The recurring issue of New Malden sports ground cancelling fixtures reared its ugly head this October, before England’s 2nd lockdown was announced.
Admittedly, KCL and GKT football, the latter of which I’m a part of, has been in a fortunate position where we have had fixtures. Few other societies have been as lucky. Not the usual competitive BUCS and LUSL league, but a league in the form of an extended Sellars Cup nevertheless, with 6 fixtures per matchday (the 6 KCL teams, 5 GKT teams and ISOC). The prospect of these ‘derby’ games has been washed down a bit by their frequency (where in normal years the rarity of such fixtures make them the games you look forward to the most), but some fixtures is certainly better than no fixtures at all.
Everyone involved understood a 2nd lockdown would suspend the season. In fact, we enjoyed and fulfilled our fixtures anticipating this. We too anticipated that New Malden sports ground, notorious for abrupt fixture cancellations, may continue in this vain. Alas, they have done, cancelling three rounds of fixtures so far, but it doesn’t make the cancellations any less frustrating, especially in relatively rain-light months. On the contrary, this year more than any other, where sport is one of the few solaces remaining of a ‘normal uni experience’, coupled with a reduced fixture schedule across all KCL sports grounds, it has got to the stage where this slightly childish yet, I still believe, rational rant is necessary.
The only other society sharing the same fields of New Malden sports ground is KCL Rugby, however their fixtures take place, obviously, on separate pitches. However, this year, unfortunately it was announced that no fixtures would take place until January, with weekly training sessions at New Malden, further easing the load on both the fixture logistics of the pitches and the pitch quality itself. Yet, there have only been a few training sessions so far, according to KCL Rugby player Sunil Thakur. Further, these sessions were subsequently moved to a park in Southwark outside of KCL ownership, such was the apparently poor quality of pitches. This has continued the frustrations of last year, where, as fellow KCL rugby player Sam Pennifold said, there was a lot of cancelled training, and that in the winter time the male and female rugby teams ended up sharing the only strip of illuminated grass that is about 20mx100m due to poor floodlights. This raises the question of why, in a year with so few fixtures, at a time of relatively low rainfall, on separate pitches to the only other sport happening at New Malden, are trainings being cancelled? The mind just boggles- any pitch related ‘concerns’ are a flimsy excuse at best.
Even training sessions at other grounds have deteriorated. Logically, at most, the schedule of training sessions at Honor Oak Park (where the vast majority of sports teams train) would remain the same as last year, with just the run-of-the-mill year-to-year transition (GKT football training has been on Monday nights for the last three years at least). In fact, the likelihood would be that there would be greater flexibility for the 2020/21 training schedule, with more sports societies potentially dropping regular training sessions due to a lack of regular competitive fixtures. However, not only has GKT football been left with just one third of one astro pitch (for all 5 teams that is), the time slot has also been shifted to Tuesday night, the night before fixtures where a ‘night in’ is recommended if not always exercised. This has led to a diminished quality of session through no fault of our own, as well as forcing reduced numbers at sessions.
Even despite Honor Oak Park’s continued reluctance to operate at their full capacity, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue if The Griffin sports ground (‘Griff’) were being used, but it isn’t either. Admittedly, KCL had reportedly agreed a deal to sell the Griff starting 2020/21, but this has fallen through, according to fixture coordinator for the 2019/20 year Alex Cole. Thus, more wasted opportunity for sport. Indeed, when fixtures are on, a 35-minute trek by train from Waterloo to Berrylands it always must be now, costing a total of £7.20 at its cheapest.
Forgive the unfortunately Brexity-sounding nature of what I’ll finish on, but it is still pertinent: KCL pay New Malden to use the ground, and so is under their part-ownership, and in turn is not the groundsman’s pet project where he should be able to groom the pitch whenever at even the most minor of risks and cancel on a whim. Further, and even more relevant, in the UK, a country where it rains for over 150 days per year, cancelling an entire afternoon’s worth of fixtures after a few hours of light rain (rest assured this is not an exaggeration), just because of the risk of turning a pitch resembling the East Anglian Fens to resembling Carrington Moss might be a bit ridiculous.
We don’t care if it’s football or rugby in the rain or on a terrible pitch. We just want to play. In this year more than any other.