C&K Basildon
C&K Basildon: The Essex side that Peter King has steered to success

853‘s special correspondent and turf investment advisor MERCURY MAN presents PETER KING – once a force in SE London youth football, now working his magic in women’s football in Essex. And he’s got a message for the people running the sport…

WHERE to start with Peter King?

It could be Moses, but Moses is a story in itself.

We could add the bare-knuckle boxing that used to take place at the Yorkshire Grey in Eltham (now gone downhill as McDonald’s), but Ed would see that as a digression and give me untold grief.

What about the orphanage Peter helped to build in Uganda? Again, that’s a tale to be told separately and is more of documentary to film, to be fair.

Which leaves local football – and women’s football in particular.

If Jose Mourinho is the special one (which, clearly, he’s not – he’s a counter-attacker and there’s nothing special about counter-attackers), Peter King – ‘Kingy’ – is The Exalted One.

You’ll have to look it up yourself but the women’s team he runs, C&K Ladies FC (‘K’ is for King), have been promoted about 10 times in the last 14 years and have gone from playing against Dunton Wayletts Transport Reserves to Charlton and Queens Park Rangers.

King’s got a beef against the FA for the way it runs grass-roots football – which, in my own experience, is like Noddy running the railways. But you don’t want to hear my coaching beef (Too true we don’t – Ed), you want to hear Kingy’s.

So, exclusively, here it is from the man who used to run St. George’s (Orpington) in the Bexley and District Junior League in the early ’90s and went on to take the UK women’s game by storm…

For the past 20 years I have privately held the belief that there is a far better way for grassroots football to be operated in Britain, and my experiences of the wonders of female football over the past 14 years have only led me to consolidate this conviction.

In 1994 – together with five colleagues attached to the Bexley League (the biggest in the country – MM) and calling ourselves the ‘SOS’ committee (Save Our Soccer) – we organised and led a demonstration to the old FA headquarters at Lancaster Gate to vent our feelings against the planned abolition of 11-a-side football for under-11s.

We believe careful organisation with many boy footballers brandishing red cards and making a hell of a lot of noise – captured on the BBC News – led to the FA dropping that idea. And out of that exercise – from our side – came the idea of the National Association of Youth Football Leagues (NAYFL).

Our fervent feeling then was that the organisation of grass-roots football should be in the hands of the people, mainly volunteers, whose job these days is to run it and who in many cases spend their own time freely as well as sometimes their own money to operate the grassroots game.

The FA had different ideas, threatening the SOS group with legal action if the NAYFL incorporated company was not immediately shut-down. They stated they were in sole charge every time a ball was kicked in an organised game.

Fast forward 20-plus years and we have to ask ourselves the question: Has the FA delivered to grassroots football and the answer now is as it was then – a resounding NO!

Peter King
Peter King campaigned against changes to youth football in the 1990s

The deliverance of the much-needed financial and professional support is at the two opposite ends of the game and only one of these ends is grassroots. Male and female football in the younger age brackets (say under-16) is heavily-supported (I use the term loosely) by the FA as they seek to attract the young into the country’s national sport, but again if we wanted to be ultra-critical much of the support is restricted to the supply of advertising material and merchandise whilst a lot of the coaching is again carried out by grassroots volunteers.

Take the SSE Wildcats scheme, very commendable but apart from the merchandise the success depends on groups of your own or sub-contracted coaches to drive the scheme.

The opposite end of the FA’s increasing interest is the newly reconstituted WSL (Women’s Super League), especially WSL1 where the majority of the England players we hope will congregate, leading – we hope – to a women’s World Cup victory at the next competition.

But beware, for the WSL runs the risk (especially in WSL1) of going the male way and attracting players from overseas that cannot play for England.

Teams in the middle miss out

Allied to this is that with the percentage of foreign players in WSL1 now at around 27% (2016 figures and likely to be more and based on a 10-club league with an average of 25 players per first team), more British females will be denied a place or a chance of playing in the highest league.

Compare this with the men’s Premier League where the 2017 figure was 69.20% of foreign players who were registered to play (plus 50.80% in the Championship). Is it any wonder that many pundits say that we will never again win the World Cup with an English men’s team?

This therefore leaves mid-grass-roots football – say, the age range of 16 to 24 where there is a mass drop-out of players for a whole variety of reasons (some outside the control of the FA).

But the investment from our national body is almost at a standstill. As stated before in the female game, the FA seems interested only at the bottom end and at the top end (WSL).

In WSL1 there are annual grants to every team and this is replicated in WSL2. When you reach the next tier down (formerly the FA Women’s Premier League) there is no funding for every club, only a payment for travelling expenses where an away match is in excess of 100 miles.

Compare the WSL2 team grant of £61,300 per team against the league grant to the FAWPL of £90,000 to cover 74 teams (ie £1,216 per team), this grant having been unchanged for the past three seasons.

Even the sum of £1,216 is not received by each of the 74 teams as the vast majority of this grant is eaten up by running the league itself. In the immediate past season my FAWPL firstt and development team incurred over £6,000 in coach expenses for away matches and received under £500 in travel reimbursement.

Seven years ago the FAWPL was the pinnacle of female football. Then the FA introduced WSL1 then 1 & 2 pushing the female game that applied then from tier 1 down to tier 3.

Recently I have had to give up the game I love and the team that I love as the financial burden is just too much and the support from the interested parties is just not there and I guess never will be. The FA are not interested in the top flight of female football except at the level of the National Ladies team and WSL1 and maybe WSL2.

Seat and tears

St George's (Orpington) team photo
Where are they now? The St George’s (Orpington) side in the 1990s

Since 2004 when I took over Basildon Town Ladies (now C&K Basildon) we have swept up from level 7 to level 3 (the FAWPL South), which we did in under 10 seasons. Manchester United have in that time not operated a Ladies team but with the new expanded WSL2 they walk straight into that division without the sweat and sometimes tears that we have had to endure over the past 14 seasons.

As far as I am aware they have put no money into the senior female game whilst we have spent in excess of £200,000 in that time.

In each of our three seasons in the FAWPL (South) we have finished higher (sometimes much higher) than West Ham Ladies, but yes straight into WSL1 they go for next season. Sure we could as we said we would do, apply for WSL2 or 1 but financially we do not have the clout or the sexy name that would attract major sponsors.

As in the men’s game it seems to me that it is not a matter of the game but the money and if you are rich and powerful then you can get to the top. But what if you play great football week in and week out and establish a stream of girls teams that eventually you hope some players will emerge to play serious senior football?

This season C&K Basildon finished runners-up to Charlton in the FAWPL (South), a really remarkable achievement for a non-league club affiliated team. We achieved a 100% home record (11 games, 11 wins), a record only achieved by Arsenal Ladies (when the FAWPL was the pinnacle of female football in this country).

I guess that next season we might even be favourites to be champions, but progression after that at the moment is impossible because the financial requirements imposed upon teams seeking WSL affiliation are too heinous and therefore the WSL leagues are for the rich teams.

Have we even received congratulations from our own Essex FA? No – and that after carrying the flag for Essex so proudly in the FAWPL.

The whole female game at the top leaves me feeling a little dispirited, especially after convincing so many people that the really beautiful game is female football.

‘What about sponsorship?’

The only way at the moment that I can get my ladies further up the female football ladder is by winning the National Lottery! And yes, I hear the doubters out there saying, well what about sponsorship?

Yes, sponsorship? How do we attract something in the region of £30,000-plus just to operate in the FAWPL? What can we offer? Mention in the programmes we have to issue for every home game and of course the proverbial statement across our shirts. Boards around our perimeter fencing and mention on our letter-heads… to mention just a few.

Get to WSL2 and then you get some real FA treatment. Get to WSL1 and you get TV coverage from BT Sport. But what can we offer – nothing apart from the standard repartee about programmes, shirt sponsorship, etc.

To attract a reasonable sponsor these days that might be happy to pledge the above level of money over a minimum period of say three years is nigh impossible so again, despite the ability that we undoubtedly have both on and off the field, we get frozen out. As with the men’s game it is all about the rich clubs or those with attractive names – and we have neither.

Don’t get me wrong we are not feeling sorry for ourselves. We just seek a level playing field so that the ‘Leicester City’ type sides get a real chance at glory.

Got a story or a tip for Mercury Man? Drop him a line at mercuryman.853[at]gmail.com or leave a comment below.

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