Outcry as independent league forced out ‘by Football Association’

More than 180 people have signed a petition calling for a football league to be reinstated to the pitch they were using after an ‘outrageous’ decision to remove them.

The government is also investigating whether Leisure Leagues, which does not affiliate to the Football Association, has been mistreated by football’s governing body at Charnwood College in Loughborough.

Four clubs and twenty-eight players have been forced to pull out of the league since it was told it could no longer book the college’s 3G pitch at 8-9pm on a weekday.

leisure Leagues 4 - Outcry as independent league forced out ‘by Football Association’
Leisure Leagues claim to have ‘the world’s largest 5, 6, and 7-a-side football leagues’

Charnwood College explained to Leisure Leagues that at a recent meeting the FA had been ‘particularly concerned about the prime time booking you have on a Tuesday evening…’.

Its Football Development Officer went on to apologise and explain that ‘there is nothing we can do’.

The incident comes after talkSPORT revealed claims Leisure Leagues is having its business restricted by football’s governing body.

An FA spokesperson said: “Non-affiliated providers, such as Leisure Leagues, are welcome at facilities funded by the FA providing there is adequate availability and no community demand at these times.”

Leisure Leagues still have a weekend slot at Charnwood College, but claim their removal from prime time slots is evidence of discrimination.

Leisure Leagues 2 - Outcry as independent league forced out ‘by Football Association’
Leisure Leagues are no longer able to book their regular 3G pitch

James Ockelford runs the league, which now plays seven miles away because no equivalent facilities could be found closer.

He told talkSPORT: “I’m absolutely gutted and pretty angry as well. As far as I’m aware some teams are stopping playing altogether.”

It is believed a team of approximately 20 players now occupies the 8-9pm slot.

Mr Ockelford’s league has nearly one hundred. He admits it might have to fold if teams continue to withdraw.

Tim King captains one of the teams forced to relocate, FC Cione; he describes the league as ‘fantastic’.

“It’s getting people playing football,” Mr King said, “getting people like me at 53, wanting to play with his son, having a kick around and enjoying it.”

Commenting on the cancellation of the booking Mr King added: “I think it’s outrageous. Absolutely crazy. I think it’s politics.”

Referee Jack Hamilton said: “As we move to a location further afield my travel costs will increase and my match fees will decrease due to less session time and fewer teams.”

An FA spokesperson added: “The FA is passionate about growing the game at grassroots level across the country and we encourage all leagues and teams to be affiliated. Once affiliated, they receive a number of benefits, such as access to FA Qualified and Affiliated Referees.”

Leisure Leagues 3 - Outcry as independent league forced out ‘by Football Association’
Leisure Leagues have had to move to a new destination

Sports Minister Mims Davies has told Leisure Leagues she will raise the issue with FA chief executive Martin Glenn ‘as a priority’ following the latest incident.

talkSPORT understands the government is also in contact with the Competitions and Markets Authority.

James Ockelford added: “I don’t think this is what the FA should be causing. The FA are here to raise participation within grassroots football not to exclude people.”

3G facilities such as Charnwood College’s pitch are built in collaboration with the Football Foundation and the FA in order to provide more opportunities for grassroots sport.

The colleges are then required to adhere to ‘development plans’ that determine which leagues and clubs can hire the pitches.

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