Bellevue FC manager Delwyn Derrick hugely enjoyed watching the acclaimed Netflix series The English Game.
Just as importantly as being great viewing, however, the 2019 FAW Volunteer of the Year believes the programme delivered a major message as regards the future of today’s grassroots game.
The English Game is about invention of football and how it rose to become the world’s game by crossing class divides.
Read on for Delwyn’s thoughts….
There are a thousand ways to pass the time during this lockdown.
As for me, I have just finished watching The English Game on Netflix and to be honest, I really enjoyed it.
I found it utterly enthralling and really well-written, but also I stumbled across a throwaway line that was really sad in the context of the current social climate.
“It will only be the richest teams that ever win anything.”
I’m sure this is a scripted device to further highlight the differences between the elite clubs of the established gentry in the late 1800’s and the working men’s football clubs of the same era, but this has a kind of odd symmetry to what we see in today’s football.
Those old working men’s clubs are now the richest clubs, and they do win everything, they are businesses in their own right and it is now the lower tier, community clubs that play not for money and not for glory, but for the love of the game itself.
In a way, it’s a little poetic that The English Game paints the old mill clubs as being at war, for equality, against the very clubs they became. I could labour this point for a while, but it would be easy to forget why I started writing this piece in the first place.
I am writing today as a warning.
This global pandemic has stalled what should have been a thrilling few months of football.
I’m talking of course, about the end of the seasons, all of the cup finals and of course the international tournaments over the summer.
As a football fan anywhere in the world, this is what we live for, this is where it all comes together, comes to a head and before we know it, it ends, just like that!
Quick breather and it all starts over again. It truly is the magic of football.
Instead of what we were promised, we instead face several tragedies. The first and clearly most important is the global pandemic that threatens millions of people, literally all across the world.
Never in most of our lifetimes has humanity faced a threat such as this and like all of us, I hope that it is short lived and has minimal impact on all of us.
The second tragedy we face is the fact that football could look completely different by the time this is over. Let me explain…..
The big football clubs, in every country, will survive. They are run as big businesses and so they are entitled to all of the help and support that governments have put in place for businesses all across the world.
No doubt they will take a hit financially, everyone is in the same boat in that way, but they will survive. I would be very surprised to see Premier League clubs folding for example.
But if we look further down the tables, we very quickly see a huge problem on the horizon.
You see, April isn’t just about the end of season, the cup finals and cheering on your country on the big stage. This month is when the huge teams of volunteers running community football get to work.
Managers and coaches start looking at how to improve their teams for the next campaign through player recruitment and pre-season planning.
Management committees start looking into fundraising and sponsorships in order to fund the next season.
So much goes on behind the scenes to make sure that clubs survive year to year. Instead, we are all sat inside social distancing.
Some might argue that there is no fixed date for the start of the next season, so there will be time to plan for smaller clubs when this pandemic is under control and life begins to return to normal, but that simply isn’t going to be the case.
People are off work, people are struggling financially and when this is over, fundraising for smaller clubs is going to be harder than ever before. That is no doubt going to put the security of small teams in the hands of sponsors, but that won’t be an easy task either.
Businesses are being hit hard by the restrictions in place right now, so are likely to be more hesitant handing over large sums of money to lowly community football clubs.
Particularly when you look at grassroots sponsors. Big companies support big teams. Small teams rely on small and often independent businesses to make ends meet, you know, the type of businesses being hit hardest during this crisis.
I won’t hide from the fact I have an agenda. Of course this situation affects me at Bellevue FC, that’s a given.
But I worry for the friends we have made on our journey, the other clubs, other players and all of the fantastic volunteers that make grassroots football. All of us will be in the same boat. I worry. Not just for my club either, but for all community football.
The simple fact is that some clubs will not come back from this crisis, some will simply not survive. Never in our recent history has it been more important to support your local team.
In fact, if we’re honest, probably never since the era The English Game is set in, has it been more important to support your community football team.
Not every person who loves football is elite level, in fact the majority of footballers in the world are grassroots level and they need their sport to be open and accessible.
I am not being pessimistic at all; I’m asking everyone to be optimistic and proactive, because it’s the only way that small clubs will survive.
If we are not careful, the next quote used in the next Netflix series will be, “It will only be the richest teams that survive.” I don’t know about all of you, but that’s not a world I want to live in.
If you have time during lockdown to think about anything, think about this…..football doesn’t start and end at elite level, it starts on the green spaces, in the backyards and on the playgrounds in our communities. That’s what we have to protect.
Speaking directly to the people of North East Wales now, YOU can save football; we just need to all work together to make sure that every single club survives this nightmare.
We owe it to the thousands of players, from kids to veterans, who need this sport and need these clubs.