Saturday, February 02, 2002

Soccer in the city makes its presence felt, and felt

Saturday, February 2, 2002
MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

It's got to stop eventually, they thought. Maybe even this year. After all, the growth in the sport over the past five years as been extraordinary. But apparently the end is not yet in sight. The London and District Youth Soccer League got a real eye-opener about the growth industry that is soccer at their initial meeting. When the executive met with club representatives recently, they suspected the total for competitive level teams would remain somewhere near the 222 they operated with last year. "Let's say we were somewhat surprised. We are ready to take the load, but we were still somewhat surprised," said director Tom Partalas. The league registered 250 teams, 28 more than last year. It's an astonishing figure when one realizes that when LDYSL was established in 1990, Partalas says the group began with 15 teams. Up to 1995, the league did not have competitive women's teams. Now about 40 per cent of the teams are. "We thought we'd reached saturation," Partalas says. Apparently not. And those are only the competitive teams. The numbers on the house league teams won't be known until registration in April. Potential numbers of the house league, though, could be staggering. For example, Norwest (combining north and west London) will probably register more than 4,000, Oakridge more than 1,500. Byron has to cap their house league totals to about 1,600 because it doesn't have enough fields. The number of competitive youth players and youth house league players will probably go well beyond 15,000. Around 6,000 will be girls and young women. More teams, more players and a fair greater strain on fields. The soccer community can count itself fortunate that after years of ignoring soccer fields, the city began to work seriously on the problem last year. It is upgrading dozens of fields and while some of them won't be ready until later this summer, the type of inactivity the city has been famous for would have doomed a lot of programs. "The city is doing the best they can," says Partalas. "Parks and rec has gone crazy looking after the fields. This is the first time we've seen so much co-operation from the city. They are starting to see that soccer is the summer sport." The city has put lights and irrigation systems at a number of fields. Some fields won't be ready until 2003. Others, like north London, will need time for the grass to grow and might no be available until June. The soccer field task force will be meeting with the city Feb. 20 to get an update on just how far along the city has come. "We know this year is going to be a little bit of a crunch," Partalas says. "Thank goodness for the private clubs like White Eagles, the German Canadian Club, Portuguese Club, Marconi. If it wasn't for them, we'd be in bad shape. "The manager of the German club said, 'Tom, I can't keep up. We don't have enough room. My field will be ruined.' His field will be used seven days a week and because they have lights, they'll be able to play two games a night. But they have to do it for the kids. This year will be struggling but it will get better." The addition of lights and irrigation to some of the fields will mean that field usage will go from eight hours a week to around 24 hours a week -- in some cases 30 hours. In 2003, Partalas says the much-anticipated facility behind the Adelaide Street sewage treatment plant should be ready. "Five soccer fields with lights, bleachers and a clubhouse, one of them an international-sized soccer field. The city started work there last year. It won't be ready until 2003. After that, London will be ready for any kind of increase." Any kind? "We're happy," he said, speaking for soccer people. They should be.


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