The August holiday and wedding season has rolled around again, and with it comes the challenge of getting enough players together for the weekly 5-a-side kick-about. It’s something of an irony that whilst it is the wetter months and the waterlogged pitches they bring which play havoc with 11-a-side fixtures when it comes to the small-sided game it is these warmer months in which just getting games on feels like a bridge too far.
According to stats from Sports England each week just under three quarters of a million people aged 16+ play small-sided football on outdoor pitches. Many of these will play on artificial all-weather pitches, whilst well over a quarter of a million play small sided football indoors, under cover. In both cases fixtures are unaffected by all but the most extreme weather, but whilst these allow for football to be played all year-round free from the risk of waterlogging in winter, or being rock-hard in the summer the problem becomes one of getting anyone to play at all when your week-in-week-out regular players are off on their holidays.
It is a perilous time for many groups of players. Contact books are stretched to the limit as the text messages fly about “we’ve got 7, need 3 more.. does anyone know someone who can play?” or, “going to be 4 a-side this week”, which elicits a groan at the thought of all that extra running in the heat. Some groups simply give up, vowing to reform in September, but for those involved in leagues there is little choice, but to soldier on as much of the investment in all-weather facilities has been driven by commercial operators who are unwilling to see their profits dip in the summer and therefore run their fixtures regardless.
This has led to some strange consequences. Small-sided league football over the summer often resembles wartime football where the top players of the day routinely ‘guested’ for teams close to where they were stationed. This all means that teams fluctuate wildly, so one week a team of world-beaters who you suspect may have more than one semi-pro in their ranks, turn out the next week to be a bunch of press-ganged no-hoppers whose ruddy cheeks make it look as if they haven’t kicked a ball in a few years.
In my possession I have at least one league trophy which owed more to the skill in persuading someone, anyone, to turn up than it did to any prowess on the pitch. The race for second place came down to the last day of the season and it was with a sense of relief that our opponents, who were occupying the second place slot, failed to appear automatically giving us the points which allowed us to leapfrog them into the runners-up slot. This was more than a little fortunate as had they turned up my makeshift side would have been on the receiving end of a real thumping.