PAYING THE PENALTY
The Story of Fairbank United’s 2016/17 season by Akif Waseem
Senior men’s Grassroots football across the country seems to be dying out. That’s no more evident in the Bradford district by the fact that not only are there less teams playing on a Saturday and Sunday than perhaps any time since WW2, but the number of leagues itself is also falling sharply. On a Saturday, local teams would, until recent times, play in the Bradford (Red Triangle/Grattan) or Spen Valley Leagues, or, if they were a bit better, the West Riding County Amateur League. The former two leagues are now no longer in existence, and the latter will no longer exist at the end of this season.
On a Sunday, there’s only the Wharfedale Triangle (hanging in there with 2 divisions) and Bradford Sunday Alliance, which haemorrhages a full division each season.
It’s a sad state of affairs, but one affecting all manner of other sports too. Local cricket and Rugby League are experiencing a similar decline as organised sports and pastimes are replaced by more sedentary forms of exercise that don’t have to put up with rising costs of pitch hire, insurance and conflicting interests of retail therapy, computer games and Premier League footy on the box.
There are a good deal of people – dwindling in number, I know – who are swimming against that tide. They might not be part of well oiled football league machine that attracts thousands of paying fans a year, but they part of the same thing. They will go that extra mile (and further) to keep their own teams battling along, the purely amateur ones that rent the local parks pitches and keep going through the paying of weekly subs, the ones that play week in, week out in front of the proverbial man and his dog, as well as a handful of WAGs who can be bothered to brave the weather , and yet provide an immense sense of satisfaction in that it’s THEIR team – the one THEY play for, the one THEY pay subs to, the one THEY run: THEIR team.
In recent years, Bradford’s very own Fairbank United have switched to the Yorkshire Amateur League, which, since renaming itself (from the ‘Yorkshire Old Boys League’) has mopped up many of the teams left over from the defunct leagues and consists of half a dozen or so divisions. This is the world of Norristhorpe FC, East Ardsley Wanderers, Churwell Lions and Leeds Medics & Dentists’ fourth team. Teams like this might not be front page news in the national press but they are the lifeblood of the game.
Akif Waseem is a player, secretary, supporter and mainstay of Fairbank. Nobody can say he doesn’t go that extra mile. Somehow, and despite a very busy job, he found time to pen his account of what turned out to be a rather eventful 2016-17 season for himself and his team-mates at Fairbank. It’s a hugely readable, passionate and often hilarious subjective account, written from his perspective as club secretary as well as second string goalkeeper and occasional outfield player. Fairbank are up for promotion. It’s overdue, but as with the very best footballing tales there are trials and tribulations a-plenty, dramatic last gasp equalisers, controversial offside winners, the odd car crash (quite literally), suspicious poaching of players, and – hopefully- a happy happy ending.
I had the advantage of knowing what the outcome was, I had a week-by-week blow of the highlights of each game on a Monday morning. The story in print is every bit as intriguing. Akif admittedly might not be as agile in goal as he once was, maybe a yard or two slower than he was in his prime, but he has lost none of his enthusiasm for the game. His well illustrated book is a testament to all the hard work he and his contempories put in for up to nine months a year. A photograph that depicts a dramatic late equaliser for Farnley Sports reserves is notable for the fact that it shows the wide open spaces of local league football, no sign of a huge cantilever stand or imposing Kop in sight. Or spectators come to think of it. And yet, to every one of the players in the photograph, this is what football is about as they play out their very own six-pointers, cup finals and local derbies with the same passion as those in an Old Firm of Manchester derby.
If nothing else, the book represents a dying breed of club, and club official, and amateur player, aspects of the nation’s favourite sport that we have always taken for granted, but that which we see less and less of every year.
Akif can be contacted at email@example.com if you’re interested in a copy.