Grassroots football: Blackburn’s Mill Hill Juniors FC launches campaign to bring back games

A GRASSROOTS football club is calling on the local FA to reverse its decision to suspend games and training across the county.
Thanks to the decision taken by the Lancashire FA on Friday evening to halt non-elite football, pitches across the county will remain empty with players and fans forced to remain at home.
Now, Blackburn-based Mill Hill Juniors FC wants to know why this decision has been taken and is warning that the move could have a calamitous impact on young people who rely on the game as a source of exercise and as a social hub.
Coach Matthew Bellusci said: “To give children the hope that they could be back playing football and then whisk it away from them, it’s unjust.”
He added: “It’s not just about going to play football, it’s about being in a group, being together and it’s about their mental health and wellbeing.
“Also from my club’s point of view, they’ve paid out to groundsmen and that was just whisked away from them at the last minute.”
The decision means that no training, friendly games or league matches can take place until at least January.
This will include both the senior and junior game in eight areas — Pendle, Burnley, Hyndburn, Rossendale, Blackburn with Darwen, Ribble Valley, South Ribble and Preston.
Chorley however, alone among Lancastrian boroughs, will be permitted to allow grassroots football to go ahead.
However, Mr Bellusci has pointed out that this contradicts national government guidelines put out by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which does make allowances for the return of non-elite football from December 2 onwards.
Not only that, but other local football associations around the UK have allowed sporting activity to recommence.
He says this appears especially unjust given that other sports including rugby union and gymnastics will be allowed to proceed across Lancashire.
Mr Bellusci believes that Lancashire FA should not have had the right to take the suspension decision independently and that it should be overturned.
He also believes that clubs have already demonstrated that they can carry out their activities safely after the first lockdown eased.
Mr Bellusci said: “We had social distancing measures in place the first time so if it worked the first time we don’t see why it wouldn’t this time.”
The club has launched a petition calling on the Lancashire FA to reverse its decision. It has already attracted over 1,500 signatures.
Mr Bellusci has contacted MP for Rossendale and Darwen Jake Berry and secretary of state for culture, media and sport Oliver Dowden MP to drum up support.
He says that the return of fans to Premier League stadia around the country over the weekend has shown just how important being able to participate in live football games can be.
Children and young people in Lancashire meanwhile, look set to continue missing out unless Friday’s decision is reversed.
Lancashire FA CEO Simon Gerrard has said that he still believes the suspension is in the best interest of fans.
He said: “Like the vast majority of you, I love football. The same applies to every member of the team that works with me at Lancashire FA, which is why we do our best to develop the game as we can across the county.
“However, it’s also the reason we sometimes need to make decisions that serve the best interest of the game and our participants, volunteers and spectators, for a long-term benefit. Today is an example of one of those types of decisions.
“Although Covid-19 infections are decreasing across the county, it remains incredibly prominent in some parts of Lancashire and continues to take the lives of a number of people infected.
“With relaxation in the rules on households mixing during Christmas period, we need to take joint action to avoid another rise over the coming weeks.”
Lancashire FA says its decision has been backed by Public Health for Lancashire, Public Health for Blackburn and Darwen, Public Health England and Lancashire Resilience Forum.
For the players at Mill Hill Juniors, this is a huge disappointment.
Mr Bellusci said: “My son Ethan aged 10 said today, ‘what a beautiful day for football, it’s a shame we cannot play’.”
Find the petition at change.org/p/government-overturn-lancashire-fa-decision-to-suspend-grassroots-football.

The Westmorland Gazette | North Lancs