Sandford FC (“The Blues”) are a football team with a rich history and great worldwide reputation. Traditionally a home of highly skilled individuals, they attracted top talent who often represented the club for their whole careers, encouraging their children to do the same.
Around 2010, the fortunes of Sandford FC along with their sister clubs Sandford Athletic (Reds) and AFC Sandford (Greens) changed for the worse following a takeover at Board level.
The new owners pushed a strategy of cost-cutting and austerity at odds with the ever-increasing complexity and rising demands of the modern game.
Wages and benefits were frozen or reduced, leading some players to look elsewhere for remuneration that matched their ability and sacrifice. Many still stayed out of loyalty to the club and what it represented, despite their contracts also being lengthened without their consent and various goodwill measures that had been the cornerstone of the club being eroded.
Sandford had traditionally recruited players strongly from across the country and at various ages and backgrounds – bringing them all together into an Academy where they learned both the technicalities of the game and the “Sandford way”. The common thread was their potential and personal attributes, rather than a specific set of entry criteria.
As the squad size has reduced and the fixture list lengthens, injury and illness has risen amongst the players. Sandford players are significantly more likely to suffer both physical and mental injury or poor health than the wider population – they are also far less likely to ask for help.
Cost-cutting measures at Sandford Park also mean that they now have no provision for quality nutrition, sleep or recovery – which reduces their performance as well as increasing their risk of injury/illness. Players’ families often pick up the slack and deliver this care.
Although there are official rehab and recovery centres for Sandford FC players, these are funded solely by contributions from the players themselves – or charities and fans.
When a player reaches the end of their career at Sandford - whether they retire, leave through ill-health or simply seek opportunities elsewhere – they are not offered any meaningful support in the transition process, despite this being the norm in other comparable clubs. Vocal supporters’ groups see it both as simple financial sense being ignored as well as a duty of care that is being neglected. A club director was quoted as saying “why would we invest in helping people leave?”
All of this has led initially to a pattern of senior and experienced players leaving the club, a pattern which has now extended throughout the side and seen players in all positions seeking contracts elsewhere. Equally, SFC now find it hard to attract new talent as it competes with more forward-thinking clubs in other divisions.
On the pitch, the effect has been a noticeable drop in performance that many fans and club insiders were scoffed at for predicting back in 2010/11. This has also translated into an impossible task for those left, who often burnout and overwork in the face of opponents at all levels. They consistently see their efforts criticised in the media by commentators with little understanding of the game.
A banner at the last home game read: “The Club’s F*~ked”.
Sandford FC isn’t a real football club. It wouldn’t last 5 minutes if it were. So why is this all acceptable in the real emergency services in this country?
This was an unusually negative blog – I apologise for that, but not for the sentiment and the importance of actually DOING something about it. Reviews, especially those with selective scope, are not going to solve these problems, which may well take a generation of sustained investment to treat. The next blog will follow up with a more positive look at the potential solutions to this.