‘We need to attract more spectators to domestic game’

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Bermuda Football Association first vice-president Cal Blankendal admits a combination of factors are contributing to the decline in attendance at local football matches; the quality of the football, social issues, recession ... even the amount of live football being televised from European leagues.

But it is an issue that needs addressing as attendance at local games have noticeably declined over the last several years. Where once there would be a couple of thousand spectators at a top league match, now there are only a couple of hundred. The recent FA Cup final between Somerset Trojans and a Devonshire Cougars side chasing a first Triple Crown attracted less than 500 people, a disappointing turnout for an event that attracted thousands at the old National Stadium.

“There are a host of issues affecting football in Bermuda and globally,” said Blankendal, who is also the chairman of the BFA Competitions Committee and CEO of Bermuda’s Brazilian Football School, a group dedicated to improving football from the grassroots level.

“We are blessed to have Fox Sports and ESPN and seeing any league in the world. The English Premier League comes on about quarter-to-nine on weekends and ends about 2pm and then with a highlight show, but after you have seen so much football and paid for it through cable during a recession, are you then going to go out to your local club and spend another 30 or 40 bucks to take your family to watch football which we know is at a lower quality? If there are 3,000 people unemployed then that $40 is very important.”

Speaking frankly, the BFA executive admits the social situations in Bermuda with some players reluctant or unable to travel to certain parts of the Island is a major threat to football on the Island. National coaches Andrew Bascome and Dennis Brown spoke about the worrying trend a year ago in a Royal Gazette article but Blankendal insists it is a community problem that spills into football and other sports.

“The threat by the gangs is less of a threat on a spectator level and more of an issue for me on a participant level,” said Blankendal. “The more kids being told by their parents that they are not going to put them into football because of the gang element, drug use or what they perceive to be, that means from the 600 kids who should come out every year to play for clubs now we’re getting about 450. Any any decline in the players is going to hurt our national programme at the end of the day.”

Blankendal admits the BFA and other stakeholders could do more to promote the positive things being done in the sport.

“The more information we give out informs the spectator more,” he believes. “Maybe the crowds now are a reflection of the people who really love football in Bermuda.

“Having access to football at a higher level, people actually try to compare Bermuda football to MLS or EPL where a player in Bermuda doesn’t get paid a cent and gives up his time freely and then you have John Terry (Chelsea skipper) making £120,000 a week and training every day at the highest level. You can’t make those comparisons.

”We have to make football more attractive. I didn’t agree then with his comment about eight years ago when I first became a member of the BFA when Mr ‘Pepe’ Dill said that to get to get people out to games we have to have a better standard of football. I agree with him now. At the youth level we have some of the most attractive football, and coaches who come here can’t believe what we have, but once they reach the age of 12 to 14 and go to the bigger pitch the football doesn’t look that attractive anymore.”

Added Blankendal: “I think between ages of six and 12 we have the right type of coaches to manage any kid at basic, intermediate or advanced level but as a country we have a challenge where we don’t have enough coaches who can apply their knowledge to take it from the small-sided game and develop it into the 11 a-side game. The majority of players who are talented in the youth leagues look a completely different player when they go up into the 11 a-side leagues and you cannot tell me the player has changed overnight.

“I think it is the way we deliver it and the lack of knowledge we have as coaches. Yes there are many factors, the Bermuda Football Association needs to put on more coaching courses, coaches have to attend those courses and also coaches and clubs have to look at their own programmes to see what more they can do. There are programmes that are driving BAA, Valencia, North Village who go and attend those courses.

“As we know football changes every four or five years with the World Cup, new formations from a 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 4-3-2-1, all those coaches are still stuck in the era when they came along and that is what they used to do. But we need to develop football just like a job or any profession.

“At the youth and senior level the player should learn more at their club. Each club should has to have a high standard and they should be held accountable by their own memberships, that’s how the game is going to grow.”

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Published Apr 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm (Updated Apr 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm)

‘We need to attract more spectators to domestic game’

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