Emergency services football league launched

By Michael Race
BBC News

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image captionWest Yorkshire detectives Pete Overton and Andy Smurthwaite created the league

As coronavirus puts football in "danger of losing clubs and leagues", two police officers have launched a competition of their own for the emergency services.

The Emergency Services Football League (ESFL) will see teams from the NHS, police, fire service and prison services compete in a bid to become the best in the country.

The competition will follow a structure similar to the Champions League, with squads split up into eight regional groups before national knock-out stages.

Det Cons Pete Overton created the 11-a-side league with colleague Andy Smurthwaite, after their force's team struggled to play matches due to players working unsociable shifts and clubs being unable commit to weekend games.

Det Cons Overton, from West Yorkshire Police, said many services had their own competitions but there was nothing that "brought all the services together".

"There's always quality players, people have been playing semi-pro, some have come from professional clubs and then joined the services," the police officer added.

It is hoped the first fixtures will start in July if the government's and Football Association's social distancing guidelines allow it, with the final scheduled for June 2021.

Support 'overwhelming'

Det Cons Overton said he had been "overwhelmed" by the response to the launch of the league, which has seen 42 teams across the country register.

He said referees and other officials had contacted him to offer their services in games.

"The response has been amazing," he said.

"We were taken aback and overwhelmed by the amount of people who have messaged us to wish us well and offered us support."

At the top levels of the game, Football Association chairman Greg Clarke has warned English football faces "the danger of losing clubs and leagues" amid economic challenges caused by coronavirus.

He also said that communities could "lose the clubs at their heart with little chance of resurrection".

Det Cons Overton said the league's aim was to "increase wellbeing amongst the hard working emergency service workers" and "boost morale".

"We are hoping this will be a massive stress reliever. Over the coming months this is going to be more important than ever," he added.

Plans are also under way to create a women's league and veterans' competition next year.

The league has been funded through sponsorship by six companies and emergency service staff will only take part in games when off shift or on annual leave.

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