SIR Bob Russell writes about the rise and fall of 11-aside football as a Saturday afternoon sporting activity – following on his earlier articles about the loss of football pitches in Colchester.

Here is the first of two instalments.

THE centenary season for the Colchester and East Essex Football League is from September 2021, but with this season (2019-20) brought to a premature end because of the coronavirus pandemic lock-down there is a serious threat as to whether the League will still exist by the time of the centenary.

There is also the more immediate question as to if the 2020-21 season will start this autumn…..and if it does, whether the Colchester League will have enough teams for even one division.

League Secretary Ron Bennett has told Gazette Sport: “We cannot see much football at our level being played before Christmas.”

It is not the pandemic lock-down which has caused such a gloomy possibility of the centenary not being reached, although it may well have hastened the end if indeed it is the end of the local league which at one time flourished with six divisions but when the season was terminated early on Saturday March 14 comprised just one Division of only 11 sides. Most of them were not even based in Colchester itself.

The decline of Saturday afternoon football by 11-aside teams is not confined to just our part of the country but would appear to be a nation-wide collapse of what was once a major part in the lives of men primarily aged in their late teens to early 30s, with some playing into their 40s and beyond.

Many villages and separate communities in urban Colchester, and others based on where people worked or socially gathered, had their own football club – often with a first team and a reserve side.

Nor is the decline just for Saturday football. There has also been a significant drop in Sunday football, but less dramatic.

Whereas the Saturday Colchester and East Essex League has fallen to just one division, the Colchester and District Sunday League (founded in the mid-1960s) has been reduced from a high point of seven divisions to three at the time of the pandemic shutdown.

This article can be read as a sequel to my earlier one of two instalments which chronicled the various football pitches from yesteryear in Colchester which have been lost and developed mainly with housing estates.

I now write about the Colchester and East Essex Football League – which bills itself as “your local football league”. Its origins date back to 1921 when it started as the Brightlingsea Minor League. In 1927 it was changed to the Brightlingsea and District Junior Football League, and in 1949 to its current name. Recognition of the Brightlingsea roots is given in the League’s crest with the Brightlingsea badge being one of three used – the others those of Colchester and Essex.

The history of the League from its formation to 1939, when the League was suspended for the duration of the Second World War, is recorded in a fantastic book (published in 1999) written by John Fothergill who undertook extensive research to provide a comprehensive history of the league up to 1939.

Regrettably, my efforts to obtain records of the seasons after football started following the end of the War in 1945 have not been very successful. There must have been official records each season, but their whereabouts are not known until those from the 2004-05 season to the season which was terminated unfinished in March.

Copies of the records for the past 15 seasons have been given to me by Mr Brian Rowe who holds three positions in the League, a clear indication of a paucity of volunteers. He is treasurer, registrations secretary and press secretary. Valiantly he and a handful of others seek to help the League reach its centenary.

But what of the 60 years from 1945? The records were not inherited by those who today run the Colchester and East Essex League. My enquiries with the Essex FA drew a blank – there is no requirement, I was astonished to be told, for such records to be kept by the Football Association nor anybody else. The Essex Record Office checked, but confirmed the records had not been archived with them.

Hopefully they exist somewhere. If they cannot be found, then a daunting task awaits……..for someone to plough through 60 years of archived local newspapers to see if league tables were published from which a record can be compiled of several hundred different clubs who were members of the League at various times during those “missing” six decades.

If the records do not emerge as a result of this article, the only hope of such a herculean challenge being avoided is that there may be officials from long-forgotten clubs from the second-half of the last century who have kept club records which will include league tables.

Those who can remember the BBC TV comedy programme from the 1980s, “Ever Decreasing Circles”, will recall that the leading role played by actor Richard Briers was someone who hoarded all manner of paperwork. Salvation would come if there are similar characters in Colchester’s local football circles! One such person is Peter Constable, Secretary of the long-ago closed Parkside Rangers who kept a meticulous record from when the club was formed in 1959 until he left in 1972.

Hopefully he is not the only one who has such records safely stored.

At one stage Parkside had three teams. Although Peter Constable’s records do not feature the league tables of the three Parkside sides, they do list the teams they played against and the scores of every single match, and what position the different Parkside teams finished at the end of each season.

Just one random example is Parkside’s first season – in Division Five, from September 1959. Most opponents were reserve sides. The names of the clubs were Mersea, Ardleigh, Tollesbury, West Bergholt, Cherry Tree Rovers, Colchester Corinthians, Boxted Lodgers, Eastern Gas Board, Eastern Electricity Board, Halstead Rangers, Mistley United, Colchester Tractors, Hardwick Rovers, Earls Colne, and Nayland Rangers.

From my youth I can also remember Mile End Rovers, Col-Tey Rovers, Lawford Lads, Paxmans, St Mary Magdalen, Spottiswodes, Severalls, Lexden Wanderers and Barn Hall. The predecessor of this newspaper and its printing works had its own football team – Benhams. Tiptree had three clubs: Tiptree United, Tiptree County Youth Centre, and Tiptree Heath.

Most no longer exist.