1966 was a great year for English football: the Barnet Sunday League was born. But its progression in recent years has made it a great example to follow in how to run a grassroots league.
By John Eager
1966 will always be most remembered as the year that England won the World Cup and football finally came home, creating a generation of people who wanted to play the beautiful game and have a crack at becoming the next Bobby Moore, Alan Ball or Geoff Hurst. The buzz and excitement around the national sport due to England’s success on home soil filtered all the way down to the grassroots amateur level and led to the formation of the Barnet Sunday Football League (then known as the Barnet & District Sunday League) for the 1966/67 debut season.
For that first season, the league had twenty-two clubs, two divisions consisting of twenty league games and a singular cup competition. The first team to be crowned Division One champions were Inter-Woodcock who also went on to claim the double with the League Cup. Runners-up were Pursley United. In Division Two, the champions were North Met O.D. (Barnet) with Barnet College as runners-up. Only one founder club that played in that initial season remains with the league today – Roving Reporters.
Periods of success and decline have followed the league over the years, but owing to the resilience of the volunteers and the clubs that play in it, the league has always been able to continue.
Fast-forward to the current season in 2021/22 and the Barnet Sunday Football League has gone from strength to strength in recent times and now has seventy-four teams, eight divisions and runs six cup competitions. It’s been one hell of a journey over the past fifty-six years to reach this point but none of it would have been possible without the many men and women who have served as custodians, giving up their time to volunteer in the running of the league.
The recent social media modernisation has been a massive help in bringing Barnet Sunday Football League into the twenty-first century over the last few seasons. A rebrand of the league logo, a new website, engaging social media content and most importantly the launch of the league’s YouTube channel has helped solidify the BSFL as the largest Sunday League in North London. Recently the league has expanded its project and has a game a week filmed and uploaded to the YouTube channel. This can be anything from a top of the Premier Division clash to a relegation battle in Division Six, or anything in between. It gives the teams a level of exposure which they wouldn’t necessarily get and teams on the rise get that vital filming experience.
Due to the league’s growth and being the largest organised league in North London, the BSFL has seen participation increase in record numbers. There is no better example of this than when the league gained thirty-two new teams ahead of the 2020/21 season following Covid-19 restrictions being lifted; an impressive number of new teams, and the largest single intake of teams ahead of a new season in the league’s history. This is down to the hard work of the social media team who are always looking to add new teams to the league to facilitate growth. One of the main challenges in this regard has been the referee shortage that has been a national issue but the BSFL have managed to combat this by funding referee courses with London FA and Middlesex FA helping us gain officials.
Due to the pandemic, a reduced cup format with amended rules had to be agreed in principle by the teams that wanted to enter the cups. Thanks to those clubs agreeing to be flexible in regards to playing midweek, Saturday and in some cases having to play two games on one day, it meant the cup programme could be completed. Over 1,000 people turned up to watch the finals, with the league generating in excess of £4,000 in revenue. The planning, delivery and execution of the cup finals by the committee members involved led to a record-breaking cup competitions programme – a testament to the dedication of the league to give its teams a memorable occasion.
One thing the BSFL excels at is its level of accessibility and communication with clubs and referees. Regular comms are sent out in a Club Admin Group facilitated by WhatsApp and teams are also in a Divisional group where they are encouraged to ask questions and create a bit of comradery. All committee members are accessible and engage with modern technology in order to ensure a smooth running of the league. But it’s not just the communication with the clubs that the league prides itself on. The league has a great relationship with the local councils whom have been understanding in regards to the national shortage of match officials and have allowed afternoon kick-offs to take place on pitch permits, enabling the league to double up on match officials. It would be very easy for the league to focus just on its clubs, but by creating relationships with councils, County FAs, local businesses and pitch providers at every opportunity, the Barnet Sunday Football League ensures it has a network of support in the local communities.