Football club in pitch battle over festivals in park

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FOOTBALL pitches at Leith Links are being destroyed by annual festival events such as the Mela, a local club has claimed.

Leith Athletic FC cancelled an underage tournament after declaring their home ground a “write-off” due to hosting a succession of 
cultural events.

The football club say they spend more than £5000 each year to repair pitches at Leith Links damaged by events such as travelling circuses and the increasingly popular Mela festival.

The row follows similar concerns raised in recent years about the damage being caused to public fields at the Meadows and Inverleith Park by major events such as the taste of Edinburgh Festival and the Ladyboys of Bangkok.

The club, which boasts more than 600 players and 150 volunteer coaches, has grown increasingly exasperated each year to find their hard work in returning their part of the Links to a playable standard ruined.

In June, a travelling circus churned up one of thepitches so badly that a £5000 deposit with the council was forfeited and, although repairs have since been carried out, the pitch remains unplayable for the season. Concern has now grown over the remaining pitches after thousands attended the Mela over the weekend.

Club president Albert Bungay said: “We had two eleven-a-side and nine soccer-sevens matches scheduled to take place but, as a result of the Mela, we have had to cancel all games, which now means that more than 200 children are unable to play football at Leith Links due to it being a write-off.”

However, organisers of the Mela insisted they were doing all they could to ensure the Links were returned in the best possible condition, but said the one element they had been unable to legislate for was the weather.

A spokeswoman said: “Following 24 hours of rain last Monday, and Tuesday’s torrential downpour, the grass has been left extremely boggy and more prone to wear than we could have anticipated. We’ve taken extensive steps this year to ensure the two main marked football pitch areas are left untouched.

“We erected fencing around them and have been making sure that all drivers and staff coming to the site understand the boundaries. The small seven-a-side pitch where we erected our World Dance Feste tent was not marked as a football pitch when we submitted our plans to Edinburgh City Council in May.”

“That there will be some damage to the ground is inevitable, especially after the rainfall this year, but we’re trying our best to keep it to a minimum.”

A council spokesperson said: “All the events that take place on Leith Links are covered by returnable deposits to cover the cost of repairing damaged ground.”

Jim Scanlon, chair of Leith Links community council, said: “Leith Athletic were well aware of when the Mela was and if they had fixtures around that time then they could have been rearranged.

“Leith Athletic have to understand they share the park with everybody else.”