The secretary of a youth football team that has produced the likes of John Terry and Jermain Defoe has made an impassioned call for funding help, warning that its current financial situation is near breaking point.
Tony Carroll, club secretary at Tower Hamlets’ Senrab Youth FC for the past 20 years, said that rises in pitch hire costs coupled with council grant cuts has led to a cash-flow crisis.
Millionaire ex-players have so far failed to offer aid and Carroll declared: “We can’t sustain the current situation much longer.”
History of success
One of the most successful youth teams in the country, Senrab has a prolific record in starting professional careers during 48 years in action. Along with England captain Terry and five-goal Defoe, Chelsea assistant manager Ray Wilkins began there, as did Sol Campbell and current Premier League players Ledley King, Paul Konchesky, Lee Bowyer and Bobby Zamora.
But the cost of keeping 23 teams in competition – with around 250 children from the ages of six to 16 on their books – is becoming too great after Tower Hamlets Sports Council cut the club’s funding from £2,500 to £800 and the price of renting training pitches rose.
“We get hardly anything from the council,” Carroll said. “For the amount of pride that Senrab has bestowed on this borough, and for the number of young lads we’ve kept off the streets, they should be falling over themselves to help us.”
Troubles began when Langdon Park, Senrab’s home for 30 years, was relaid with astroturf and prices for the same training times soared. When the body which administers grants in the borough told the club in October it could only have £800 over the next two years the situation became critical.
“We’ve yet to receive the funding, ” Carroll said, adding: “If we find a cheaper venue to train at outside the borough we’ll be off. But it’s heart-wrenching to say that when we’ve always been a Tower Hamlets club.”
Along with venue-hire, Carroll also has to organise funds for referees, kits, balls, and affiliation to various leagues and bodies. The children provide a £50 annual subscription fee and a £5 charge per training session but this only goes part of the way towards the sum required and Carroll has been forced to use his own money on occasions. Two age groups – under 18s and under 17s – have recently been cut from the Senrab roster in an effort to trim outlay.
Council has other priorities
But Derek Bennett, Senior Football Development Officer at Tower Hamlets, said the council’s hands were tied. “We have over 100 football clubs,” he said. “There are limited funding opportunities and my task is to help the clubs identify and access them. And as much as I want to develop football there are more important things that need funding – housing, schooling, healthcare – that are considered essential by the council.”
He continued: “I’ve got the most amount of respect for what Tony’s done and I’m very proud to work with them, but they have to be realistic: the council doesn’t have funding for football clubs.”
Yet Emma Morris, 38, said that getting involved in the club was one of the best things her 11-year-old son Ritchie has ever done. “He’s been playing since he was three and it’s absolutely fantastic for the kids,” she said. “It keeps them busy, it’s good for their fitness, they make great friends – Ritchie loves it.”
On a possible move out of the borough to find cheaper training venues Ms Morris said: “I don’t see how people would do it; a lot of people don’t drive. A lot of these kids come from one-parent families and low-income families, they can’t afford to run cars.”
Famous footballers asked for help
The mounting money trouble has lead Carroll to consider asking those professional players who have used the club as the springboard to a well-paid career and international stardom to be life-saving benefactors.
Jermain Defoe, Ledley King and Lee Bowyer have all given out prizes at the club’s annual awards night in the past but as yet no one has offered financial help.
“If we could set something up with an ex-player we’d be more than happy to offer an honourary presidency,” Carroll said.
Ms Morris illustrated how the community sees things. “I know a lot of players go out and leave ten-grand tips,” she said. “If they’ve got that kind of money they might want to think about Senrab and some of the kids; I’m sure they’d appreciate it.”
News of Senrab’s plight comes hot on the heels of the announcement that the David Beckham Academy in North Greenwich will close next year and be replaced with new housing. The soccer school has provided coaching for more than 80,000 youngsters since it was built in 2005 but Beckham now plans to take the set-up nationwide.