Football clubs across the borough are in "uproar" over a new council regime forcing them to pay for phantom matches and substantial up-front sums.

Kevin Knott, manager of south Wimbledon-based Wilf Kroucher FC, said he was forced to pay £1,000 out of his own pocket to reserve pitches at Nursery Road recreation ground this year, where the club has played since 1988.

He said he was also “stunned” over the festive period when he had to book pitches despite there being no fixtures, because new rules state there cannot be a gap of more than two weeks between bookings.

He said: “Had the council consulted the clubs about the changes they might have a better understanding of how the clubs at the grassroots level of football actually work and be better informed to make a decision.

“As a result they have caused an uproar among clubs and you may find more and more clubs folding.

“One gets the impression Merton Council does not really care about football in the borough.”

Mr Knott was informed the new online booking system, which also covers room bookings and events, was cheaper and was introduced because of financial cutbacks.

The council is projected to make an extra £7,000 from football clubs this year after increasing charges by five per cent.

The council can also claim back VAT if they comply with certain rules, including booking pitches within 14 days of each other and pay for at least 10 bookings up front.

Merton Council’s cabinet member for environmental sustainability Councillor Andrew Judge said: “Before bringing in our new booking system, we wrote to all our regular football and cricket clubs in August, explaining the new system and offering them help with getting used to booking through it.

“The new system is not only for booking football pitches, but is also for booking Merton Active Plus, the Watersport Centre and rooms in libraries as well as events.

“When we introduced the new system, we decided to seek clarification from HM Revenue and Customs on when we should charge VAT.

“Block pitch bookings benefit from a VAT discount. For all other bookings, we are obliged to charge VAT.”