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Clubs have mixed reaction to merger plan

TENNIS by Jackie Thorley

A CONTROVERSIAL proposal to merge the City and Suburban League men's and women's divisions into one competition has prompted a mixed reaction from North Staffs clubs. The plan has been put forward by league officials in a bid to secure the long-term survival of women's City and Suburban tennis, following a dramatic fall in the number of teams taking part over the past decade. Although the men's event remains popular, the women's league was on the brink of folding this season due to a lack of interest. It only won an 11th-hour reprieve when several clubs rallied to submit late entries. Organisers have put together a fixture programme for six sides including Basford, Endon, Draycott, Florence and two from Abbey View. But committee members are warning they cannot operate a division of less than six and that top of the agenda for next season's annual meeting will be the suggestion to allow women's teams to join the men's set-up.

League spokesman Kevin Harper said: "There is a growing concern about the lack of support for the women's section. We have checked with the LTA and apparently this appears to be a national problem. "I believe there are several women's teams that would hold their own in the men's Division Four or higher, but there may be others who would simply not be able to cope and would be put off altogether. "It is a catch-22 situation. We have barely enough sides to compete in a women's league, but how many would we end up with if we combined them with the men's section? "It has come as a bit of a bombshell and some club representatives are vehemently against the idea, but others are more open minded and want time to think about it."

The City and Suburban League was formed in 1948 and comprised only men's divisions, but shortly afterwards the women's league competition was launched. Title holders Basford women are successive champions and their captain, Karen Dobson, is in favour of competing against the men. "I think it would be a great idea to try. In theory after a couple of years or so, every team would have found their right level - albeit in division four, three or maybe even two," she said. "The current women's division is no longer a real challenge, as many clubs do not take part. "I think more would be interested in joining a combined league, as it would certainly offer more competition. It does not matter whether teams are male or female, as at the end of the day you are just out there to try to win."

This season's campaigns begin early in May, with all cup competitions scheduled to begin in August after the league programme is completed.

Sentinel, 06 March 2007
Courtesy of The Sentinel News & Media

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