Stratford-upon-Avon Football Alliance celebrates 125th birthday
CELEBRATING 125 years in existence in 2021, the Stratford Alliance is still going strong – and league chiefs hope it can expand and progress.
Speaking exclusively to the Herald, chairman Barry Cooke recognises that while the Alliance is no longer as big as it used to be in the past, he believes there’s still a future for one of the area’s most notable local leagues.
The Alliance was formed in 1896 as the Stratford District League and details of the inaugural meeting were published in the Herald. Following the conclusion of the Second World War, the league incorporated Sunday football and changed its name to its current title.
Saturday senior and Sunday junior teams (u14s and u16s) were catered for by the league, with sides pulled in from south Warwickshire, north Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.
From a high point of 50-plus senior teams and 18 junior teams in the 1960s and 1970s, grassroots football dropped off considerably. At the end of 1986, the league reluctantly gave up catering junior sides.
The adult game continued to stay strong, but in recent years the demise of local football has seen membership become less and less.
From having four divisions just a decade ago, the Alliance now has 19 teams that make up two divisions. Despite this, the league has around 900 registered players from the age of 16 upwards that they provide football for locally.
“We keep trying to encourage teams to join the Alliance so we can get bigger, but the demise of grassroots football over the last few years has had an impact on membership,” said Cooke, who became chairman of the Alliance in 2000.
“It’s not just our league that is affected – all leagues up and down the country have suffered because of a lack of support – but we keep putting the feelers out to try and get more teams to join us.
“We’re now the oldest league in the Birmingham County FA area, so hopefully we can keep going. It’s just a case of doing your homework and getting teams to not only join us, but stay with us as well.”
The Alliance celebrated its 100th birthday in 1996 with a formal dinner for 355 people at the Moat House in July of that year. The many guests were entertained by television personality Alistair McGowan, while the guest of honour was Sir Stanley Matthews MBE. The centenary year ended with an Alliance representative team playing Aston Villa Old Stars.
While the current Covid-19 pandemic has put paid to any immediate celebrations to mark the league’s 125th birthday, Cooke told the Herald something would be done to mark the occasion when it is safe to do so.
“Our plan is to hopefully do something before the end of the year, but in what form it will take I do not know right now,” said Cooke.
With the pandemic also putting a hold on all football, Cooke confirmed that the league was awaiting guidance from the FA before making a decision on whether the 2020-21 season will be scrapped.
“If we can’t get going by the end of March then I don’t see the point in carrying on because we’ve only got until the end of May to complete the season,” he added. “Scrapping the season is a discussion yet to be had, but we shall have to wait and see what the FA says first.”
Teams who are interested in joining the Alliance for next season should email Barry Cooke at firstname.lastname@example.org or message him directly through the league’s FA Full-Time website at https://fulltime-league.thefa.com/Index.do?league=869806781.