Bilston Partnership Youth Football League
Fifteen Years – and Counting!
When Woden Warriors lifted the Merit Shield at Wolverhampton United on Sunday 26 May it brought down the curtain on yet another successful season for the Bilston Partnership Youth Football League and also signalled the conclusion of the league’s fifteenth season providing structured, organised football for youngster of all ages in Wolverhampton and the surrounding areas. Over the last fifteen years the BPYFL has established itself at the forefront of junior football, with ideas and initiatives implemented to offer the best possible experience for everyone involved.
The league was the brainchild of Chairman, Graham Hodson, and it is fitting that his foresight, passion and downright stubbornness in driving forward the league over the last fifteen years, has finally been recognised and rewarded by the Football Association. This year’s Staffs FA Community Awards sees Graham receive the main award for “Outstanding Contribution to Community Football” not just for his sterling efforts in establishing the BPYFL at the forefront of Junior Football in the area but also for breathing a new life and vigour to Bilston Town Football Club in his role as Club Chairman.
Before the Bilston Partnership Youth Football League came into existence, Wolverhampton last boasted a junior football league way back in 1980, when the Wolverhampton Youth Service League folded due to a lack of members.
Though various attempts were made after that to create a new local league in one form or another, they had all failed to capture the imagination and failed to get beyond the planning stage.
Then, after a frantic 18 months of planning, in 1997 an application to the Staffs FA to sanction a new youth league was accepted, and the impending arrival of the Bilston Partnership Youth Football League was announced and advertised.
Initial response to the news certainly indicated that an alternative to the monopoly that existed at that time was clearly wanted. Created by the now defunct committee of Springvale Tranco Colts FC, and supported by both Bilston College (now Wolverhampton City College) and Bilston Town FC – hence the Partnership aspect of the name, the new Bilston Partnership Youth Football League was formed.
Early meetings in 1998, to advertise the league and its aims, attracted as many as 300 teams, all seemingly wanting this new option, but in September 1998 when the League was launched, just 67 teams were brave enough to apply to be a part of this new ‘revolution’. Those 67 teams were spread over eight age groups, from Under 10s up to U17s, and in fact due to the lack of numbers the U16s & U17s merged in order to create a format that would provide a full set of competitive fixtures for the season.
Every player who was registered for that first Sunday was presented with a Founder Members medal to mark the occasion, and local MP Dennis Turner kicked of the very first game played, between Springvale Tranco and Sporting Kalsa Under 14s.
At that time the other local leagues paid little attention to this new ‘noisy neighbour’, convinced it would fold before that first season was ended, and they might have been right, were it not for the determination of Graham and his hardworking Committee and, probably more importantly the desire of the teams themselves to make it work.
Everyone involved was convinced that a fresh approach was needed to reinvigorate youth football in the area so it was important to everyone involved that this new approach worked, that the league not only survived that first season, but did so with a flourish that would then allow it to grow. That unity, that determination in our first season was of vital importance, just as it is to this day, despite member clubs changing and evolving and Committee personnel moving on and maturing, the basic fundamentals of what the League was striving for that first year remains of paramount importance fifteen years on.
When drawing up the criteria for what we wanted the Bilston League to represent, we took on board the concerns that affected the teams we would be catering for, as well as introducing some initiatives that would separate us from other leagues, ideas that would give us a better ‘product’, and our members a better service. These included;
(a) Referee recruitment and retention. We wanted an appointed referee on every fixtured game;
(b) A high standard of conduct supported by structured Disciplinary procedure for all member clubs & teams;
(c) Opportunities for success for all ability levels;
(d)Flexibility, the ability to change or adapt to any given situation;
(e) Respecting and responding to members’ needs, enquiries or concerns.
In all of the above categories the Bilston Youth League has achieved, or even over achieved its targets, though those targets remain our primary objective, they are forever on-going.
Much work was done prior to the launch of the League to attract referees to join us, and our reputation within the refereeing fraternity is now second to none. We are able to appoint a League Referee to EVERY fixtured game – a statistic no other junior league can come even close to matching.
We have also created our own Match Officials Association, which meets on a bi-monthly basis, specifically to discuss issues occurring within the League itself.
We have created a Referee’s X1, which plays two or three charity matches every season – and are unbeaten in eight years! – raising funds for the League’s annual charity appeal.
We hold a Referee’s Presentation Evening at the end of every season.
We insist on a Referee being Chair of the League’s Disciplinary Committee.
We work closely with the Wolverhampton Referee’s Association to stage free linesman’s courses for club linesmen. We support the referee in all aspects of discipline and treat them as an integral part of our League, as opposed to ‘contractors’.
We are extremely proud of our referee’s and they, in turn, are proud to officiate in the Bilston League.
Our disciplinary structure is second to none, with the League having its own Disciplinary Committee, chaired by a referee and made up of member representatives from all age groups, and with having a neutral official refereeing every game we have no direct interest in the outcome of any game.
We also deploy ‘Mystery Supporters’ to games on a weekly basis, and these unknown spectators supply us with a report on each game watched, giving us an early insight to any problems we might have later, and this can be acted on swiftly, before that potential problem can escalate.
Our disciplinary record is recognised and applauded by County FA officials, and we have had fewer issues end up at County, and fewer abandoned games than any other youth league.
We are the only league to offer multi Cup Final opportunities for teams of all abilities. As well as a senior cup competition per age group, where all teams in that age compete, we also stage Divisional Cup competitions, so teams in lower divisions compete against teams of similar ability to try to reach the Final. On top of that, we also stage Divisional Charity Cup competitions, which are again run on a Divisional basis, but as these exclude the Divisional Cup Finalists it means another two teams from each division have the chance of appearing in a Cup Final.
The money raised from the Charity Cup competitions, together with other fund raising activities such as the Referees matches and the annual bike ride by Graham and local referee Mel Perry, are donated to local charities at the seasons end. In our fifteen year existence the Bilston Youth League has raised and donated in excess of £35,000 to local charities – again, no other junior league can boast such a community gesture.
Flexibility - we realise that the world isn’t perfect, and on occasions after fixtures have been issued or referees appointed, they, for unforeseen circumstances, have to be changed, and if we become aware a game can’t be played or a referee can’t fulfil a fixture we will, wherever possible, arrange an alternative game or ref, in order to keep as many teams playing as possible.
When we set up the Bilston League we were aware, from our own experiences, that if a problem occurred or we needed to contact a League Official, it wasn’t always possible because they only accepted calls during a specific time ‘window’ or a specific day. We made a pledge on creating the League that that would never happen in the Bilston League, and all Committee Members are here to respond to any problems, and if they can’t answer a call at the time it’s received, a return phone call will me made within 24 hours. That pledge was made at our creation and remains to this day.
All of these things and many more, have established the Bilston Youth League as the market leader in Junior Football.
From that fragile first season in 1998, where 67 teams played under the Bilston League banner, we have grown to the level where we average 200 teams per season, providing organised football for around 5,000 youngsters and young adults every Sunday.
Four years ago, reacting to demand, we created an Under 21s League – the only Junior League in the Midlands to operate such a facility, and this has proved extremely successful, and allows us to bridge that awkward gap between junior and adult football.
Over the last fifteen years we have also provided countless County Cup winners, with last season alone seeing three Bilston Youth League teams triumph in recognised Countywide Cup competitions.
We now cater for teams ranging in age from Under 8s, right up to Under 21s, meaning we can cater for the needs of our footballers from the age of six right up to twenty one, again, something no other league can offer.
The links with our original partners are still evident, and in fact are stronger than ever, with our Under 10s mini soccer centre being based at the Wellington Road campus of the College, and almost all of our Cup Finals being played at Bilston Town FC – many of them under floodlights.
The Bilston Youth League has not only filled the gap that had been void for far too long, it has taken Junior Football to a whole new level, simply by working WITH its members, rather than dictating to them.
If you would like to know more please contact League Chairman, Graham Hodson, on 07957 255216 or Vice Chairman, Mike Ball, on 07538 178520.