Tinkler, has issued an appeal for urgent help as fears grow over the league’s continued existence.

Tinkler said: “It’s an SOS really.

“If we carry on the way it has been, with fewer and fewer teams, then there will come a time, soon, when the league won’t be viable.

“It would be an absolute disaster to lose a competition this old and steeped in so much history.

“When it first started and right up until I became secretary 19 years ago, all the villages and towns took part.

“It was big and in a healthy state, but there’s been a steady decline since then really.

“It’s hard to see why, as Glasswells, our sponsor for years, has always provided support and the background is right with top quality referees and officials, but we’re just lacking the teams.

“There are plenty of football facilities in the area as well, but they are arguably too expensive. This doesn’t help.

“And we’ve also lost a lot of the villages who have gone to the Suffolk and Ipswich League and the growth of Sunday football as well.

“The sad reality is a lot of people work on a Saturday now I suppose.

“We try every year to boost the league but the numbers are still dropping.”

He said they had started with 13 teams but, with the league kicking off this weekend, were already down to 11 as two more teams dropped out.

It sits at level 18 on the English football league system and is a feeder to the Suffolk and Ipswich Football League (SIL).

Suffolk FA senior football development officer, Michael Cornall, said: “It is fantastic to see the St Edmundsbury Football League last the test of time and that is credit to the league committee and clubs that they have been able to keep the league going all these years.

“At Suffolk FA we work closely with all of our leagues in the county and through various initiatives such as FA Charter Standard, League Development Plans and by sharing best practice we want to ensure that the St Edmundsbury Football League has a network of support.”