The Football Association has announced the largest ever investment into grassroots football in England with an unprecedented £200m to be invested in the game over the next five years.
Unveiling their plans for the future of the game last month, FA Chief executive Brian Barwick described the launch of the National Game Strategy 2008-12 as "a very important day in the everyday life of English football".
The FA have committed to investing £44m per season into the grassroots game until 2012, an increase of £10m per year on previous levels, secured largely by recent successful TV and commercial deals.
"We will spend that £200m wisely," said Barwick, "not least because we’ve asked those involved how they would like it to be spent. Some 37,000 football people have given us their views. We now aim to put their thoughts into action."
"We want more people involved in the game - players, coaches, spectators, administrators and critically referees. Their recruitment and retention are vital to the health of the game."
"We want to develop better coaches and more skilful players, especially children. We want to make it easier to organise and run the game locally and we want to raise standards of behaviour and address abusive behaviour."
November’s edition of The Club House - Club Website’s monthly e-newsletter - reported that the FA’s consultation had identified bad behaviour as the single most important issue facing the grassroots game. This issue has been duly recognised in the new strategy and the FA have recently launched their "Respect" campaign in an attempt to tackle the problem.
With high profile incidents involving Premier League players and referees over the last couple of weeks, the issue of respect has been on the agenda throughout the game.
For the FA, the incidents could not have been better timed. Ashley Cole’s show of petulance to referee Mike Riley - he refused to turn to face the ref to receive a yellow card - came less than 36 hours after the FA’s announcement. Cole’s behaviour was roundly condemned and he was quick to offer an apology.
Back in November, the FA told Club Website that they intended to "gauge the success of the [Respect] pilot at grassroots level first" before rolling it out more widely across the game. However, press and public opinion may dictate that this timetable is brought forward.
Certainly, while professionals continue to behave badly, football fans won’t tolerate the FA looking solely at the grassroots to tackle the problem. The governing body’s "ultimate aim" of a "cross-game approach" may be required somewhat sooner than they thought.
Click here to view the National Game Strategy document.