Northern United SC is the result of the split from the Prince George Youth Soccer Association four years ago
Minor football is starting to shed the chains of COVID-19 restrictions that have weighed heavily on its activities on the pitch for over a year and Northern United Soccer Club technical director Brad Stewart is grateful that things are returning to the normal now that children are free to play games again.
The fourth outdoor season began on May 11 for Northern United with players performing physical distance drills from their homes on the grounds of Prince George High School. Two weeks later, intra-league play was allowed again when the province moved to Stage 1 of its restart plan.
Northern United children have played all winter at the Northern Sport Center for a third consecutive year and outdoor play registrations have more than doubled this year with 270 registered players, up from 110 in 2020. More players means more time on the pitch is needed and that has been a sore point for the folks behind Northern United, who is limited to using three fields at PGSS.
With no warehouse of their own at the PGSS site, Northern United coaches have to transport a trailer to the pitch that carries the nets and balls they use daily for their practices and matches. Stewart wonders why his kids can’t use what is widely considered to be one of the best outdoor soccer facilities in the province. They would love to play in the huge Rotary Soccer Field park and its 10 large pitches along 15th Avenue and Ospika Boulevard, but Northern United does not have access to these fields.
Built in the late 1990s on city-owned land with funds raised from the city’s three Rotary clubs, the Rotary Soccer Field is the home of the Prince George Youth Soccer Association, which led the project. But Stewart says city taxpayers pay city teams to maintain the grass that makes up these pitches and he can’t understand why Northern United, an associate member of BC Soccer, is not allowed to play there. bottom and why PGYSA has the exclusive rights to Rotary Field. .
“That’s the million dollar question, we put it to the city,” said Stewart. “They’re sitting there vacant. From what I understand they were built by the Rotary Club for the citizens, for the youth of Prince George and only certain people are allowed and we are not, for some reason.
Stewart says other groups outside of PGYSA have gained access to the fields in previous years.
“They let the (Vancouver) Whitecaps play there, I saw rugby there and I saw field lacrosse there, but we’re not allowed to,” said Stewart. “If we are to develop and run a legitimate program, we need areas like Rotary’s. It should be a level playing field, that’s all we’re asking for. We can just do what we can with what we’re given, but we’re going to fight for more because we can give more, do more, and be better.
Northern United has been denied its request to the city for permission to bring a sea canister to store its equipment at the PGSS site, while the Prince George Track and Field Club and the PGSS Polars football team / Prince George Minor Football Association were allowed to relocate. in their large steel storage boxes closer to the Masich stadium, in view of the football fields.
Northern United coaching director Jacob Jensen, aged 9 to 12, said his association had tried to strike a deal with PGYSA, but was unsuccessful and he was frustrated his players couldn’t start balls football at the city’s demonstration facilities. He plans to appeal to city politicians to get involved in resolving the dispute.
“City employees told us that PGYSA has an automatic annual agreement and a first right of refusal to obtain these fields each year,” Jensen said. “We reached out to PGYSA and we want to work with them because I think having two football clubs in town would strengthen football in northern BC. But they don’t seem to want to work with us and we do our best. we can, we’re trying to get to the Rotary grounds, and we’re at a point where we may need to contact city council.
Terrol Russell, PGYSA club operations manager, said the association has invested $ 3.5 million in Rotary Field infrastructure since it was built. He owns the pitch, fences, goal cages, lights and equipment and the club is required to pay for the maintenance of these facilities and takes responsibility for these facilities, which gives the organization the right to control who uses the land.
“PGYSA built this facility and returned the fields to the city for maintenance,” said Russell.
“To my knowledge, no other sports organization pays all the money for its own infrastructure and we do. This is endlessly what we cover from an organizational perspective. Parks does an incredible job looking after the weed, but all the infrastructure we manage comes from our bank account. I spend thousands of dollars a year on infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, it all comes out of our pocket.
Russell says he is always ready to negotiate and would not reject the possibility of concluding a field use agreement with Northern United.
“Once we are out of the pandemic, who knows what will happen in the future,” he said. “A lot of things will be determined by membership in BC Soccer, but it would be nice if a large part of the football community actually communicated, sat down and chatted. “
Jensen and Stewart were once associated with PGYSA and their philosophical differences with how the league was run prompted the split in 2017, which led to the formation of Northern United. Although none of the directors on the PGYSA board are still in place four years later, the barriers between the two organizations have not been repaired.
“I tried to connect with other members in the North and members here to try to bring people together because when a pandemic came out, volunteering was gone,” said Russell. “There are situations where the cost of doing business has gone up and yet, for some reason, I always see more head butt and conflict than anything else.”
Minor football registrations plummeted
When Russell was hired as technical director of programming in May 2018, PGYSA was in the midst of a tumultuous time plagued by internal struggles at the board level and these disagreements combined with higher birth rates. low in the city have had a detrimental effect over time on the number of children playing football. Since its peak in 2003, when PGYSA had more than 3,100 registered players, the numbers have dropped dramatically. In one year, the league lost about 500 players, dropping from about 2,100 in 2016 to 1,551 in 2017. There were 1,430 registered in 2018, the year Russell took over.
The town’s two minor football organizations have been hit by the pandemic which ruled out competition in 2020. Registration is closed for the outdoor season in the PGYSA and although Russell would not reveal player totals for the season. spring / summer season, he says there are encouraging signs that children are returning to play in all age groups except the oldest.
“If we’re anywhere near 700 or 800, I’m happy,” Russell said. “In a COVID world last year, only 20 or 30 percent of gamers in Canada returned from lockdown in July.
“Right now in the COVID world we are way above what we thought. All of our competitive high performance numbers are excellent. Anything from three to twelve is really healthy, but Active for Life (formerly known as House League) is where we see the biggest deficit. Anything over 14, that age group is pretty much gone and it was before COVID, so that’s nothing new. It begins to clear up around 12 years old.
Russell said the older divisions of PGYSA played mixed football with girls and boys grouped together just so that there were enough players to form a team. He fears the pandemic has made children reluctant to get involved in team activities and has heard comments from some that they no longer want to be bound by time constraints and instead choose to stick with it to individual sports such as mountain biking or snowboarding.
“The trends looked like this before COVID happened,” Russell said. “COVID just made it worse, so some people who could have been on the fence made a decision and decided to do something else. “
Russell said the pandemic had left Kitimat, Terrace, Prince Rupert and Mackenzie without minor football this year.
Soccer Canada raises standards for grassroots members
The standards for clubs affiliated with BC Soccer and Soccer Canada have changed as the country strives to become more competitive internationally and this has had a ripple effect on minor soccer organizations. Russell knew that these modern standards of risk policy, financial accounting, coach certification, club licensing, and operating procedures were going to come when he was reviewing documents in his previous job as director of high performance at the Saskatchewan Soccer Association. Now they are implemented in the PGYSA.
“If we look at the history of the last decade regarding registrations, certifications, the (technical directors) that we missed from the city, some of the policies that we had to follow but didn’t,” he said. he declared. . “Since the new board arrived three years ago and I arrived, we have literally had to rebuild the organization from scratch.
“There are policies and regulations, and rules and regulations that we have to abide by now that we never used to abide by in the past and now we do, it’s non-negotiable. Regional politics must go, because if we don’t make sure we meet the standards, the rest of the country will leave us behind. “