The Premier League may be the most talked about football league in the UK, but the local leagues can be just as exciting.
There are 20 local leagues in London alone, with the teams playing weekly between August and May during the football season.
Terry Carr, 32, has played for the club Reigatians in Surrey for 13 years, and is a member of their sixth team, Reigatians VI, currently placed third in the Amateur Football Combination’s (AFC) Division 7 South league table.
“I guess just that you could be the worst team and still beat the best team some days, that’s the unpredictability of it,” Terry says about what makes the league enjoyable, aside from the socials, of course.
“It’s quite fun to go to the pub afterwards and spend the day watching football”.
Terry plays matches every Saturday, which can take place anywhere between his team’s home venue at Reigate Priory, and Fulham for away games. And during his time with the team, he has always played in the position of goalkeeper.
“I can play out of pitch but I just prefer goalkeeper. It’s the best position.”
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And it’s also an important one, proving vital during the last match of the 2017/18 season, which saw Reigatians VI win the Division South 8 league, something Terry says should never have happened.
“We were the bottom of all [the Reigatians] teams, so we should never win the league”.
The 3-0 victory from Terry’s team meant they received a celebration dinner at The Oval cricket ground alongside other winning teams from the AFC leagues, as well as a speech from a guest speaker.
But Reigatians VI’s victory in 2018 isn’t the only trophy for the club, who have been named champions a total of 12 times since the 1992/93 season.
The teams are promoted or relegated to another division league within the AFC depending on their success throughout the season. And as the Amateur Football Combination is one of the largest leagues in Europe, it means there is a chance for teams to compete against a variety of clubs based on their performance.
Yet as the AFC is, at its heart, grass-roots football, funding for the clubs is essential for good quality matches.
“League’s down by us are ok, but the leagues played in London are a lot better organised,” Terry explains. The AFC requires all matches to have a referee, whilst the home team must provide a meal for their opponents after the match, since the journey to the venue can take two hours for some clubs.
“When you win, you win as a team”
“In the London matches you always get a changing room, you’re not getting changed on the side of a pitch when it’s pouring down with rain, as you would down in the Sussex leagues,” something that Terry has experienced during his time with Reigatians.
But arguably the most important part of a football match is the pitch, which Terry believes London has the upper hand on.
“They’re not going to be ankle breakers that are just mud-patches from where rugby players have run across,” but for some lower divisions in London leagues, this is still an issue.
Occasionally, matches in division four of the Barnet Sunday Football League are played at Oakhill Park.
Terry explains similar conditions for matches played at Purley Way Playing Fields. “It’s this massive open field, and they have a changing room area but no one ever opens it. So it’s the massive field outside that people get changed on. It’s that bad.”
This is not necessarily something that has to come with playing for local teams. And Terry has seen a noticeable difference since his club started using Slate, an app that makes sure players pay their fee so the club receives enough money to make improvements.
“We’ve used it for the past three years and people are actually paying up. And you can prove who’s not paying, so then they can’t play until they’ve paid,” says Terry, who added that this year all the teams in Reigatians received brand new kits and training tops, as well as new footballs and nets, because players are paying their share.
“You do see the improvement when people pay the money.”
With clubs being able to stay on top of match fees thanks to apps like Slate, long-term improvements can be made that will benefit local league football, and hopefully see more football fans join a local team.
“It’s just the enjoyment, the banter you can get,” Terry explains. “When you win, you win as a team, but when you lose, you have a joke but no one’s mean about it, you just have to laugh about why you lost.”
Regardless of the pitch, price or weather, it’s the bond between the teammates that’s at the heart of grass-roots football, and with a bit of luck, that can take a team all the way to the top.
Words: Alysia Georgiades | Featured images: Courtesy of Terry Carr and Alysia Georgiades | Video: Slate | Graphics: Alysia Georgiades