More than 200 youngsters from dozens of junior football clubs will continue to have their weekly kickabouts disrupted for another three months.
Penwortham Holme playing fields, home to under-7 and under-8 junior football clubs, were trashed and vandalised in late August when a group of travellers with around 20 caravans left a trail of waste, including a reported 3.5 tonnes of rubbish, at the site.
Since the damage, one junior football club has had to cancel all fixtures for two of its teams. The Longridge Town Under-7s and Under-8s Juniors have gone 12 weeks without a game.
Club secretary Dave Ellis said: “Every Saturday and Sunday there are about 50 teams playing down on the pitches, coming from as far as Southport and Chipping.
“Since the travelers damaged the site the children haven’t played football. For some of them it’s the most, and most enjoyable, exercise that they take part in. Likewise for coaches and officials; it’s a way of networking and starting off in the industry that they want to work in.”
Nick Hodson, club secretary of the Lancon Juniors Under-7s and Under-8s who play at Penwortham Holme, was mindful of the weather’s part to play in repairing the site.
It’s not surprising with the amount of rain that has fallen over the last few months.
Nick said: “It’s not surprising with the amount of rain that has fallen over the last few months.
“It’s been really bad. Our other teams have not been able to play at our pitches at Lancashire Constabulary headquarters. There’s been a perfect storm of bad weather.”
Cadley FC’s Under-7s and Under-8s had to re-locate to Corpus Christi High School, where their teams are currently playing on the school’s artifical pitches.
Club chairman Steve Flynn said: “We have a really good working relationship with the school so were able to sort this out quite quickly.”
A South Ribble spokesman said the repairs to the site remain a priority and that delays in relaying the pitch have primarily been down to ‘adverse winter weather conditions’.
So far, £5,000 has been spent tidying up the site and starting on some redevelopment of the land.
Coun Graham Walton said: “We are looking to increase security at this very moment. Among the measures being discussed are additional fences on Leyland Road.
“I am an ex-footballer myself; one of my prides in life is being involved in local football. What is done will be done right when the time is right.”
South Ribble Council said that ‘state of the art’ removable bollards have already been put in place to restrict unauthorised access to the site.
A council spokesman said: “Around £15,000 has been assigned to improving security, which includes the bollards and additional fencing on Leyland Road.
“We hope this work will be completed by the end of January.”
Ernie Brennan, CEO of the National Children’s Football Alliance, an organisation that promotes and advance children’s right to engage in football, said: “The vital role that playing fields provide are often overlooked in terms of health, well-being, community cohesion, social inclusion and inter-generational relationships. Grass roots football is vital and should be protected, at all levels.”
Attention on the importance of grassroots football and playing sport from a young age has been the focus of much attention in recent years after the successive failures of the English national team.
Ernie Brennan, CEO of the National Children’s Football Alliance, an organisation that promotes and advance children’s right to engage in football, said: “If travellers find the need to settle on community football pitches we can only assume that this is indeed an act of desperation.
“Consequently, the current unfortunate situation should present a positive reaction from all members of the football community, councils and key service agencies.
“The vital role that playing fields provide are often overlooked in terms of health, well-being, community cohesion, social inclusion and inter-generational relationships. Grass roots football is vital and should be protected, at all levels.”
Not the first for Preston
Cricketers in the village of Hoghton know what it’s like to see their prized pitch damaged by travellers.
The Palace Shield club needed to carry out emergency repairs to the wicket after the unwanted visitors deliberately ploughed across it in their vans and caravans after a tense 24-hour stand-off with club members.
Police watched on as the travellers scattered rubbish across the pitch and then left tyre tracks across the square as they departed.
“They did a bit of damage to the wicket and left a heck of a mess,” said club president Rory McDonald at the time. “But everyone in the viilage rallied round.”
Local councillor David Dickinson added: “There was no need for the travellers to behave like they did, tipping rubbish out on the pitch and driving vehicles across it.”