Defiant footballers return to Upminster Park after ban

Defiant youth footballers and their coaches are refusing to be turfed off grass in Upminster Park, following a clampdown on games by Havering Council.

Most teams returned last Saturday morning saying they will not be moved.

Barns Sports U-15s manager Mark Jude said: “I’ve used this site for eight years - this is a protest against kids being shamefully banned from using their local park for sports.”

Charlton Athletic FC chief executive Steve Kavanagh, who lives locally and pays �300 a season for the Upminster Raiders U-10s to use a pitch in the park, has backed teams.

“This is wrong; what is a park for if not for youngsters to play in?

“I think the council is being massively short-sighted. There are around 20 coaches who give up their time for free to keep the kids off the streets.

“Does the council want to pay for more youth centres to keep these kids occupied?”

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Parks officers have now threatened managers with fines if they continue to play, and said future pitch plans could be put in jeopardy by disobedience.

The council swooped on players from the Echo, Barns, and Chelmsford youth leagues on Saturday February 19 following complaints Friends of Upminster Park.

A spokesman for the group said: “Footballers wear studded boots and after ten minutes the ground was churning to mud. Upminster Park should be treated with respect for the good of all users.”

The council has offered to relocate players to Elliott Playing Field, off Wingletye Lane, Hornchurch, until the end of the season and permanent arrangements are made.

But managers say its unusable and accused council of making long-term plans to force them onto fee-paying pitches to make money.

Cllr Michael White, the Leader of Havering Council, said: “We want to see people playing sport in Upminster park, but we also have to make sure the park is a pleasant place for all sorts of activities.

“There are some organised teams running very large training sessions on parts of the park that are not laid out as pitches. These sessions are damaging the turf and spoiling the park for others.

“We’re asking the teams involved to be reasonable. We’ve suggested another area to hold training sessions for the time being, so we can balance their needs with the needs of other park users.”

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