A VOLUNTEER coach has told the Adver he is on the verge of quitting football over the local league's handling of his side's U15 league cup final on Saturday.
Lee Smith coaches Purton under 15s with Lee Sutton and has worked with young footballers for more than eight years. But he is so incensed with a ruling from the North Wiltshire League Committee that meant he had to choose whether to field a side of seven on a full size pitch or concede the match, that he is considering his future in the game.
The incident occurred during the traditional end of season event in which Swindon Town's County Ground plays host to the North Wiltshire FA Youth and Minor League Cup Finals.
"It was supposed to be our reward for reaching the final," said Smith, "but we feel like we've all been punished, it's just such a shame for the players and the families. I couldn't believe it while it was happening."
An FA mandatory ruling in the Standard Code of Rules for Youth Competitions states that youth players cannot play more than one game in any given day, unless the game is in the same competition - in such cases individual players are limited to 100 minutes playing time each. The North Wiltshire League officials upheld this rule and informed Purton on their arrival on Saturday that six of their named starting line up, could not take to the County Ground pitch as they had hoped and would have to watch their team mates from the stands.
Worse still, it appeared that Purton's diminished numbers would face a full-strength Swindon Supermarine team and the final would start eleven players against seven. In the end, Supermarine boss Chris Warren decided to keep his numbers of active players to seven, but also had the luxury of nine rolling substitutes to share the work.
"Throughout the competition we have requested Sunday fixtures since we have players who play with Swindon Youth on Saturdays,” said Smith.
"This game wasn’t wasn't moved so we told those players that they would be limited to how long they can play in the morning so as to keep within the 100 minute rule stated by the FA, that is my understanding. They played 10 or 15 minutes in the morning and then we went to the County Ground."
"When we arrived, we were taken aside by some of the North Wiltshire officials and the manager of Swindon Supermarine and told that six of our players were ineligible for the game, so we could play with the seven 'legal players' or forfeit the game.
"I tried everything to get a fair game on. I offered a parent disclaimer against any injury and also asked if the game could be rescheduled but each of these options were rejected by the officials.
"I wanted to get back on the coach at that point, because it wasn't going to be a game. It was going to be a farce.
"This was our big day and I know that rules are rules, but I don't know why they waited for us to arrive before telling us. The officials have my number, so they could have called me in the morning. They were happy to take the money on the turnstiles and then tell the parents that they wouldn't be able to see their kids playing.
"If the issue is child safety, then I'd say that seven v seven on a full size pitch is far more dangerous for the players than rescheduling. I wanted to take our players out of that situation, especially as my son was among the seven. But they had a vote in the dressing room and they decided that they wanted to play, because of the occasion.
"I thought it was unfair to put the youngsters in that position really, because we'd just turned up on the Swindon Town coach, to the ground that many of them hold season tickets at, and I don't think they wanted the embarrassment of getting back on the coach and quietly shuffling off. We paid £280 for the Swindon Town coach to bring us, because so many of the boys are big Town fans.
"You could see immediately that the boys were dead on their feet after 20 minutes, after the break two or three were cramping up, so at that point I had to take them off. It just wasn't safe.
"After the game everybody was dejected and shattered. It was supposed to be the pinnacle of our season, but the kids have been distraught and so have the parents. I think a lot more effort could have been made to reschedule the game. Maybe we wouldn't have played at the County Ground, but at least we'd have had a final - I thought it was a disgrace.
"A lot of us were in disbelief. Lots of parents said to me, are they going to come and tell my son that he can't play?
"My best friend came and he couldn't watch it when the game was going on. I heard one man say to his son: 'Don't worry son, they're adults, they're going to sort it out.' But it didn't happen that way."
Despite the disappointment, Smith remains hopeful that he can persuade the FA to host a re-match, in order to give the cup an occasion befitting its status.
"I'll be writing a complaint to the FA today and I hope that we can manage to sort a re-match. I don't know how far it will get me, but I think this was handled so badly, that I'd hope that Supermarine and the Committee, in the spirit of the game, agree that is the right thing to do in the circumstances."
The North Wiltshire League Committee responded with the following statement: "We upheld an FA mandatory rule from the Standard Code of Rules for Youth Competitions. The rule is there to ensure child welfare and to protect the children. The rule has been introduced for the children's safety to help protect them against injury and to prolong their involvement in the game."