Over the last few months, Club Website has been out visiting some of the worst football facilities brought to our attention by you, the Great British footballing public. It’s now time to start wrapping things up, so here we bring you a round-up of what we’ve found and where we go from here.
A little context setting first of all, if we may. When Club Website kicked off our Football Revolution at the start of this season, we asked you to tell us one thing that you’d like to change about football.
Loads of you told us that the football facilities at your disposal were, on the whole, pretty hopeless and that not enough money was filtering down through the game to the grassroots.
We decided to dig a little deeper and take a closer look at this important issue and so we put a few big questions out there to the Club Website community using our online polls. The results were pretty startling.
It turns out that half of you have to put up with sub-standard facilities for your regular football matches, while 39 percent of you many don’t even have any changing rooms at your ‘home ground’.
With figures like this staring us in the face, we decided to hit the road and go and take a look for ourselves while getting to find out what you lot out there really think about the facilities that you use.
So over the last few months that’s exactly what we’ve done, with visits to Birmingham, Yorkshire and London in fairly quick succession.
To read a detailed round-up of each location – including an end-of-season progress report and reaction from the council – simply click on the place names below:
Suffice to say that, no matter where we were, the picture was a pretty familiar one: dark, dank changing rooms (if they were even open), no showers, no heating and no locks on the doors.
With tongue firmly in cheek, we decked each place out in mock ‘condemned’ placards for just a short while.
This raised one or two eyebrows to say the least but, once they heard what we were doing, people liked the idea of it. Of course we wouldn’t dream of asking for any facility to be shut down – there are already too few to go around!
The signs were just a way of grabbing attention for the campaign and it seems to have done the trick – with the media at least. Sky Sports News have been into Club Website HQ to speak to us about the campaign as part of their ’11-a-slide’ series looking into the decline in men’s 11-a-side football participation, which is due to air throughout today.
Whether our campaign will have any real and lasting impact remains to be seen, but we’re hoping that – at the very least – the venues we visited will get some much needed TLC and, on a national level, we’ll get people talking about the issue again.
It’s such a huge problem, however, that it’s not going to get fixed overnight. We’ve spoken to each of the major stakeholders in the English game and, whilst the appetite is there to get the problem sorted, the money being thrown at the problem – whilst very substantial – is only really making a dent into the problem at the moment.
The Football Foundation – who, funded jointly by the FA, Premier League and Government, have lead the way on this issue in England since their launch in 2000 – have invested £375m into grassroots projects worth over £875m since they began.
By anyone’s reckoning, this is an incredible amount of money, but we’re still in a position where almost four out of 10 footballers don’t even have a ground to call home, which shows the scale of the project ahead.
Paul Thorogood, Chief Executive of the Football Foundation told Club Website back in December 2008 that the job in hand involved “fixing 30 years of neglect of our grassroots community sports facilities – that’s the playing fields, the local authority pitches.”
Whilst almost a billion pounds has already been invested in grassroots projects – making real changes to the quality of people’s sporting experience across the country – estimates as to the size of the overall bill run into several billions.
The Foundation’s funding partners, for their part, remain committed to continued investment in this area. An FA spokesperson told Club Website: “England enjoys one of the biggest grassroots football communities in the world and The FA along with partners across the game remain committed to improving facilities year after year.”
The Premier League echoed these sentiments. Tim Vine, their Head of Public Affairs told us that they “are fully committed to continuing to improve the state of this country’s football facilities.
“Whilst the amount that has been achieved by the Football Foundation in its ten years should be celebrated, it is clear there is still plenty of work to be done,” he continued. “In fact, we are taking the issue so seriously that we are asking the Football Foundation to focus purely on improving facilities going forward.”
We’ll bring you more comment on the roles of the key stakeholders in the game and discuss how much responsibility football’s governing bodies should shoulder for the state of the game, but arguably the most important player in this area of such importance is the Government.
Not only do they invest money directly into football via the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but they are also ultimately responsible for the state of public facilities across the country and it’s been no surprise to find that the worst facilities drawn to our attention have, on the whole, been council owned.
Investment in sport has suffered at local level because of increased pressure on education and health budgets, but maybe our leaders – both locally and nationally – need to recognise the huge part that sport can play in both of these headline areas and re-distribute some much-needed funds accordingly.
With the general election campaign in full swing, now isn’t the best time to get a response from government officials on this important issue but, once the cabinet is formed after 6 May – whatever shape or colour it may take – we’ll be sure to ask the important questions that need answering.
It’s a good time to be having a debate on facilities: the future funding of the Football Foundation is in the process of being thrashed out and the people who will be leading our country over the next few years will soon be decided.
Whatever the outcome of this crucial period, as a football community we need to make sure we keep ourselves heard about the need for better facilities, so that we can continue to move forward and make the beautiful game a beautiful thing no matter where the match is played.
Dan Pope, Club Website Editor