It’s been an interesting week for grass roots football and hopefully one that with a bit of luck could or at least should benefit local outposts of the game. This week the FA announced in a blaze of publicity plans to invest £150 million into improving urban football facilities over the next 2-3 years. Many would argue that its about time but wonder why money has been so slow in dropping down to that level from the organisation and the Premier League to boot. Targets within the FA’s Facilities Strategy include improving 3,000 natural pitches across England, building 100 artificial pitches and developing 150 all weather surfaces while refurbishing changing rooms and toilets on a range of selected sites. The strategy focuses on developing new facilities, improving existing ones and protecting football facilities for future generations.
At the start of the new millennium the Premier League pledged that 5% of its income generated would go to improving grass roots facilities via the soon to be formed Football Foundation. The deal was part of gaining Government support over TV rights. The Football Foundation has helped many clubs, I myself have been involved at a couple of clubs who have benefited from the likes of new terracing and seating grants, Floodlight schemes and assistance in setting up youth football teams, however recently the funding given to the Football Foundation has been cut to around £11.8 million which according to one article recently suggests less than 1% of the Premier League’s income. It’s a shame that the Premier League has cut their funding, many eyebrows are raised at how much money revolves around the game these days and with a bumper new TV deal starting this year it’s disappointing that the big boys have lost sight of its roots and original hotbed of young talent in favour of the football tourist and TV big bucks.
Doing some research this week I have come across a mood of pessimism bordering scepticism from local organisations, indeed one much respected local league side when I posted about my concerns over this investment this week said “Don’t hold your breath” in relation to expecting local pitches to here suddenly being besieged by grass seed and more pitchforks than a witch hunting angry mob.
You have to hope for the best with this though, we live in tough times and councils although still selling off sports fields for housing development have had to cut their sports and leisure budgets which has seen many of the fields that remain left to rack and ruin. I remember as a young boy playing for my junior football team on Liverpool’s famous Stanley Park, It was age of innocence where you often wondered why the kid with the dodgy specs , gammy legs and two left feet always got in the team ahead of you, then its only when you dwell on that fact twenty eight or so years later that you realise that the same scrawny kid had the same surname as the local builders merchant who in turn was the teams sponsor. Anyway, childhood flashback aside, it was a time where pitches seemed to be looked after to an extent, there were changing rooms and it was vandals more often than not who put them out of action but in the summer the pitches were forked and re-seeded and goalposts renewed. Facilities, which many kids today don’t have access to without having to pay ridiculous fees in subs.
In this day and age third generation (3G) pitches are regarded as the best value and most of use to sports and community groups and in previous articles I’ve waxed lyrical about such facilities used even at a senior league level in Scotland with regards to things like winter breaks. If the FA and the Football Foundation get the distribution and application of these monies correct, the announcement this week could make a real difference. Hopefully local Football Associations and Sports Clubs the length and breadth of the Country have taken note and will be hounding them for some of these funds. With a lot of the focus of late being on the highly impressive facilities at St Georges Park in Burton it’s good to see that the Grass roots are seemingly not being forgotten and potentially parks and clubs in England could well get a much needed boost, maybe not to St Georges Park standards but to an aspiring young kid a visible sight of investment in local facilities could be the catalyst for positive change and motivation. Fingers crossed anyway!