THIS is the second and final instalment of an article by Sir Bob Russell.

It chronicles the decline of 11-aside football on Saturday afternoons, with the Colchester and East Essex League – due to celebrate its centenary season in September 2021 – now down to just one division whereas at its peak there were six divisions

WHAT is the cause of the huge decline in Saturday afternoon 11-aside football – when the population is three times the size it was 100 years ago?

There are a variety of reasons. There is no one single explanation. Social attitudes are different.

There is not the same appetite among many young men to engage in football on a Saturday afternoon in the same numbers as those of previous generations.

While 11-aside football has declined, there has been a huge growth of 5-a-side football – any evening, any day of the week, 12 months of the year on artificial surfaces and under floodlights…….plus other attractions and distractions, lots of them, at weekends which are further reasons.

Other than inter-school football matches, when I was at primary and secondary school there were not children’s football leagues.

Today there are, which means that by the time they are 18 they could have had ten years of playing football so for many perhaps enough is enough!

I think it is a combination – added to which you need dedicated people doing all the administration work etc, and as I know from various other aspects of life nowadays there are not sufficient people volunteering!

As the population in the 20th century increased, participation in 11-aside Saturday afternoon football steadily rose.

But in the past two or three decades its popularity has declined as society’s social interests changed.

An added reason for the plight of the Colchester and East Essex League is the growth of the Essex and Suffolk Border League which today comprises four divisions, with clubs including many who used to play in the Colchester league.

Before the creation of today’s “football pyramid”, I can remember when the Border League was described as “Intermediary” with a single division catering for clubs who were deemed to be of higher footballing calibre than the “junior” Colchester league but lower than the higher standard of the Essex Senior League.

The Gazette on June 15 reported that the Border League had received so many applications for the 2020-21 season that a fifth division is likely to be formed.

Arguably the growth of the Border League, which prides itself at being at Level 7 of the pyramid, has been to the detriment of the Colchester and East Essex League.

Although the Border League has now eclipsed the Colchester League, with its lower divisions very much in the same “junior” category as the Colchester League had been for nearly 100 years, it is not an exact replacement.

The Border League’s geographic area is significantly greater than that historically of the Colchester League.

The Colchester and East Essex League’s sole surviving division, titled “Premier Division” although it is the only one, had five sides which were “reserve teams” when the season was cancelled on Saturday March 14. Oyster Reserves topped the table ahead of Ramsey & Mistley 1st team whose reserve side was fourth.

With Langham Lodgers in third place, in descending order the others were Sporting Rebels, Abbey Fields, Tiptree Engaine ‘A’, Stanway Athletic Reserves, Tollesbury Reserves, Parkeston Welfare Park with Mersea Island Reserves at the bottom.

No records exist of the inaugural 1921-22 season, but the final league table for 1922-23 featured eight clubs with Brightlinsea Rangers finishing one point ahead of Old Heath. The other six, starting with Wells Athletic in third place, were Culver Street, Wivenhoe Rovers, Brightlingsea Athletic, Colchester Hotspurs and Headgate in last place. Culver Street and Headgate were church sides. Wells was a team from a fireworks factory where the Turner Rise housing estate off Turner Road is now.

The Essex and Suffolk Border League was formed in 1911, and thus is ten years older than what is known today as the Colchester and East Essex League. Founder members of the Border League included Colchester Town.

Records of the Border League include those of the Colchester Borough League founded in 1893 and the Colchester & District League founded in 1903.

It will be sad if the centenary of the Colchester and East Essex League is not reached but as an interested outsider perhaps I could suggest that the way forward is for a coming together of the two leagues, who separately have done so much to support football in our part of the country for generations. Stronger together?