So you and your friends think you're ready to tackle being part of an organised football league? Well you are in the right place. Beware however it's not as easy as it sounds but with some good organisation, we can help you confidently take that big leap!
Thank you to Peter George for the original production of this helpful article
This is the first essential must before you do anything else. You need at least 2 or 3 people to take some responsibility - many hands make light work as they say! Being part of any League carries a heavy burden for one newcomer. From these people, elect a secretary, a treasurer (oh yes, it all costs money) and a manager. Of course one person can do several roles, but it's a lot for a newbie to take on alone. Unless you're a strong individual, your club won't last long.
Affiliation with a County FA
Now you need to register yourselves with your local county football association. They are the governing body for all football within your area. You cannot even play a friendly against another team unless you're affiliated. Remember, football isn't all sweetness and light and sometimes unsavoury incidents happen.
Your local football association are there to deal with such matters, among other things. Usually county football associations (and local leagues) will only deal with the club secretary; this is standard practice. When you affiliate, you will need a name for your team. Be prepared for a disappointment. Your name may already be in use and your application will then need modifying before you are accepted.
If you are planning to play in an Essex based league then it's the Essex County FA you are best to get in touch with:
Essex County Football Association
The County Office
Springfield Lyons Approach
WHAT IS THIS GOING TO COST ME?
OK now let's talk money. This is where some of you can be put off. I won't mince my words - it's bloody expensive to get a new team off the ground!
Firstly, affiliating with your local county FA has set you back £40-50. And that's just for starters, but at least you've got a name and a structure.
Now you need to apply to a League. You will find a list of the leagues in your area in your county FA handbook. Once you have found a League and you have submitted an application, it is typical to have to pay a good faith deposit at the time of application which is returned when you eventually leave the League subject to all obligations having been met. You'll be looking at around £80-100 for your annual league fees which you have to pay each season, giving you entry to the league and to the cup competitions that they run.
Before any League worth its salt will accept you, they will probably interview you to see how organised you are. The more details you can give, the better. They will look to confirm that you will have adequate finances in place to last a season, what your anticipated playing standard might be and, in general, how you have structured the club. This is also your chance to ask questions yourself and make sure the League is right for you.
So you've probably paid out the best part of £150 and you're still no nearer a football pitch. Are you still with me? Good, now let's get to the nitty gritty.
Finding a pitch
This will be the highest annual expense you will have to find each season. Having a piece of turf to call your own is serious business - and very expensive! Fees range from £500 to £1500+! It all depends on your criteria, your local area and what's available.
Pitch fees have risen dramatically in the last few years as local authorities squeeze every last drop out of football teams.
Some schools have better facilities and these pitches don't always come under the local authority. You have to contact the school yourself. Again find out what's included and what isn't, for instance, changing facilities.
Private sports facilities are usually the best around and therefore the most expensive. Facilities again will vary, but the general rule is the better the ground, the more you'll pay. With private grounds, what you are paying for is better maintenance from a dedicated groundsman and probably better overall facilities. More often than not these pitches are well kept and therefore the first to be called off when the rain falls as a result to prevent damage.
If you have to buy the pitch 'furniture' you'll have to find money for nets (starting around £50 per pair) and corner-flags (£30).
What about a kit?
Right, you've affiliated with county, joined a League and found a pitch. The bank manager's on your case and you're standing out there starkers! Oh dear, we need a kit!
As you may be aware, kits are available from many sources. Prices generally start from around £200 for a full adult kit, but without naming names, it's true to say the more you pay, the better you get and this is worth remembering if you want the kit to last more than one season.
As a rule of thumb most teams supply the kit, the players supply their own shinpads and boots (usually caked in last season's mud). Some clubs however have found success in providing players with their own kit which reduces the cost of laundering but does INCREASE the chance of ending the season short of a kit or 2!
Anything else to think about?
OK, the cupboards now bare but surely there's nothing else to pay out, is there?
Decent footballs will cost around £15-30 each and you will need several. The kind you can buy for £3 or £4 simply won't do in organised football. Any decent League will also insist on first aid kit and you'll need to keep these in shape. A corn plaster and eye-drops won't do!
Then there's the man in black with the whistle. Referees expenses are typically £30 per game, depending on the League and the travel involved. With most Leagues and Counties the home club pays the referee, so you'll have to find this sum roughly every other week. These rules can change on Cup matches, check with your League.
The kit will need washing and unless you own a greengrocers, you'll need those pieces of half-time orange (some players need considerably more than this!).
TIP: - Maybe it would be a good idea to find a reliable 'kit-washer' and pay them for the privilege?
Oh yes, those men with the whistle are there for a reason. One sure way to lose what little money you have remaining is to question their authority or take up arms against the opposition. Bookings (cautions) and dismissals all cost money.
One thing to note is the Club itself is responsible for paying the fines for any cautions or dismissals but that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't pass that cost back onto the player themselves. In fact, some clubs even add their own cost on top in order to discourage players picking up cautions and dismissals.
Know your League's rules
Most Leagues have officers, such as secretaries, chairmen, treasurers, results secretaries, etc. None that I know use the services of a clairvoyant and you will need to stay in touch with the League, otherwise they will extend your overdraft even further.
The biggest complaint from the Leagues is that clubs either can't be bothered or they fail to listen. This leads to a communications problem. As the club secretary you will have responsibilities and duties to perform. These will include, but not limited to, attending meetings, confirming fixtures, phoning in results, submitting result cards.
Not fulfilling these duties may initially lead to warnings but could also mean fines being issued to your club. TIP: EVERY fine is avoidable with a little bit of organisation.
Remember the League has no duty to the club beyond their remit, that is the organisation of the League, not your club. Some clubs who are excellent on the field of play are let down by poor secretaries. This is the person who represents your team with the League and County and they could cause your downfall so finding somebody reliable and organised is a god-send.
Er, well, not necessarily! How serious are your team about this football thing? If you want to keep fit, time to dip in again. Running around a field becomes monotonous, not to mention cold and damp and dark during winter. Training facilities, ranging from school gyms to sports centre astroturf, are there if your pockets are deep enough. Fees again will vary considerably.
Injuries are another problem and personal insurance is essential for some to help cover loss of wages, should a serious injury occur. It is now an FA requirement for all affiliated clubs to have a minimum cover which, if you choose the right County, may be subsidised in some way. Above this minimum cover, clubs can arrange more substantial group cover or the individual players can take up their own policies.
Most local authorities now insist upon teams having 'Public Liability insurance'. This is not the same as personal injury cover for players. As most teams play on public areas, injury can occur to spectators or passers-by and this is the purpose of Public Liability cover. Usually it is far cheaper than player's personal insurance cover, but not a substitute for it.
I've spent out a lot now... how can I recoup some of this cost?
Sponsorship is one good way. If you are a group of friends, you very likely use a local pub. Do they have a football team? If not, ask the landlord if he would like to back one. Point out the advantages. A team carrying his pub's name and guaranteed income from you and your players, who will surely frequent the premises, for team meetings, after-match analysis and tactic planning. With any luck he will buy the kit and maybe put in a bit more. Alternatively, would any of your player's employers like the opportunity for a little local advertising?
Running raffles and fund-raising events and the like helps meet expenses. Plus most teams charge players a signing-on fee of anything from £20 to £100 a head and weekly matchday subscriptions of £3-£10. Do your sums and things don't suddenly look so gloomy. But remember, organisation is the key.
Don't give up...
Very often, players who believe they possess the skills of Paul Gascoigne find in the real world they are more like Bamber Gascoinge (sorry Bamber, you might be a really good player). Moral can drop when faced with organised teams and a good hiding. Don't give up - things do improve.
As your team become more organised and disciplined you tend to overcome these obstacles. And don't set yourself unrealistic targets. It's quite usual for new teams to struggle for form, even if the players have had some experience.
Some Leagues allow you to choose which Division you want to start in, although they will always act in the interest of the League should your application be deemed unreasonable. Don't lie or exaggerate regarding your player's abilities. It seems every man and his dog had a trial with a professional club "when he was younger". One sure way to lose players is to find yourself getting 'pasted' each week but, on the other hand, placing yourself too low and coasting a division can be equally an issue.
I'm ready to take the plunge - what's next?
Presuming the men in the white coats haven't dragged you away screaming and you live in our part of Essex, you can complete an online application form to join the Essex Alliance Football League. All applications will be screened and applicants will be invited along to an interview evening to discuss your application further.
One thing you should never be afraid of through this entire process and indeed once you have entered a League, don't be afraid to ask questions. If you are not sure what to do or need help with a particular situation you are facing, ask somebody on the League's management committee as many have years of experience in grassroots football and plenty of hints and tips to assist you.