Time for action to save the struggling Town League

Action from a Town League match between Delapre Old Boys and Northampton Harlequins back in 2011

Action from a Town League match between Delapre Old Boys and Northampton Harlequins back in 2011

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The Northampton Town League has a very long, and very proud tradition.

Formed way back in 1894 when shorts were long and boots were actually, well, boots, tens of thousands of players have ran, passed, tackled, scored, saved, headed and competed in parks across the town on a Saturday afternoon every winter.

But the league, now called The Northampton Town & District League, is in real danger of ceasing to exist.

What was once a league boasting several divisions and 100s of men playing every weekend, is now down to just seven teams - with two of them from the same club, Thorplands Club 81.

Where there was once 20 and more fixtures every Saturday, there are now just a maximum of three.

Where once the Racecourse was packed with players and matches every Saturday, you are now lucky if you see one.

It is a league that looks on its last legs - but it’s not hung up its boots yet, and development officer Brendan Doherty, is desperate to revive a league he played in for several years for clubs such as SPA, Sileby Rangers and ON Chenecks.

Following the tragic death of chairman Roy Ainge in the summer, vice-chairman Doherty has taken on the role of running the league, and is doing his utmost to keep what is a town institution going. But he admits he needs help.

So what options are there?

One possibility is tapping into the thriving youth football structure in Northampton, and trying to tempt under-18 teams that may otherwise come to the end of the road, stepping up for their first foray into the men’s game.

Current Town League club Duston Dynamos came through this route, while others, such as Falcons - who now play in the Northants Combination have done in the past.

The current John Henry League Under-18 section boasts 12 teams from well-established clubs without a men’s section, clubs such as Gregory Celtic, Wooldale, Kingsthorpe Jets, as well as the likes of Blisworth, Brixworth and Earls Barton.

Doherty is talking to the youth league about some sort of link-up, and also to managers of teams, hoping to tempt them to stay together and progress to the Town League.

Another possible option is to tap into five and six-a-side leagues across the town. Each week, 100s if not 1,000s of young men will happily spend an hour or more running round Goals at Mereway, or other small-sided leagues, but a high percentage of them don’t consider playing the 11-a-side game.

There are certainly enough people wanting to play football for a Saturday Town League to exist, and the league have tinkered with their own rule book to ensure kick-off times are flexible on a Saturday, rather than a regimented 2pm or 2.30pm. So if teams want to play at 11am on a Saturday, they can.

Doherty says Veteran clubs are also welcome to join if they want more regular football than they currently get.

He is working hard to try and tempt whatever clubs he can to boost the numbers.

He is also keen for youngsters to step in and help run things and get involved at committee level, and perhaps even take on the challenge of really making the league grow into a competition of real substance again, as it was in the not-so-distant past.

“The Town League is in my blood, and I don’t want to see it fold, but it is a possibility,” said Doherty. “The ultimate aim is get some more teams. We want to make people aware there is another league to join, and it’s a local league.

“I would like more teams and more help, including committee people, because we need younger blood, simple as that.”

Doherty is also keen to keep the league going as a mark of respect for Ainge, who was widely seen as ‘Mr Town League’.

This season’s League Cup will be renamed in his memory, Ainge’s wife Sue having chosen the new trophy.

“The cup will be played in memory of Roy, and that makes me want to carry things on, but I do need some help,” said Doherty. “I just don’t want the league to fold.”

Any teams or players interested in competing in the Town League, or getting involved in the committee, can contact Brendan on 07793 215137 or via email at brendoc@ntlworld.com