Emotions ran high this week as Merton Council voted against scrapping fees for youth football clubs.

There were shouts of ‘disgrace’ and ‘shame on you’ when a motion to ‘keep Little Leagues free’ was unsuccessful at a full council meeting on Wednesday (July 4).

The motion was brought forward by new Liberal Democrat councillor Hina Bokhari.

The West Barnes ward councillor had strong support in the public gallery with a group of children and adults holding up signs saying #keeplittleleaguefree.

Little League has been running in the borough for nearly 50 years and provides free football for children of all abilities.

Cllr Bokhari said throughout the borough Little Leagues are set to be charged £4,000 a season to use the council’s parks by council contractor IDVerde.

She said: “[Little League] is there for the people, they are there for vulnerable families.

“The volunteers are the reason behind Little League – they are true community spirit and they do this with no reward.

“We must fight for our beautiful game in our beautiful parks.

“I talked to a dad at the side of a pitch and he said ‘I might not look poor but go to the food bank and little league is the only place i can take my kids at the weekend now’.

“This is why we need to keep Little League free we need a true partnership in Merton.

“We want to avoid this map of misery we are becoming – I don’t want to be miserable Merton.

“We need to have more hope we need to dream in a bigger way and we can make this happen if we really want to we can make this a magical Merton.”

While fellow West Barnes and Lib Dem councillor Carl Quilliam urged councillors not to ‘stifle the football dreams of children’ Cllr Bokhari held up a blown up email.

She claimed it was from council leader Cllr Stephen Alambritis saying there would be no charges when he was leader.

But Cllr Bokhari was given a stern reproach by Merton mayor Cllr Mary Curtin who said: “You do not ever turn your back on the mayor and you don’t ever hold up a sign which can’t be read.”

The motion was backed up by Cllr David Dean (Con, Dundonald) who said he played in Carshalton’s Little League as a kid.

He concluded: “[We should] continue to commit that the little league are not charged to use Merton’s parks.”

But the motion fell with 33 councillors voting against it, 20 for and six abstaining.

An amended motion by the council’s ruling Labour party was put forward by Cllr Nick Draper (Lab, St Helier) which instead said Little League would be offered low annual subscription rates. Cllr Draper said it was not ideal to be proposing the amendment the day after England won its first World Cup penalty shoot out.

“Sometimes we have to do what is right in the long term however difficult it may be in the short term,” he said.

“Eventually somebody had to tackle the cost of providing free pitches to the Little League and I stood up to the plate.

“IDVerde made a hard decision slightly easier by telling me how much they would need to charge us for the work they do marking out the pitches and hiring out pavilions – £20,000 per annum.

“Merton, Labour and Tory, has shouldered that cost for 50 years – the equivalent of a £1 million.

“Do I want to do this? No of course I don’t but austerity has forced us to.

“Do I worry that our tremendous Little League volunteers will feel upset about this, and clearly they are, yes of course I do.

“That is why we are working on clear service level agreements with IDVerde that fees will remain at the same figure for as long as Tory inflation allows.”