The IMG 11-a-side Football League draws in hundreds of Cardiff University students each year and provides an excellent platform for players to play in a semi-serious environment away from the BUCS representative teams. However, this year’s competition has been tarnished by a host of pitch cancellations that have meant some teams have played as few as two competitive fixtures since September.
Cardiff University Sport, who oversee the running of the league, and The City of Cardiff Council have come under increasing criticism from students, who are aggrieved at not only the absence of football, but the lack of communication between the IMG League administrators and the players.
Captain of the 11-a-side IMG team CUCC FC, Dan Heath, stated: “We have played just two competitive games this year. I think we should have played around eight by now”.
‘I believe they [Cardiff University Sport] must recognise the season has been bad, however we have had no formal email or messages regarding what they plan to do about it – or what they are doing at the moment to help the season”.
The City Council have blamed poor weather and longer pitch recovery times as the main reasons behind the increased number of cancellations. However, Heath disputes that this year’s rainfall can truly justify the amount of called off matches: “I don’t think the weather has been much worse than previous years. The council seems to call games off very quickly, and we’ve had a few Wednesdays in sunshine with good conditions where we can’t play as the game had been called off way before.”
Heath’s frustration seems largely shared with fellow players, however IMG Football Co-ordinator, Mat Richards, says the decision of whether or not matches can be played is mostly taken out of their hands: “In terms of the pitches, we have no say over them if they are on or off, it’s been the wettest December so that obviously hasn’t helped.
‘The council’s decision to call them off comes because [the pitches] are basically underwater and they can’t get on there to maintain them, mark them, and cut the grass so that’s their concern”.
However, some players have argued that the pitches are in a playable condition and that the cancellations are completely unjustified: “We’ve been to the
fields at Pontcanna and Blackweir various times this season to train on areas that aren’t designated pitches and the pitches looked like they were in playable condition” said captain of JOMEC FC, Simeon Goldstraw.
“You get the impression the council prioritises the games played on a Saturday at the pitches and as a result cancels our matches during the week as a precaution” he added.
For many of the clubs, they have not played competitively since November and the major shortfall in games means that completing both phases of the competition before the term comes to an end seems increasingly unlikely. The regular format of the 11-a-side competition sees qualifying groups drawn for matches between September and December. A new draw is then made in January, with groups made up of clubs dependant on their placing in the qualifying pools before Christmas. With just three games having been played so far for most of the teams, the qualifying phase of the competition is still far from complete, let alone phase two.
With a £250 fee paid by each team at the beginning of the year, players have expressed their anger at having not played nearly as much to justify such expenditure. Representatives from Cardiff University IMG Sport have stated however, that whilst they have no influence in the assigning of refunds, the Athletic Union will “look into the possibly of issuing refunds if all the matches aren’t played”, vowing to “review the situation at Easter.”
The Athletic Union President, Sam Parsons, expressed his sympathy for affected players, saying: “It’s just unfortunate that the weather has such detrimental effect on the league. I can really empathise with the boys, when the weather is like it is, it’s a shame.”
The former Cardiff University Rugby chairman added: “We obviously want to provide a complete sporting package to all students at Cardiff University. It doesn’t matter who gets the rewards for offering a certain sport. We want people to come to University to play sport and that’s the bottom line.”
Richards appreciated that this year has been one of the worst on a playing front, however the intentions are still to complete both phases of the competition if the time allows: “I wouldn’t like to rule it out completely. It’s obviously going to be a challenge and with the weeks ticking by, I wouldn’t like to say it’s completely gone, but we’ll do all that we can to get the fixtures on.
“We’ll try and complete phase one first off, then we’ll go into phase two and try and get as many fixtures as we can played.”
Paul Varty, captain of Finance and Trading FC, has expressed his concern over the future of IMG football participation at Cardiff University: “It will almost certainly have a negative effect. If we don’t get a refund then it’s simply not worth the money, you’d be better off spending it on sessions on all weather pitches.
“Even with a refund I wouldn’t blame anyone for losing interest after this year. I have been concerned our players who are new to IMG may find something better to do with their Wednesday afternoons.”
He added: “Luckily we have a big squad and everyone seems very committed. For teams with smaller squads players dropping out will have a serious effect on their ability to play in the league in future. It’s very frustrating for us final years as it’d be nice to end IMG on a high note; it was the highlight of my first two years but this year it’s just non-existent.”
With the thought of next season already in the mind of other IMG captains, Parsons has outlined his blueprint to repair the registration procedure of the league: “In my opinion the only way it can be improved is to increase registration and set up more of a direct line for the IMG captains to speak to the AU. Next year I’m hopefully going to get someone on the AU Exec to be solely in charge of IMG sport, so that’s something we’re going to be working on in a few months time.”
The communication between the league and the players has, on more than one occasion, been brought to the forefront of players’ concerns, with some arguing that more should be done by Cardiff University Sport: “It’s rarely a clear explanation, often just a copied and pasted ‘Park pitches off, please stay off the marked pitches’. Any extra explanation needs to be prompted by a few angry comments”, Varty stated.
“I wouldn’t say they have been suitably apologetic about it either or appear to be doing enough to provide alternative facilities or means of playing the games”, said Goldstraw.
With the council continuing to cancel matches and the inclement weather showing no signs of immediate improvement, the Athletic Union have highlighted the importance of students obeying council orders. According to various AU representatives, students are continuing to go against council instructions when pitches are cancelled and are thus costing the AU, who are still charged pitch hire – standing at £55 per pitch.
Richards also advised players to adhere to the council’s ruling, stating: “We have to listen to the council, it’s their pitches that we use. It’s in their hands really. Blackweir and Pontcanna are the only venues that are together and we can get twelve pitches at once. The players just want to play, if the goal-mouths are underwater they don’t care, but from a health-and-safety point of view, it’s something to add, as the council don’t want it to come back to them.”
For now, there seems no immediate resolution, and whilst the City of Cardiff Council were unavailable for comment, it is suspected that their strict stance on the playing condition of the pitches will not change anytime soon. The significant value of IMG football in university life is obvious and merely highlights the importance of addressing this issue at an Athletic Union executive level. It might be of interest to the existing crop of IMG players to see if the current Athletic Union President candidates will opt to include policies on Intra-Mural football in their manifestos or whether this is a problem which may fail to reach any kind of resolution in future years.