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A level playing field?
THEY are the pitches where thousands of players young and old descend every weekend to emulate their idols at St Mary’s.
It is on these green fields that their own tales of glory are enacted – where a keeper can make that dramatic one-handed save, or a striker can hit home that winning volley.
But the state of some of these council pitches is making it increasingly hard for even the most skilled players to showcase their talents.
Some pitches are covered with holes, others have uneven surfaces, and some are even covered in unsightly dog mess, which teams have to pick up before games get under way.
Even a changing room toilet was recently littered with smashed bottles.
An inspection of Southampton City Council’s budget reveals that less is being spent on the pitches.
In the last four years expenditure on maintaining outdoor spaces, including football pitches, has been reduced by £135,000, from £495,000 to £360,000.
The council insists this cut has not affected the way pitches are maintained or how many ground staff there are.
But that is not the view of people in grass roots football.
Chris Gerrard, 25, who manages Bannister Park Football Team said: “I don’t mind paying the fee for the pitches, but what we want is to play on a half-decent football pitch. All the council pitches are awful, they’re covered in pot-holes and dog mess and the grass is not properly maintained.
“At the sports centre there was one pitch which had no grass whatsoever in the penalty area, and it was covered in stones.”
Another manager who is angry about the state of council pitches is Tony Hewes, 49, from St Denys, who runs AFC Station and Portswood United. He said: “Mayfield Park is one of the worst grounds I have ever seen, and for all of the money the council charges for the pitches they are terrible.”
At one game this season at Mayfield Park, Mr Hewes said there was a huge crater in the middle of the pitch which council ground staff filled with dirt.
This is nothing unusual according to Mr Hewes, who said: “The pitches have gone downhill in the last five years, that’s why my AFC Station side don’t play our home games on council pitches.”
The council charges £55 to use one of its pitches.
But fields which are privately owned by schools cost significantly less to use and, according to Mr Hewes, are better maintained.
He added: “My worry is that now t e a m s realise that non-council pitches are better and sometimes cheaper , they will now get overused and the prices will increase.”
It is not just the pitches that are a problem.
Some changing room facilities are being vandalised and the president of Southampton Tyro League football, Brian Butler, 78, labelled an incident at Green Park as ‘the worst in my 54 years in football”.
Mr Butler and the secretary of Saturday League football, Rod Sutherland, found broken glass bottles strewn across the floor of the ground’s toilets. Mr Butler said: “l could not believe the state of the toilets.
"They were 3in or 4in full of broken glass. What if a kid went in those toilets?
"There was no one around to talk to about it, or to complain to.”
Mr Butler added he had to move a Tyro League football match between Brendan 97 and Hamble United away from Lordshill Recreation ground because the pitch was full with holes. He said: “If the kids played on that, they would be at risk of breaking their legs.”
It is not just footballers who say that council pitches are poorly maintained. Cricket players have also lodged complaints.
One cricket captain, who did not want to be named, said: “The council pitches have a reputation for being poor. With cricket it is crucial there is a reasonable playing surface. We need to be able to tell what the ball is going to do, but on council pitches it is completely erratic and quite dangerous.”
Committee member for the Southampton Evening Cricket league, Glen Delacour, also said that in his 20 years playing cricket the pitches have got worse.
“They have become less playable. One of the most worrying things is the lack of ground staff," he said.
“Fortunately this season there was lots of rain, so the bounce was less erratic than in previous years.”
Southampton City Council has defended the ground maintenance cuts.
Leisure boss Councillor Warwick Payne said that, despite the maintenance budget being reduced, there are no plans to sell any pitches in the near future.
“The situation we are facing is the council has less money to spend than before,” he said.
“Sadly we do not have much money to put into maintaining pitches, unless it is a way which does not cost the taxpayer more money.
“We want to keep the standard of the service high, so that teams have pitches which they can play on.”