A new dawn for the beleaguered Sussex County Women’s League has descended into anti-climax and farce after all three fixtures on the opening day were called off because sides could not muster enough players.
Already reduced to seven teams after four sides were allowed promotion to the South East Counties League – it would have been six had Burgess Hill Reserves not done a U-turn and joined at the last minute – and with administrators anxious not to see a repeat of teams folding during the season, there was considerable responsibility on those due to kick off the new season today.
But all three fixtures have been scrapped, leaving administrators tearing their hair out.
According to the league, Henfield‘s match against Horsham Sparrows and the game between Worthing Town Reserves and Mile Oak Wanderers, were postponed because Henfield and Worthing had insufficient players for their prestigious opening matches.
And Crawley Town‘s game against Lewes Foundation had already been cancelled because Crawley had not registered enough players by the August 31 league deadline.
It means what should have been a big day for grassroots clubs will instead be a total washout – although with so few teams in the division, there should be no problem fitting in the rescheduled matches – if clubs can find enough players.
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Last season, an entry field of 11 was whittled down to nine by the start of the season, and one of those – Predators – fell by the wayside during the campaign.
And there is no under-18 division for the second successive season as the league endures what it hopes is merely a blip at that age group.
But it’s entry-level adult females that are proving the problem at the moment.
The league’s competition secretary, Paul Preston, said all three clubs had been charged with failing to fulfil fixtures, and Crawley Town had been additionally charged with failing to register sufficient players by the pre-season deadline, which he said was later this year than in previous seasons.
‘Unfortunate and unprecedented’
He said: “They have now registered enough players for their forthcoming matches. Henfield have only 10 players registered, and with one with work commitments and two injuries, cannot field a team versus Horsham Sparrows.
“Worthing Town have advised us that they have two small squads, and with three injuries in the first team, have had to take players from the reserves.”
Preston added: “At the lower end of the pyramid system, it is always a challenge getting enough players in the squad for the rigours of a full playing season. Henfield are actively seeking new players.
“I believe it is an unfortunate and unprecedented set of circumstances. Worthing Town had used 35 different players in SCWGFL matches in season 2014-2015 but currently have only 15 registered. Henfield had 16 players registered compared to 10 this season.
“The impact of the national team’s performance at the World Cup… has not transferred into an increase in player numbers at this early stage.”
The league’s management committee will consider the responses of the clubs before taking action, but in an extension of what Preston says was a successful trial in youth matches, the three teams’ opponents will be asked whether they want to receive the three points or have the game rearranged.
“This gives clubs the opportunity to play as many games as possible if they so wish, stops championships being determined by committees and also allows clubs chasing championships to request a rearrangement to obtain goal difference rather than lose out on the goals they believe they would have scored as well as the three points,” Preston explained.
League chairman Clare Nichols told Sent Her Forward: “I am extremely disappointed that we find ourselves on the first weekend of the season with no fixtures being played in the women’s league.
“I understand that those teams who were looking forward to their opening games and have had them cancelled at the last minute will be frustrated. However, when matches are cancelled the day before they are due to be played there is very little we as a league can do.”