Mike Truran wrote:So is the whole local league landscape changing? And if it is, should we resist it, or find the best way we can to adapt to the new world? Whatever, of course, the new world is.
local league landscape isn't
changing. That's part of the problem. The changes are currently unevenly distributed. The decline is far more apparent and severe in large parts of the North than it is in London & SE where leagues and junior participation continue to thrive, if not flourish. Hence the bulk of the chess community - players in London & SE - can offer a sympathetic glance northwards, but otherwise shrug and move on. After all, what can be done? What can they do? They already do their bit to help in some ways by allowing the 4NCL 'centre of gravity' to be the Midlands.
Meanwhile, what is the North doing to address the problem? With local exceptions, not very much. The NCCU has been a pitiful waste of space for more than two decades. The optimism of the 'new' counties in the late 1970s had dissipated by the mid-1980s. Only the ancestral counties of the Rose remain competitively viable (pace
) And please, do not let anyone try to bring forward twaddle about a thriving u-150 or u-125 county scene. If county-level chess has been reduced to a Saturday afternoon mash-up between competing teams of patzer geriatrics in some bleak barn, then you need look no further for evidence of decline. The whole of this u-rubbish needs to be shifted from ECF, and farmed out to Age Concern.
Of local leagues, we've been offered some evidence. The pattern is pretty general, and dismal: reductions in the numbers of leagues, of divisions within leagues, of teams within divisions, of boards within teams. The bigger cities fare better than their peripheries; and some clubs better than others. But nowhere, absolutely nowhere, has the flight of Time's arrow been arrested. The chess community is old, very old, compared with 30 years back. Junior players are scarce indeed. The average age of players in Div 1 of the Liverpool League looks to me, at a guess, to be 55+ with few if any u-40. I took a look at recent match cards for the Liverpool League Div 1. I could find not a single junior in any match for any team. The same appeared to be the case in Div 2 as far as I could tell. It's not completely depressing though: lower down, in Div 4 & 5, there are now two 'mainly/only junior' teams. Green shoots? It would be nice to think so. Alas, no secondary school in the Merseyside area has had a chess team in two decades. Without support there, it's hard to see how these not-yet-very-promising youngsters will train on. A 3Cs-style commitment isn't on offer.
Matters are rather better where I currently play at Chester. Whereas my former club, Atticus, while still strong, is aging markedly and has no juniors to my knowledge, my current club (Chester) has 60+ members, of which 20+ are juniors. These juniors are all u-14; and they all (or nearly all) play in the local Chester & North Wales league; or in the slightly weaker Wirral league. Indeed, we field 12 teams in the latter, of which roughly a half are junior teams. And the best of them, Chester D, may yet win promotion to Div 1 this week. Andrew Camp, if he's reading this, may be able to say more about junior presence from other clubs in the lower divisions of the Chester & NW league.
Returning to the large contingent of Chester juniors (which now includes an England u-11 international), why can Chester do what Atticus doesn't? There's an answer I'm tempted to give, but I'll keep it to this: Atticus grows old and older because it has no juniors; and it has none because there are none to have. At Chester, we have plenty because diligent club members took advantage of the one school in the area that offered chess, and have coached the youngsters - even pre-entry. That school? King's School, Chester - fee-paying independent etc etc.
So some good news, up to a point. But problems remain. If 'our' juniors want a school match, they have to play Manchester GS or Bolton School. That's how barren the region has become for secondary school chess. No Bluecoat School (Liverpool) or Caldy Grange GS (Wirral) any more, both past winners of the 'Sunday Times', but devoid of chess since the mid-1980s.
And so it goes. Hit or miss. Some good; lots awful. Meanwhile, back in the league and club committees, the dodderers dodder on.