Swaffham coach’s SOS plea – save our soccer

A youth football coach has warned his league-winning team may not be able to play next season because of a chronic shortage of young players in Swaffham.

Swaffham Colts under 10s were victorious in the South Norfolk Youth Football League after losing just one of their 20 seven-a-side matches all year.

And they did it with a squad of just 10 players.

But next season the youngsters will move up to playing under-11s football and need a minimum of 11 players – nine to start plus two substitutes – to enter the league.

Coach and manager Martin O'Neill said he had tried recruiting more children but had not received a single phone call.

He said: 'I've advertised on football websites and my wife has made lots of posters.

'We've put them in the surrounding villages and all the schools.

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'None of the kids seem interested. They just don't seem to want to play for a club.

'If we fail to attract new players, I will have 10 devastated youngsters with no team.'

Mr O'Neill, 43, said other Norfolk towns had no problem recruiting players and most teams the Swaffham Colts played against – and beat – had much bigger squads.

Nearby towns and villages are also able to field teams in a number of different age ranges. At the moment Swaffham has just the Colts, who play at the junior school, and an under 15s team with about 15 players.

'I can't understand it,' said Mr O'Neill, who has completed a level one coaching qualification with the Norfolk FA as well as first aid courses. 'Is it a breakdown in community spirit?

'I know X Box and Playstation are blamed a lot, but I don't think it's all to do with that. Maybe some people will respond and tell us why their children don't want to play. We don't know

what everybody in the town is thinking.'

Boys and girls for the under 11 league matches have to be 10 years old to join the squad but Mr O'Neill said he was looking for children of all ages to get involved in football in the town and join training sessions.

His son Dillon, 10, already plays for Swaffham Colts while seven-year-old Zara runs alongside the pitch during games.

The manager, who is supported by another two parents running the club, said: 'They absolutely love it. They also do Taekwondo and they have a lot of people doing that. I would have thought football would have been just as popular – if not more.'

The coach said the existing Colts players were just beginning to realise they might not have a team to play for next season. He said: 'They love the game. They love playing football. We've got such a good, hard-working little team.

'They train every Saturday morning and have a really good laugh. There's an emphasis on learning about the game and having fun rather than just winning.'

Training sessions take place on Saturday mornings and cost �1 per week.

To find out about joining the team, call Mr O'Neill on 01760 725818 or 07749 247058 or email marjoadill@msn.com.