The Downs League

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On winter Saturdays at 2.30, six hundred amateur footballers kick off on the Downs. They play possibly the most matches played simultaneously in one place anywhere in the UK. David Edge, fixtures secretary gives us the facts and figures about this unique sporting tradition, Mervyn Baker has been almost every Saturday for 63 years, and Don Stone, President of the Downs League and avid Sneyd Park committee member and fan, gives a flavour of what it means to be a supporter.

Shot from behind goal of football game

Downs League Football (Tot Foster)


Transcript

David Edge:

My name is David Edge, I’m actually the fixtures secretary for the Downs League, my role is organising the  fixtures, liaising with the council about the pitches, and making sure that the games can be played and that everybody gets the right number of games. It’s an adult male league, nobody under 16. There are approximately 35 clubs with 56 teams, so some clubs have more than one team.  There are four divisions that make up the league and there are fourteen teams in each division. The people who come and play here, they’re from all over Bristol, and each team, probably some are based on pubs, some are based on work, some are based on just friends that have got together. We’ve got 32 pitches of which majority we take 28, 27 or 28 a week, there’s going to be somewhere in the region of about 900 people up here on a Saturday afternoon. The teams account for obviously about 600 of those actually playing, then you’ve got all the substitutes and  then on top of that you’ve got all the officers associated with each club, then you’ve got supporters as you can see on the game where we are now there’s about ten, fifteen people hanging on, besides the 22 that are in the middle. Most of the teams that are on this side of the road are first and second division sot he game that we’re actually seeing here is between Retainers and AFC Bohemia, and that’s a division one game. We normally play from September right the way through to May and the finals are always played as the last Saturday of the season. Every game  that’s played under the Downs League is played on the Downs, and they’re all played at the same time, so all the games are played in one place. That’s what makes us so unique. I came to the League probably about 20 years ago, I played up here for a team in the first division and in the fourth division. I then became a referee and I refereed up here, you get this impression that it’s disorganised chaos or something like that, but no, once you’re on the pitch you’re totally focussed on the pitch anyway so you don’t actually see what is going on on other peoples pitches. I mean the interesting thing about it is sometimes people say ‘oh playing Downs football – bit weird’, but OK the pitches are not, you have to sort of put up with some of the pitches because of the natural lie of the land because we’re not allowed to alter any of that, but it’s the camaraderie – the number of people that you can go along and joke with and things like that. So it’s a really sociable thing, and I think a lot of people really look forward to it, I mean , you know, I wouldn’t like to say the football’s secondary but sometimes it feels that way for some clubs. Somebody’s just scored.

Mervyn Baker:

I’ve been here 1300 times, as a player and a spectator. I’ve played 710 times and scored 58 goals as a fullback. Its great, the referees are marvellous and very loyal. I do the reports for the Evening Post Tuesday edition, it’s great fun. So I ring the Evening post and tell them I’m available would you ring me back and they kindly do. I took over from John Thompson who was a regular sports reporter for the Downs. It’s a pleasure to come up here and help, I get as much enjoyment as they do.

Don Stone:

Well my name is Don Stone, President of the Downs League. My own club is Sneyd Park football club, we were a founder member of the Downs League, in fact  the club was founded in 1897, so this year is our 114th year. I’ve been associated with Sneyd since 1956, we have one team in each division, so if we get fed up with watching one of our teams we can wander round and see how the other three are doing. Our great rivals are Clifton St Vincents who again are a very well established club, but when we played against them on the pitch we would kick the hell out of them, you know, but off the pitch we are all good friends and we socialise and mix. We won the first division for the last three seasons I think…. Looks like they’ve just gone in front, the opposition are winning three/two I think. So it’s a bad day for Sneyd by the look of it……

Player 1:

Our team called Sporting Greyhounds have played Sneyd Park and Sneyd Park are the reigning champions and they were winning 2/0 at half time but we’ve just come back to beat them 3/2.

Player 2 :

They normally win the League to be honest, that’s why you’re seeing these scenes of utter jubilation. It’s incredible, what a day, unbelievable to see the players happy with this one – delighted.

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