Council bosses have been urged to hand a grassroots football club a lifeline by a South Tyneside ex-pat who has seen the work it does first hand.
The future of South Tyneside Football Trust is under threat after South Tyneside Council pulled out of a deal which saw the group share profits from an all-weather pitch at Monkton Stadium, in Jarrow.
I challenge South Tyneside Council to do everything in their power to ensure the continuation of the Trust for generations of youngsters to comeNeil Carlsen
The club laid the all-weather pitch after a public appeal – backed by the Gazette – raised £50,000 and, since 2011, it has split the profits from the venture with the council.
The rest of the £160,000 came from South Tyneside Council, waste management companies Biffa and Sita, and contributions from local businesses and boys’ football clubs.
Neil Carlsen, who is originally from South Shields but now lives in Norway, first came into contact with Trust manager Alan Millward about nine years ago.
Mr Carlsen, who coaches a youth team in Norway, has invited South Tyneside youngsters over to play in tournaments in the Scandinavian country regularly during that time, and players have also gone the other way.
He has now urged the council to change its stance and give the club a helping hand.
He said: “South Tyneside Football Trust has been thinking outside of the box for years. They don’t just provide kids with an opportunity to kick a ball. Together with supportive parents, referees and team coaches, they are helping to shape young adults for the future.
“I challenge South Tyneside Council to do everything in their power to ensure the continuation of the Trust for generations of youngsters to come.
“The reinstatement of the 50/50 sharing of profits for the 3G pitch would go a very long way towards that. The imminent loss of income seriously threatens the Trust’s existence.”
Mr Carlsen added: “Probably less well-known is the long-term relationships the Trust has formed abroad, with players and teams from the region guesting in tournaments in countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.
“Every single player and coach I have spoken to who has participated in these trips said they enjoyed their experience, but also noticed that the standard and availability of facilities for grassroots football there surpasses anything we have in the region.
“We’ve now had seven or eight years of exchanging players and we’ve had teams from South Tyneside come over to Norway to play in tournaments.
“I just can’t understand how the Trust is now in a situation where it has got nothing. I’m sure the money isn’t going to be make or break for the council, but it certainly is for the Trust.
“I feel really sorry for Alan, as he is an absolute diamond and does a brilliant job.”
Since being set up as a registered charity in 2004, the Trust has won numerous awards, and has also run a junior league, tots coaching, a ‘little dribblers’ class, and junior and adult disability football sessions, using the facilities at Monkton Stadium.
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “South Tyneside Football Trust is a valued customer of Monkton Stadium and is welcome to continue delivering sessions on the 3G pitch.
“As the 3G pitch is owned by the council, the trust has no strategic or operational influence over the facility, nor has it any legal rights or entitlement to income generated from the use of the pitch.
“We have given advice and support to the trust and continue our discussions on how to move this forward.
“The trust only delivers one session a week from Monkton Stadium for elite trialists, a booking which it has chosen to cancel.
“All other pitch use, including junior leagues and general bookings made by the public will continue to operate as normal.”