GiveToLocal: Can you provide an overview of what football activity is happening in North Riding given the end of the latest lockdown and the relaxation of social distancing rules in recent weeks?
North Riding FA: We’re delighted that football has now returned in most areas of the county. A number of leagues are concluding their original fixture programmes, whilst some have opted to run mini Champions League-style competitions between now and the end of the season. Alongside these, North Riding FA is completing all of its county cup competitions.
GiveToLocal: Are you confident that players, coaches and volunteers can enjoy their football in a safe and secure environment and what measures have you put in place to ensure that?
NRFA: We’re very confident that if clubs and those individuals involved in the game, whatever their role, follow the guidance provided by the Government and the FA that it’s safe for football to resume. There continues to be a limit on spectators attending games, although these will ease as the roadmap unfolds. Social distancing and good hygiene remain the priorities. If people follow the guidance then there really should be no issues.
GiveToLocal: How much of a challenge has it been for the North Riding FA to prepare for a return to sport following a year of unprecedented disruption?
NRFA: The key for us has been making sure that all stakeholders have received the updated guidance from the FA. We have excellent staff who have been available to answer any questions, so fortunately we’ve been able to manage things pretty well. The biggest challenge has undoubtedly been for the leagues in deciding how best to conclude what has been a massively interrupted 2020/21 season. It’s a credit to them that most have been able to provide some offer of football between now and the end of June.
GiveToLocal: How much enthusiasm has there been for a return to football across the region?
NRFA: There’s been a huge appetite to get back to football at adult and youth levels. People have genuinely missed the game and are happy that they have the opportunity to get back to doing what they love. Inevitably, some individuals are wary of returning at this time and that’s completely understandable. However, we’re delighted that the game is back up and running.
GiveToLocal: Are you concerned that there will be a drop off in numbers of players compared to pre-pandemic numbers or do you anticipate an increased demand to play football across North Riding?
NRFA: There is a concern that participation will be affected, although early indications are that this will not be the case. The pandemic has certainly hit some areas of football harder than others, with participants in disability football, many of whom are in high-risk categories, reluctant to return at this time. In time we hope we can support these clubs and individuals to return to the game. With an uninterrupted 2021/22 season we believe that we will see numbers back to where they were across the grassroots game in North Riding.
GiveToLocal: How has the North Riding FA been communicating with its members during the last 12 months?
NRFA: Like most businesses we have had to adapt our approach. We have been able to run a host of online events which have been very successful and these are something that we will definitely incorporate into our offer for the grassroots game in the future. In addition, we have continued with our regular updates to clubs via newsletters etc. Most important of all, however, has been continuing to speak to those people involved in the grassroots game.
GiveToLocal: Can you describe some of the toughest challenges your members have faced since March 2020?
NRFA: The biggest challenge has been the loss of identity for individuals who dedicate their lives to grassroots football. The football family is a community and people have undoubtedly missed the connections and bonds that they have in their lives when football has not been there. On a more practical level, the loss of income suffered by clubs has probably been the other big challenge.
GiveToLocal: As a regional FA what are the toughest challenges (beyond the return to sport) that you’ve faced during the last 12 months?
NRFA: Again, like most businesses, we have suffered significant losses of income as a result of the pandemic. Unfortunately, this led to us losing a member of staff during 2020 and having to place the majority of the remaining staff on furlough leave. Inevitably, this impacted upon our ability to respond to customers in our usual timely fashion, although the football family in North Riding has been very understanding.
GiveToLocal: How has football in North Riding been supported by additional/emergency funding during the pandemic?
NRFA: North Riding FA was able to support clubs during the 2020/21 season by reducing the cost of affiliation fees and offering free entry to our county cup competitions. In addition to this, the Association paid for the cost of public liability insurance for all of our member clubs with money from our reserves. And we were able to provide free registration for our referees. We’ve also been able to support clubs from across the National League system and the grassroots game to access funding from the Football Foundation. That’s been a lifeline to many.
GiveToLocal: Do you anticipate a shortfall in income across the board and the need for clubs and their members/volunteers to raise additional funds during the next few weeks and months?
NRFA: The loss of income in grassroots football has been one of the biggest challenges. Fundraising will be more important than ever as football gets back to normality over the coming months.
GiveToLocal: How can an organisation like GiveToLocal help North Riding’s football clubs and their members to look forward to a bright future?
NRFA: We would urge our member clubs to sign up with GiveToLocal. There really hasn’t been a better time for them to take advantage of the fantastic support that is on offer. Fundraising and sponsorship will be needed to get the game back on its feet and booming again. Connecting with businesses within their local communities will offer huge benefits to both the clubs and the companies involved.
GiveToLocal: Is the future bright for football across the North Riding region?
NRFA: We’re confident that the future for football in North Riding is bright. The area is full of people who are passionate about the game and this will see football thrive across Teesside and North Yorkshire. We will shortly be releasing our new Business Strategy for 2021-24 and I’m really excited about how this will support the grassroots game over the next three years to recover from the pandemic. With more than 20,000 registered players and 1,300-plus member clubs in the county, there is a huge market and appetite for football and long may this continue.