Footballers are up in arms over Rayleigh Town Council's plan to charge a hire fee for having a kickabout at King George's Playing Field.

Amateur teams and casual players have been informed they will have to pay as much as £500 to play the beautiful game at the park.

But youngsters and adults alike are outraged by moves to evoke a pay to play scheme for "organised sport" at the Rayleigh venue.

"Anyone who lives in Rayleigh knows King George's is the home of football," said regular visitor to the park Dave Cook, 25.

"Kids and adults of all ages meet there for a kickabout all year round - there is always somebody playing football at the park.

"But now we are being told we have to pay to play. I think it is just ridiculous."

Cook's friend, Dan Williams - another Rayleigh resident - confirmed they were approached by two people claiming to be town councillors on Sunday morning.

They informed the total group of 12 men they couldn't use the park and would have to pay a fee if they wished to play football there.

"I was just gobsmacked," added Williams, 26.

"I've been playing football over King George's for the best part of 15 years and I have never heard anything so outrageous.

"There are two marked pitches with goalposts at the park and I can understand them asking you not to play on them to protect the surfaces for the teams who pay for them.

"But maybe they should put up a sign and rope off the pitches.

"They also need to take the goals down as any group of kids with a ball will play in them.

"King George's is a big park and there are plenty of other unmarked spaces.

"But we were told that we would be charged to use them too as the park is privately owned.

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing. What are they going to do next - charge people for walking their dogs over there?"

Rochford District Council confirmed that King George's was in fact public open space when it was passed over to Rayleigh Town Council a few years ago.

"We passed the park over to Rayleigh Town Council and it is under their remit now," said a district council spokesman.

"There is no problem with a father and his kids playing football at the park.

"But it becomes a different matter when the sporting activity is deemed organised'.

"When this is the case it is up to the town council if they want to make a charge."

Rayleigh town councillor Tony Humphries, who is chairman of the King George's Playing Field committee, said these moves had been taken to protect the park.

"The problem we have is that the rising population of Rayleigh has outgrown the park," he said.

"Under the guidelines set out by Sport England you should have a pitch for every 1,000 people.

"We have 33,000 people in Rayleigh and are struggling to hit that quota.

"We are not trying to be brutal and stop people playing football. We just have to get the balance right.

"This is not common land and it is our responsibility to ensure the park is not being used exclusively by any one organisation.

"And we have to protect the two pitches for the teams who pay to use them over the course of a season.

"For instance, the Rayleigh Boys Club, which has 300 members, use the park on a Saturday for training free of charge.

"The parents pay £1 a week for their children to attend these sessions. And I know some of this goes towards buying nets and balls.

"But if they can pay £1 a week, I'm sure they can manage £2.

"Any monies generated will go back into looking after the upkeep of King George's Playing Field."

Humphries also confirmed that he had approached groups of players and asked them not to use the park over the weekend.

"We asked people not to play because of inclement weather to stop the pitches from being spoiled further," he added.

"We told one group of lads they couldn't play, but they carried on for another hour-and-a-half.

"When they did leave another set of boys came along and put up a net in one of the goals on the pitch and started playing.

"We need to look into ways of stopping people using the pitches if they aren't paying for them.

"Maybe we will have to take the goalposts down when the pitches aren't being used."

King George's Playing Field is one of 450 sites up and down the country which comes under the wing of the National Playing Fields Association.

Their deputy chief executive, Don Earley, said the land was part of a charitable trust.

"Our position is of an overseeing guardian protecting the area from development for future generations," he said.

"The running of the ground is the council's responsibility as is the allocation of funds to the park which they generate.

"This field is open to the general public, but it is up to the council to make any arrangements to protect the wear and tear of the pitches.

"People will use the park to play football both on the pitches and in other areas - I know I did as a child.

"But it is down to the town council's opinion - not us -whether there should be a charge for these areas."

Rayleigh Boys were unavailable for comment, but it is believed they have been told they will not be able to train at the park for free after April.