Lewisham Athletic manager Peter Lodge: Grassroots football needs more investment from The FA

Sunday 14th May 2017

LEWISHAM ATHLETIC manager Peter Lodge says grassroots football clubs are in desperate need of more funding from The Football Association.

The London FA affiliated amateur club hire football pitches in a playing field at Warren Avenue in Downham from a private company called Fusion, who look after recreational facilities in the London Borough of Lewisham.

Lewisham Athletic clinched the Andreas Carter Joma Kent County League Division One West title yesterday despite suffering a shock 3-1 home defeat to bottom-of-the-table side Orpington Reserves.

It was Lewisham Athletic’s fifth ever Kent County League defeat in 67 games and it will be the club’s third successive promotion in as many years since finishing third to Johnson & Phillips and Metrogas Reserves in their debut season in 2014-15.

The club then remained unbeaten as they won the Division Two West title last season and have lost four league games during this season’s title-winning campaign, winning it on goal-difference as Ricky Tompkins’ Otford United side also finished their campaign on 58 points from their 24 league games.

“This side at this level, you’re looking at about £4,500-£5,000 a year easy, that’s the bottom line, just one team,” said Lodge, when asked how much money it costs to run the side in the 12th tier of English football.

“We’ve got the reserves as well, so that’s another £2,000-£3,000 a year.

“We’re playing on council pitches as such but if we was looking at getting our own ground now you’re looking at £150 per pitch minimum and the cost of the referee and two linesman, you’re talking £200 plus a game – plus cup games.

“It doesn’t take a lot of working out! It’s a massive, massive financial burden on everybody at the club.”

The Lewisham Athletic manager insists The FA should give more to clubs like his, especially if they produce talent for further up in the food chain.

Defender Joe Gomez, 19, was born in Catford.  He went through the youth ranks at Charlton Athletic and made 24 appearances for then Championship club during the 2014-15 season, and five Premier League appearances and a couple in Europe for Premier League giants Liverpool in 2015-16.  He has also played for England at under 16, 17, 19 and 21 level.

Kasey Palmer, 20, was born in Lewisham. He came through the youth ranks at both Charlton Athletic and Chelsea, played for England at under 17, 18, 20 and 21 level.  He hasn’t played in the Premier League for Chelsea, but has made 26 appearances for Huddersfield Town on loan in the Championship this season.

Goalkeeper, Nathan Baxter, 18, is on Chelsea’s books and is one of 37 players that were sent out on loan by the now Premier League champions and has spent time out at Metropolitan Police in the Ryman Premier League and National League side Solihull Moors during the season just finished.

Lodge said: “The finances in football now, especially in this level, are a big burden on any club, unless you’ve got somebody backing you with a sponsorship, then just taking out the subs each week, what the boys play, they’re all working now so it’s getting harder and harder to do.

“It’s one of those things and it’s got to be looked at, at grass roots level - we need more investment from The FA.  It’s one of those things, especially down here where we’ve got Lewisham Youth attached to Lewisham Athletic. We’ve supplied enough boys through the years to pro clubs at all levels.

“We’ve got one at the moment, Joe Gomez, playing for Liverpool and two at Chelsea, Kasey Palmer and Nathan Baxter, who are on mega, mega money and we don’t get no recognition from it!

“We’ve supplied those players, two of them via Charlton Athletic.  That’s just three of the latest ones.

“Football’s unbalanced, all the money is at the top.  If you look at what the top players are earning and we get no look in on that and where are all the players of the future going to come from? They have to get in the Academies somewhere.

“We’re struggling here, we get no recompense from that. We get no financial help.

“When you go up to the top level the finances are at the top level. It would be nice to get some recognition from The FA and get some help somewhere along the line.”

Lewisham Athletic will be playing in the Andreas Carter Joma Kent County League Premier Division next season – the highest the club can reach by playing on a modest park pitch with just a dressing room block, no perimeter fencing, no enclosed football ground, just trees and dogwalkers for company.

“That’s the massive thing we’ve got to look at while the boys are on a roll,” said Lodge, whose club breezed through the South London Alliance with four successive promotions.

“We’ll have to move away from here, we understand that and then it’s a case where we have to look for sponsors then to make the massive step-up.

“We’ve had contacts. I don’t want to go out of Lewisham Borough. It would be lovely to get down to Ladywell Arena but the problem we’ve got is Lewisham Borough are already there and so are Forest Hill Park who are two established clubs, so we may well have to go out of the borough, which is something we don’t want to do.”

Orpington Reserves finished their campaign on a high yesterday but their reserve team manager Steve Hall explained why their first team have applied for voluntary relegation from the Southern Counties East Football League First Division – the 10th tier of English football.

The O’s plan is to drop down one division into the Andreas Carter Joma Kent County League Premier Division next season, while Orpington’s Reserves are expected to drop into Division Two West after finishing bottom this term.

“It is difficult, it’s getting harder and harder to manage in terms of finances in the upper levels,” said Hall.

“More than more you can’t afford to play at that level unless you’ve got significant investment.

“We’re a community club, we have got 18 youth teams. The youth teams have been supporting the seniors and we can’t carry on like that.  We have to start managing our own resources better and that means playing at Step Six isn’t viable at this stage but we’ll rebuild and hopefully we will be back.”

Meanwhile, Kennington’s chairman Jon Lancaster explained why the club failed to fulfil yesterday’s Andreas Carter Joma Kent County League Premier Division game at Bexley, which was due to be played at Ivor Grove in New Eltham.

“We have just had five players called into work on the railway and have been struggling with illness and injuries all week,” he said.

“I have informed the league that we are unable to play the fixture.  Very disappointing and late in the day.”

Yesterday was the final day of the Kent County League season but there were seven fixtures in the Premier Division table that were not completed for various reasons.

Stansfeld (4), Peckham Town (2), Kennington (2), Borden Village (1), Faversham Strike Force (1), Bexley (1), Staplehurst Monarchs United (1), Farnborough Old Boys Guild (1) and Guru Nanak (1) were the clubs that didn’t complete their 30-match campaigns.

Guru Nanak finished at the foot of the table with a playing record of 29 league defeats from their 29 league outings, conceding 137 goals, scoring 22.

Their Gravesend based rivals, Punjab United and Greenways, finished first and second with 73 and 66 points respectively. 

Punjab United celebrated the league title in their debut campaign in the Kent County League – and have applied for promotion into the Southern Counties East Football League First Division.