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FOOTBALL FEATURE: Bigger, Better and Bolder

Not many leagues can boast 57 teams from 45 clubs in their constitution, however the Sevenoaks & District Football League are doing just that by opening up their boundaries to include the Tonbridge & District League, which sadly folded at the end of last season. Plus they’ve signed up for the FA ‘Sin-Bin’ trials too.

Sevenoaks Town FC were one of the founding members of the league

It takes a lot of gumption to change the way you play the game, not just on the pitch but in the office as well, and the Sevenoaks & District Football League made a decision to change the way local football is played by incorporating the Tonbridge & District League after it folded in May 2017, inviting a further ten teams to join from other leagues, and trialling the new FA directed ‘Sin-Bin’ ruling.

Now one of the largest football leagues in the south east of England, with 57 teams taking part in the league, it has become the place to play football.

Making the league bigger
Let’s start with the somewhat sad story of the Tonbridge & District Football League which was forced to wind up its affairs owing to a lack of interest and held its last-ever annual meeting at the end of last season after a 119-year proud history.

Through the years the League had expanded and contracted from the original one to seven divisions in the early 1980’s. Leigh Institute played the very first match versus Tonbridge Reserves on Leigh Green in 1898, and by coincidence the last team to play a competitive league game was Leigh FC.

Leigh FC are just one of the Tonbridge League teams to sign up to the Sevenoaks League this season and they have got off to a good start. Other teams that joined the league were Dowgate FC (although they have now folded just three matches in to the season), Five Oak Green FC, Hawkenbury FC Reserves, Paddock Wood FC, Pembury FC, Penshurst Park FC, Roselands FC, Rusthall FC 3rds and Tonbridge Invicta FC Reserves.

However, the S&DFL didn’t stop there, they also welcomed ten other clubs to the league, these were: Blackham & Ashurst FC, Green Street Green Rovers FC, Horsmonden FC, Malgo FC, Nomads FC Reserves and 3rds, Rusthall FC 3rds, Rusthall Club AFC, West Farleigh FC Reserves and Yalding & Laddingford FC.

This is the first time that the Sevenoaks League has had five divisions and Kevin Turner, the S&DFL League Secretary, commented that it was going to be a monumental season for the league [having so many teams participating].

S&DFL at a glance

  • The Sevenoaks & District  Football League was formed  in 1906 and is affiliated to the  Kent Football Association
  • The Founder members were:  Halstead United, Otford United, Sevenoaks,  Shoreham United and  Westerham
  • The League currently has 45  clubs fielding 57 teams in five divisions: Premier, One,  Two, Three and Four
  • There are over 1,000 players signed on to the league• Cup competitions which come under the umbrella of  the League are: The Smiths League Cup Competition  (formed in 1920), The Fisher Shield, The Sevenoaks Charity Cup and The Craske & Wells Memorial Trophy
  • Royal Arsenal won the very first Sevenoaks Charity Cup  final around 1889
  • The league are one of 32 leagues nationwide to be  asked to trial the new FA directed Sin-bin ruling
  • Sevenoaks Sports has sponsored all of The Smiths  League Cup Competitions this season
  • Only Shoreham United fail to exist as a club from the  original founding members

Trialling the ‘Sin-Bin’ ruling
The other significant change to the league this season was the introduction of the FA directed ‘Sin-Bin’ ruling, where players are sent off for ten minutes without receiving a card or a fine, due to dissent towards the referee.

The Football Association confirmed in July that 32 grassroots leagues in England would trial sin-bins in the 2017-18 season. The “temporary dismissals” will apply to selected divisions in England’s ‘step seven’ – six tiers below the National League – and leagues below.

The Sin-Bin is being trialled by the S&DFL this season, although it is worth noting that the system only allows players to go off for dissent

Men’s, women’s, adult, youth, Saturday and Sunday leagues have all been picked for the pilot scheme. The FA said 130 leagues registered interest in the trial and a mixture of leagues across the country were chosen.

Kevin Turner, who is a level six referee and has refereed in Sevenoaks for the last 26 years, was interviewed recently by the BBC South East news programme and commented that player’s will want to win everything however all decisions will not always go their way.

He said: “As an impartial observer, the referee, you’re not always going to agree with them and they won’t always agree with you, you have to try and man-manage the situation”.
“Sometimes a game can get quite heated, and if it’s a passionate one you’d expect it, and that is to be encouraged. But this will give us [the referee] another tool in our armoury, hopefully to keep things under control.”

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson says he supports the proposal to use rugby-style sin bins in football. Speaking at a Uefa conference in Switzerland in September, Ferguson said it could be used to eradicate simulation, something he views as a “disease in the game”.

That is something for the FA to think about, and as they receive feedback from the leagues taking part, they will have a clearer picture on whether the trials have worked or not.

Either way, it has put the Sevenoaks & District Football League in the spotlight, which can only be a good thing for the area’s football followers and players alike.

It would be good to get feedback from local players and spectators so why not let us know what you think. We will continue to follow the trials and try to keep an open mind about what may become of it in the future, however we are not expecting to see it anytime soon on our TV screens.

Sin-Bin: a players view

Lack of consistency? In a recent match the referee was sworn at and called a cheat by the visiting team on multiple occasions without punishment. A home player then swore in frustration once late on in the game and was immediately put in the sin-bin.

Does totting up apply? The referee had warned a few players who were complaining/questioning decisions, but nothing was done about this. Then somebody who hadn’t been warned was instantly sent to the sin-bin for swearing in frustration. The player was never warned, nor were the team told the next player will be sent to the sin-bin, so unsure if there is a general totting up process or not?

Disputing? On the flip side, the referee used it to threaten people even when they just questioned him, rather than being aggressive or swearing in anyway. As such, it was almost like nobody was allowed to feel aggrieved or dispute anything and that actually contributed to people’s frustrations even more.

Our verdict: Whilst this rule is relatively new to football, players at the top level show dissent to referees every week. Now we’re not sure if it’s just the media coverage but rugby players have been accepting the sin-bin for years. There is no place in any sport for swearing at an official, so we say just play the game as it’s meant to be played, and listen to what the official is telling you on the pitch. You’ll enjoy the match a lot more.

If you want to play football for a local team, and there are plenty of them, then check out the club directory where you will find all the S&DFL club’s contact details.



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