PBFL LEAGUE HISTORY
The first organised youth league football that I could find in the Greater London area started in Merton as little league in 1968. It’s inception came from Frank Adley who had seen little league baseball in the United States in the early 1960’s. Organised youth baseball had started in the 1930’s and it became heavily supported by the minor and major baseball leagues and is recognised as the building block for the professional and semi professional leagues today. Adley recognised that the only other sources of organised football came from schools or other community organisations such as scouts. So if you could not get into the school team or did not belong to the scouts your chances were limited.
The concept grew with football in urban areas in the UK throughout the 1970’s but was based on competitive trails football with leagues forming in local parks. Generally football was provided from age 6 though to 13 or 14 with secondary schools providing football form then onwards. Professional and semi professional clubs provided junior football with a view to progressing their own players for the future and again all recruitment was on a trial or selection basis. Players therefore went through the lottery of attending trials very often wanting to play with their friends or relatives and suffered being told they weren’t good enough or there were not enough places.
In 1977 Robin Cleater and a group of dads became disillusioned at being told their sons weren’t good enough to play in a particular team by someone who very often was not qualified or experienced to do so. Robin wrote to all of the primary schools in the area and advertised in the local press. He received a good response sufficient to form the PBFL starting in September 1978 at Prince Georges playing fields Raynes Park. The first season started with 336 boys in 24 teams from ages of 6 to 10 years of age. The first game was kicked off by Peter Bonnetti and Dickie Guy goalkeepers for Chelsea and Wimbledon respectively. It was decided to operate the league by a committee of volunteers the principal of which continues to this day.
The first yearbook was published in 1981 covering the 1980/81 season and continued to be produced annually with the exception of the recent 2014/15 season.” PBFL primary press” was an additional publication costing the princely sum of 15p published on a monthly basis hat gave updates and news in the analogue days pre personal computers and the Internet.
The league continued to grow and year groups were added to provide football for secondary school children up to the age of under 15.
At the end of the 1986/87 season it was decided to move from Raynes park to Tolworth due to the poor condition of the pitches, poor changing room facilities and the possibility the land was due to be sold for development. The site also offered improved canteen facilities where permanent staff were supported by two parents from each age group on a weekly basis. Some football remained at Raynes Park with Barry Bramley forming PYGFL for boys aged 13-15
The league continued to thrive during the 1980’s with numbers in excess of 560 players for the younger age groups and and another 336 players for the PYGFL. The Tolworth site then began to increase its age groups with PYGFL catering for 15 to17 year olds.The league provided its own fund raising activities such as dinner dances,race nights, raffles and sponsorship. It also took teams from under 11,13,and 15 age groups on end of season tours to Valkenburg in Holland for over 20 years. The tours took place during the Easter holidays in pre channel tunnel days with cross channel or North Sea ferries enhancing the experience. Additionally the league played against representative teams from other leagues in southern England.During the first 10 seasons connections were formed with Tooting and Mitcham and Wimbledon FC
The League initially adopted single age group leagues but subsequently doubled up on ages with the exception of under 11’s which was kept as a single age group up until the 2006/7 season. It was that season when the under 16 age group was introduced following the disbandment of PGYFL some time earlier. A high water mark of numbers was also achieved at this time with the numbers rising to over 620 players on one site.
The links formed with semi professional and professional clubs contributed to the development of players who went on to play professionally.
These included Neil Sullivan who played in goal for Wimbledon,Tottenham, Chelsea, Leeds United, Doncaster Rovers and Internationally for Scotland.He is currently a goal keeping coach at Leeds United.
Jason Cundy who played for Chelsea, Tottenham, Ipswich and Portsmouth. As well as numerous loans spells. He is currently a football pundit and radio broadcaster.
Neil Barrett played for Chelsea youth then Portsmouth and subsequently Dundee and Livingstone in Scotland. He then played for a series of non league clubs in a semi professional capacity and is currently playing for Metropolitan Police.
Gary Borrowdale who made 98 appearances for Crystal Palace, and went on to play for Coventry City, QPR, then loan moves to Brighton,Carlisle,and Charlton athletic. He is currently at Gillingham.
Neil Ardley, the current manager of AFC Wimbledon, who made 245 appearances for Wimbledon FC, 111 for Watford, and some 38 and 21 for Cardiff City and Millwall respectively.
William Nightingale played at PBFL at under 8 and under 10 level before joining AFC Wimbledon where he has made some 10 appearances to date limited in part due to injury.
Daniel Agyei played at under 8,10 and 12 age groups. He was approached by Chelsea at under 8 level but later joined the AFC Wimbledon youth set up and subsequent first team squad. He transferred to the Burnley development squad in July 2015. At the time of going to press I am attempting to confirm that Steve Sidwell also played at under 8&10 levels at PBFL.