Council accused of ‘poaching youth teams’ for new Hackney league

An overview of the football pitches on Hackney Marshes

An overview of the football pitches on Hackney Marshes - Credit: EMPICS Sport

A cloud hangs over the future of youth football at the home of the grassroots game after the council raised pitch prices and allegedly started poaching teams from the current league for their own competition.

Youth football clubs have expressed anger that Hackney Council, which has set up its own league to be run by a private company Excellence Through Sport, has allegedly tried to lure in players from the London County Saturday youth league with offers of cheaper rates on Hackney Marshes. There are also allegations the council tried to lure clubs to their league at the end of last season and invited them to “secret” meetings.

Last year – 12 months into a four year deal with the London County Saturday Youth Football League (LCSYF), which has been running for 60 years – the council scrapped discount rates for clubs playing on Hackney Marshes and they now face the prospect of paying £41 per youth pitch for under 13s or £82 for an adult pitch for 13-to-16 year olds.

They are only offered a discount rate of £205 for 10 pitches if paid in advance – and many clubs say they don’t have the money up front.

But clubs have been offered a 50 per cent discount if they switch to the Hackney Marshes Saturday Youth Football League (HMSYF) – set up by the council – in which under 13 teams pay £20.50 and those aged between 13 and 16 pay £41 for an adult pitch. The council has also offered to pay penalty fines for clubs who move league mid-season.

Michael Keogh, assistant chairman of Springfield Club for Young People Football Club, said: “The new league was done behind everybody’s backs. I have not agreed to participate.

“I have made it clear we do not want to join their league. The county league has been running for 60 years. It is run by volunteers and is more professional than the council’s league which is being run by paid staff.

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“I think the council has acted unprofessionally with no consideration for teams in Hackney.”

Marcel Matthew, a coach for Leyton United FC, also said his team is not joining the new league.

He said: “Hackney Council get a lot of funding and this money should be given to kids. The council should be discounting pitches for all youths, not just their league.”

Andy Wilkes, chairman of Rainbow FC, said the prices have increased so much that his club will not be able to continue in the current league beyond next year.

Hackney Council said the action was taken after it received complaints about the county league, but Ian Burke, chairman of the league, said he had received no complaints about the way it is run.

A council spokesman said: “We were approached by a number of clubs who were unhappy with the current provision and asked for the council’s help in establishing a centralised Saturday youth league on the Marshes.

“We have done this and offered it to Hackney-based clubs – some others outside of Hackney have approached us too, asking to join.”

The council says it has received £60,000 in funding from the Football Foundation “for the development of football across the borough” and added that “a proportion of this has been used to develop youth football on the Marshes as part of the development plan agreed by the Football Association.”