West Yorkshire League Premier Division
Player availability issues are causing real problems for Step 7 clubs, says Robin Hood manager Matt Wright.
The issue is more prominent in the Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior Cup but Wright claims his Leeds-based club and other West Yorkshire League sides are regularly ringing round for emergency players late in a week.
“I think the word is availability rather than commitment,” Wright told Non League Yorkshire.
“I think players are committed but there’s other factors in their lives now because of the pandemic which has made it harder for people to play football at Step 7.
“I feel more and more lads are having weekends away.
“We have had one-or-two lads and they’ve gone now.
“It doesn’t suit Saturday football if you’re only available two weekends a month.
“You make a commitment for the season.
“You’re going to have isolated holidays here and there but you’re getting weekends away which is a bit more common than it was a couple of years ago.
“In relation to managers contacting (Step 6 and above) managers for players (close to a Saturday), I have been one of those people and I have had some under 23s sent my way to ensure a fixture is fulfilled.
“The other alternative is to pull players from the reserve team but our reserve team manager doesn’t deserve that, it is not his fault (if the first team are short of players).
“I’m not playing the poor-me card because it is not isolated to Robin Hood, it is clearly happening at every single club.
“It is a widespread problem.
“When I speak to other managers at games, everyone is in the same boat.
“I spoke to one who said he didn’t know where he is week-to-week.
“I never get to a position where I’m struggling on a Saturday morning, it is more Thursday and Friday when I’m maybe signing a few players on for an isolated game.
“I travelled with Rawdon with 12 men and I played four out of position and it was quite an entertaining 4-3!
“But as a manager and coach you can’t do much with that.
“That’s where people in my position at other clubs feel the frustration because you can’t coach or effectively manage because you’re doing a job which you pull someone off the street for and say ‘right, pick a team for today’.”
An inability to field a same consistent eleven is at the bottom of Robin Hood’s struggles so far this season.
The village club are fourth-bottom but Wright is not downbeat as he sees green shoots of recovery.
“It has been strange old season,” he said.
“We started pretty strong and we had two good draws.
“We were winning 2-0 against Horsforth in the first game but they scored two late goals to make it 2-2.
“We then got a good draw away at Carlton which is our local derby.
“Since then we have plagued with availability issues.
“In terms of quality in the team we probably have the best group of players I’ve had but availability seems to let us down.
“We went to Rawdon, the third game of the season, with a scratched eleven.
“It was holiday season, I get that, but since then we have really struggled to get consistency and continuity which you need to get results.
“We have seem a better trend over the last month and there’s no surprises that results have got better.
“You can’t get away from the fact we are down there at the moment and we need to get the points.
“We’re not used to the situation as usually we are pretty comfortable in this Division.
“We have found ourselves in a situation and I’ve made it clear to the players that it is us who will get ourselves out of it.
“Once as availability improves, the results will come hand-in-hand.
“I look at the NCEL and our league when they publish the teams and you look at the continuity in the sides.
“It is no surprise in our league when you look at Horbury, they appear to have good continuity.
“Beeston, Horsforth and Knaresborough, they appear to have continuity and it is no surprise they are near the top.
“It shows where we can be as a club but over the course of the season continuity always comes out on top regardless of who you have in your team.”