Concerns Raised for Future of Team Sports at Rocks Lane

Parents fear that football and netball pitches could be converted to padel courts

The entrance to the Rocks Lane centre on Chiswick Back Common
The entrance to the Rocks Lane centre on Chiswick Back Common

Since the dilapidated tennis courts on Chiswick Back Common were converted into a well-maintained sports facility thousands of local people have used them to participate in sport.

The sports, run by Rocks Lane, currently provides a mixed use of sports including football, netball and tennis for both adults and children. Over the last 20 years, the centre has been hugely popular with local families particularly for young children to play football. There are both junior and adult leagues with high levels of participation.

In 2020, the Managing Director of Rocks Lane, Chris Warren installed the first padel courts at Rocks Lane. He had recently visited Spain where the sport was already hugely popular and applied to build three courts which has since expanded to 10 with the recent completion of a covered area.

Chris Warren has said previously that it was not having access to proper football facilities as a 9-year-old boy growing up in Yorkshire that prompted him to set up the sports facilities currently run by the Rocks Lane group which is named after the original centre in Barnes. There are now six facilities in the group including ones in Fulham and Barnes.

In a recent interview he has declared his intention to expand the number of padel courts to 18 giving rise to fears that this could only be done by removing team sport pitches and tennis courts.

Andy Quinn said, “My sons play football there whenever they can. They are also involved in Friday Night Five football which is a Chiswick institution along with Friday Night Netball.

“This has been an ongoing event for as long as I can remember and hundreds of children descend on Rocks Lane to take part in their competitive leagues every Friday. It is a big social occasion and most families walk to the centre to take part. This used to be Rocks Lane biggest money earner - but it looks like they are willing to get rid of it in favour of padel.”

Another local parent said, “I have no problem with padel, it looks fun but you don’t have to spend that long at Rocks Lane to see it is a sport predominantly played by middle class adults many from the continent who are experienced players and come from across London to play. The range of people taking part in team sports at the centre is much greater including a far higher proportion of children.

"This site is on common land and was given over on the understanding that it would be maintained as a facility to be used by the whole community. The argument that everyone can play padel is a false one because the number of people using the site overall will fall significantly if the site is fully converted.”

The current sports pitches at the Rocks Lane site
The current sports pitches at the Rocks Lane site

Parents say that staff at the centre are evasive when asked about the future of team sports at the venue and there is a growing expectation that the football and netball leagues will have to be transferred to Gunnersbury Park.

Many schools in the area use the facility as a day times sport venue but the expansion of padel has reduced the space available and given rise to concerns that it may disappear altogether. Parents of children currently taking part in football at the centre say they believe that more revenue can be generated by padel because three courts can be fitted on the same space as one pitch. Unlike a conventional tennis court, padel courts cannot be easily converted into other uses.

Matt Dickinson, the Senior Sports Writer at The Times newspaper, published an article this week in which he highlighted the growing popularity of padel in the UK. It is part of an international increase in participation in the sport which is tipped by some to result in it become part of the Olympics.

It has been adopted by Sir Andy Murray who is helping promote the sport by playing an exhibition match at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd’s Bush. The sport remains in its infancy in the UK with only 200 courts in the whole country, 5% of which are in Chiswick, compared to 20,000 in Spain.

This article has heightened concerns among local people about the future of Rocks Lane as Chris Warren is quoted extolling the virtues of padel. He describes how he faced opposition initially from the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) when he wanted to convert a tennis court at the Chiswick site into three padel courts but the move boosted usage from 25% to 90% Now the LTA is supportive of clubs wishing to introduce padel seeing it as a stepping stone to participation in tennis. Chris Warren goes onto to say that it is intention to expand the number of padel courts at the site from 10 to 18. Non-padel users of the facility say it would be impossible to do this without removing the areas dedicated to team sports.

We asked Chris Warren if he could guarantee the future of team sports at the Chiswick Back Common site and he replied, “I am committed to providing sporting opportunities for all.

“We have so far managed to introduce a fourth sport, padel, to our sporting programme without compromising our existing sporting participation.

“Padel tennis, as Matt Dickinson alluded to in his article in the Times, has the potential to cross gender, generational and skill boundaries.

“Following on from the covid pandemic and lockdown, we have seen a number of changes in the type of sporting participation that people are drawn towards.

“Team sports are less popular and easily accessible sports are proving very attractive.

“After my 30 years developing sport in London, I see padel as a unique opportunity to introduce a wider range of people to sport for the first time with the attraction of social interaction, fun, ease of participation and fresh air!

“However, I am committed to our existing sporting participants and will not undermine the excellent sports development work that our team have done over the past 16 years!

“We have other locations in London, Barnes, Fulham and Balham, where we can expand our padel offering which will enable us to achieve our target of 18 plus courts across our centres.

“Onwards and upwards for our sporting community!”

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November 6, 2022