Grassroots teams stage boycott over rising costs

Save Grassroots Football campaign protests over a lack of investment in grassroots football

Footballers across the country refused to play last Sunday in protest at the rising costs facing amateur teams and the lack of investment in grassroots football from the professional game.

The focus of the protest was on Merseyside at the home of Woolton FC, where around 300 people braved the winter weather to support the Save Grassroots Football campaign, which calls on the Premier League to invest 7.5% of its broadcasting rights into the grassroots game.

The Premier League's current broadcasting deal is worth £5.5bn from 2013-2016, but only £12m a year will be directly invested into grassroots football, via the Premier League and FA Facilities Fund - a £102m three-year grassroots investment administered by the Football Foundation.

At the same time, many grassroots teams across the country have seen their running costs soar as local councils hike up pitch hire costs following swinging public sector cuts.

Kenny Saunders felt that something had to be done, so he created the Save Grassoots Football campaign to call on the government to debate the issue, by calling for 100,000 signatures to an online petition and arranging protests like that on Sunday at venues from Merseyside to Hackney Marshes.

"The main aim is to get more investment from the Premier League but the protest is not just aimed at the Premier League," Saunders told The Guardian newspaper.

"Local councils are increasing pitch fees across the country and kids, or their parents, can't afford it. We want to raise awareness of the e-petition."

Sunday's protest was not without its irony. Having persauded a reported 95% of Merseyside teams to boycott matches at the weekend, local councils subsequently postponed all of the matches due to waterlogged pitches - an all-too familiar occurrence for grassroots teams across the country in the winter months.

"This isn't just about Merseyside," Saunders added. "The same thing is happening in Manchester, Newcastle and London. Walsall council have just increased their pitch fees by 300%.

"I think many councils are waiting for this e-petition to finish in February before they announce their own pitch fee rises but we won't be going away."

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Read more from the grassroots football boycott on theguardian.com.

Take a look at some photos from the protest.

Sign the Save Grassroots Football e-petition.

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