Wednesday, 06 July 2022

Vandalism at Henley football ground

TWO youth football matches had to be called off after a goal at a Henley sports ground was destroyed in two vandal attacks.

A group of youths — all about 16 years old — buckled the metal crossbar and cracked the tops of the supporting posts at the  Henley YMCA playing field on Thursday evening last week.

They were seen hanging from the crossbar by their arms while pulling themselves up and down.

A coach for AFC Henley, which uses the pitch off Lawson Road by arrangement with the charity, discovered the damage while conducting an inspection the following day.

The club had to postpone two fixtures which were due to take place on Saturday and Sunday.

Club committee members returned on Sunday to remove the goal only to discover it had been further damaged overnight. A neighbour told them he had witnessed the first incident but was afraid to intervene because the youths were behaving loudly and aggressively.

He said he recognised some of the gang as year 11 students from a local school so the club alerted the headteacher and reported the incident to the police as criminal damage. 

The club has now removed the broken goal, which had been in place for about a decade, and ordered a £500 replacement as it wants matches to resume as soon as possible.

The new goal may not arrive in time for this weekend but should be in place by the following one.

The club will ask the YMCA whether it can claim the money back on its behalf through its insurance policy.

Club chairman Trevor Howell said:  “It’s depressing because when we go to Leichlingen [Henley’s German twin town] they have a similar youth centre with a full-sized artificial pitch and it’s always immaculate.

“It never needs to be fenced off because the young people take much greater care with their public facilities. The lack of respect we’ve been shown is a bit of a disease in this country.

“The young people who supposedly did this are friends with some of our players.

“It’s outrageous that they should be making life more difficult for their own age group and disappointing after all the work that has been done to make football safe in light of covid-19. We needed to get a replacement quickly because we can’t keep postponing or relocating games.”

Mr Howell said young people often use the club’s three sites, which also include the Jubilee Park sports ground off Reading Road in Henley and Harpsden football ground, without permission.

They get in through holes in fencing or tear it down to play ball games, ride bicycles or exercise dogs who leave a mess on the pitch.

“They don’t always realise that they aren’t supposed to be there but it causes wear and tear which we have to pay for,” said Mr Howell. 

“This latest vandalism is just a symptom of what’s going on more generally.

“Although there are public sites like Mill Meadows or Makins recreation ground, a field with goalposts is a magnet for kids of a certain age.

“I would feel bad about fencing the sites off if it weren’t for the fact that there are plenty of facilities for them. It’s very frustrating and something of an ongoing battle.”

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