Grassroots football feeling the pinch

Club Website editor Dan Pope takes a look at the effect of the current financial climate on grassroots football for the latest issue of FC Business.

Wembley Stadium - home of the 2011 Champions League final

From the outside looking in, English football’s garden must appear particularly rosy right now.

The Premier League is the world’s most watched and most lucrative football league, with seven of its clubs among the Delloitte Football Money League’s top 20.

An English team has appeared in the Champions League final for the seventh time in as many years and, as Manchester United took on Barcelona, the eyes of the football world turned to Wembley Stadium for probably the most expensive game in the history of club football.

Some 88,000 people packed into a £750 million stadium, paying up to £300 each for a standard ticket – hospitality packages cost up to £3,500 – to watch a match that was, in more ways than one, the jewel in UEFA’s crown.

As the Wembley arch sparkled in the night sky, a global TV audience of hundreds of millions could have been forgiven for thinking that the global recession hasn’t reached English football.

But they would be wrong.

Whilst the professional game continues to flourish, grassroots football is feeling the pinch.

A 3,000-strong poll of the grassroots community carried out by Club Website found that three out of four amateur football teams are finding the current financial climate tough.

When asked how hard it was for their club to raise enough money to break even at the moment, 48% of respondents said it was either “hard” or “very difficult”, while a further 27% said it was “not easy, but we get by.”

Only a quarter of those polled suggested that club finances were not a big issue, with 14% finding it “easy” to break even, while 11% said it was “not a problem” finding enough money.

Other Club Website polls found that 29% of clubs made a financial loss in the 2010/11 season, while 37% of clubs are “worse off” compared to this time last year.

Every penny counts for grassroots football clubs

The figures will come as little surprise to those people at the sharp end who know the many outgoings that need to be met to run a grassroots football club today.

The list of costs is substantial: pitch hire, changing rooms, training facilities, kits and equipment, registration fees, referee fees, coaching courses, CRB checks, transport costs and fines. When added together these can cost a small fortune – an average of around £2,000 per team.

Most clubs meet their costs through a combination of player subs, fundraising and sponsorship but, for some clubs, this is still not enough.

Senrab FC is one of them. The East London club, a prolific source of England internationals over the years, was on the brink of folding last month due to a combination of increased costs and a reduction in council funding.

The club was saved from the brink by its most famous old boy, England captain John Terry, whose undisclosed donation helped to secure the club’s immediate future.

If one of the most successful grassroots football clubs in the country is unable to make ends meet, then questions must be asked about the amount of money filtering down through the game.

As the world will see at Wembley this month, the professional game is as wealthy as ever, but the gulf between the top of the game and its grassroots appears wider than ever before.

One organisation helping to bridge that gap is the Football Foundation, the UK’s largest sports charity, which was formed in July 2000 to help redistribute the riches of professional football to the grassroots game.

A 1999 report by the government’s Football Task Force required the Premier League to invest up to 5% of its income “primarily in grassroots facilities and projects”, which it did with an annual £20m to the Football Foundation – funding matched by both the Football Association and government.

A decade on and the Foundation has overseen over £1 billion worth of investment into grassroots football, regenerating facilities and funding football projects across the country.

Grassroots clubs celebrate new Foundation-funded changing rooms or 3G pitches opening every week, but they still represent the vast minority of clubs out there.

Some football facilities leave a lot to be desired

Last year Club Website found that half of the grassroots community put up with sub-standard facilities on a regular basis, while 39% don’t even have any changing rooms for home matches.

The Foundation’s billion pound investment has changed the fortunes of thousands of grassroots teams but, with decades of under-investment to overturn, the cost of improving the country’s facilities is closer to an estimated £7bn.

Despite this need and despite the fact that the Football Foundation delivers a £5 return on every £1 invested by their funding partners – last month a government report named them their most efficient grant giver – the organisation’s core funding has been steadily reduced over the last decade.

The initial £20m annual investment by each of the three funding partners dropped to £15m per year in 2004 and has since been cut to £12m, while the government’s contribution has dropped further still, to £10m – half of their original investment.

It seems absurd that an organisation who are identified as an example of efficiency and best practice by sports charities around the world are not receiving more funding, let alone less, but sadly the outlook is not promising.

Austerity measures seem likely to limit the government’s investment in the Football Foundation for the foreseeable future and, with further spending cuts inevitable across government, direct investment in public sports facilities – some of the worst out there – is unlikely to feature high on a council’s list of priorities.

The FA’s investment into the Foundation has been hit by the collapse of Setanta and, with Wembley Stadium still being paid for, their £12m is unlikely to increase any time soon.

Whilst the Premier League’s own £12m is supplemented by an additional £31m invested annually into social intervention schemes and community work, their total investment represents less than 5% of their current TV deal – now worth £1bn per year – contrary to the commitment made in 1999.

The Premier League argues that their investment exceeds this 5% as revenue from the overseas element of their TV deal was not part of the original agreement. With domestic rights worth around half of the overall £1bn per year deal, it is an expensive technicality for the grassroots game.

The Football Foundation will no doubt continue to do great things with the money that they receive but, with two of their three funding partners feeling the pinch and a third unlikely to volunteer extra contributions on their own, the prospects of their funding increasing any time soon appear remote.

Such is the nature of the current financial climate. Far away from the bright lights of the Champions League final, grassroots football is starting to feel the pinch.

With no immediate upturn in sight, many clubs up and down the country will have to dig in, rally round and think up new and inventive ways of finding funding.

Let’s just hope that the number of clubs going the way of Senrab FC is kept to a minimum. They won’t all have a millionaire ex-player to come to their rescue.

Dan Pope, Club Website editor


This article appeared in issue 53 of FC Business, the trade magazine of the football industry. To find out more visit www.fcbusiness.co.uk.

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Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, with a passion for grassroots sport. A right back turned football writer, Dan is the former editor of Club Website and has been lucky enough to work in the field of grassroots and community sport for the last 10 years.

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18 Comments

  1. shaun quirk on May 31, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    we have been telling this to the fa for a anumber of years yet the costs passed on to clubs is increasing year on year and the number of coursesw which are being forced on us is increasing also the crb checks are free for volunteers yet the fa charge £15 even though the forms say free for volunteers

  2. William Simons on May 31, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    I coach at Sovereign Saints Football Club in Eastbourne East Sussex. We have over 200 children from 4- 16 years of age training and playing within our teams. We do not have our own pitches, relying on council playing felds to train and play. I don’t know of many teams locally who have their own pitches, even less having changing facilities or even toilets. We get by and make the best of our situation, however suitable sponsors who are the lifeline of junior football clubs are becoming more scarce with the current financial climate.
    We all see the vast sums of cash involved in top flight football and often hear about the F.A supporting grass roots. Really, junior clubs in our area rarely see any cash or incentives from the F.A and wouldn’t it be nice if a few professionals could come and see for themselves, the good work done at the real grass roots. Just by putting in an appearance at training or on a match day, signing some autographs or providing some personally signed items that might be auctioned, could make a big difference to many junior clubs. Come on you pro’s, ex pro’s what are you doing Saturday mornings?

  3. Graham Mills on May 31, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    I help run a club at Step 6 of the Non League pyramid and a big, generally unecessary, expense comes in meeting ground regulations that, in my opinion, are not needed.
    We were the second best supported club in our division last year with an average crowd of 70. So why do we need 100 seats and hard standing around 3/4 of the ground to qualify for step 5? Some clubs even at Southern League level don’t even get 70 so why the stringent ground regulations?

  4. liam ryan on May 31, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    I run race nights as a way of providing funds for football clubs etc if you would care to contact me via my web site liamryanracenights.co.uk .
    or my fone 07830521779

  5. Dennis Roe on May 31, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    The Sunday morning open age clubs seem to be particularly hard hit. Whilst the Football Foundation money is very welcome, in my County of Leicestershire it is virtually only youth, girls/ladies and disadvantaged clubs who are benefiting. Open age teams are being moved off sites to enable development to take place and they are then allocated to ‘development’ clubs. For the first time for many years, some of our teams have no changing facilities as a result.

    Over 20% of 16 to 24 year olds are unemployed – surely they need financial support as well.

    The increase in public liability insurance imposed by the FA from £5m to £10m has had the effect of increase County Affiliation Fees by 45% in 2 years.

    At the same time, referees registration, training costs and fees increase at a rate which is much higher than inflation.

    In the meantime, the County FA Operating Profit has increased by over 150%.

    Is it any wonder that open age football at grass roots level continues to decline in spite of its growth at youth level.

  6. Lee Wilkinson on May 31, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    I coach at an open-age club in South Manchester. We are trying to do things the right way by getting our coaches to go through their requisite badges (at their own cost) but we can only offer them a substandard hockey pitch (the only equivalent of a full-size pitch available) which costs us £70 an hour. In Manchester the only availability of decent places to train appear to be either University or school academy facilities. However, there are none in our area which is where we want to be based, so we stick with our substandard hockey pitch. We are thinking about stopping training all together because of the cost and the embarrassment of facilties we offer. We could move but our players (about half are low-wage earners) would find it difficult to travel. Doing my coaching badges now seems to be a waste of money…

  7. Bob Blake on May 31, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    I am a grassroots Club Secretary and I have believed for a long time that every professional contract should have a clause that a small % is paid over to the FF every week. If that was only 1/2% based on some of the premiership wages of £200,000 pw that would represent £1000 pw for the FF and that’s just from 1 player! Imagine how much could be raised over the 4 professional divisions in a year.

  8. Trevor on May 31, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    I fully agree with everything said about how amateur clubs are struggling each season. This has been going on for many years and is only going to get worse. I personaly have given my best to help, in my own small way. I have for 43 years run the worlds only football repair service. I have now decided as i come up to retirement to pass on my skills. I have set up in business 3 people, who can carry out football repairs in their own area. I have been inundated with requests from clubs outside the large cities, asking me to do repairs. I have decided to pass on my craft to amateur clubs to allow them to repair their own footballs, which will save them mony each season. Most good footballs cost over £30, and lots punture every week. The cost to repair a ball is between 10p and £1-80p. This is far better than having to buy a new one. I am only going to charge for my costs and time. This is my contribution to the game i have enjoyed playing and coaching for years. I will restructure my website next week, to make these skills available to all amateur soccer clubs, for their own club benifit. My website sportsballuk.co.uk should be ready for the clubs to view shortly, at the moment it is geared for the franchise side. Lets hope my input will help in saving them lots of money.
    Trevor

  9. Steve Dowding on June 1, 2011 at 7:07 am

    It is not just losing the funding it is also battling the local councils. We were going to receive some funding from the Football foundation to build changing and toilet facilities at the ground (we have none at present) we run on behalf of a local college, that contains 2 adult, 2 Junior and 3 mini soccer pitches. We spent £15,000 of our own money (raised over 5 years) on drawing up plans and following the planning teams recommendations. The planning officer rejected it and so we lost the opportunity for the funding.

  10. Steve Dowding on June 1, 2011 at 7:10 am

    It would be interesting to see how many “New” building were built with the money and not just “refurbished2 ones. My understanding was that this money was to be used for putting up buildings where there were none before. I suspect they went for the easy option and just refurbished or rebuilt club houses as getting planning permission for building new ones is very difficuly especially here in the Essex.

  11. Steven on June 1, 2011 at 8:27 am

    Hi, Bag4Sport have now helped over a 1000 grass roots sports initiatives across the country raise funding through our textile recycling. See bag4sport.co.uk for more info.

  12. Stephen Eblet on June 1, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    The whole financial structure of football is a disgrace. While Premiership players are earning immoral sums of money per week, youth football is struggling to survive. Well meant financial constraints put on clubs, in the name of child protection and control of the game are crippling clubs.

    Not enough is being done to get kids to take part in football and this isn’t the fault of volunteers. Potential volunteers are being scared off by over regulation and player numbers in my area are dwindling. This is a quiet crisis that will peak in the near future.

    I helped to raise £1,000,000 to build a club house changing facility in my town. This was a ten year long project and we succeeded. Unfortunately when we began the project, we had 120 young players. Far too many obstacles were put in our way and I would think long and hard about ever undertaking such a project again. Because of todays financial climate and over regulation I believe the club will have a possible zero youth membership this coming season.

    Money and corruption are screwing the game. It’s the working mans game no more. I fear for football. But, hey don’t you lot at the top of the game let this worry you.

  13. Brendan on June 1, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    I run a local football team Pelican United in Hull we are just about to move from mini-soccer to under 11’s and the step up to 11 a side. Costs are the biggest problem to run a football club, taking into account the CRB checks for the 4 volunteers at £15 a time that expire after 3 years, the FA courses that are funded by the club such as 1st aid and coaching as well as all the affiliation and registration costs the club are out of pocket by a hundred’s of £’s before a ball is even kicked every season, add to that pitch fees, training ground costs kit and equipment each year how can a club be run successfully without a sponsor, in an area such as ours suffering more than other areas from the recession how can we find a sponsor or raise funds to maintain a team. I read with interest the report showing 39% of teams don’t have changing rooms, in 6 seasons of coaching in our local area at different age ranfes I could probably count on one hand the number of teams with decent facilities our a pitch that isn’t stripped bare from over use. Costs are crippling clubs then the leagues hand out fines at their discretion for late score reports etc its almost as if they don’t want teams to play football any more. Local 3g/5g facilities cost upwards of £40 per hour for a 5 a side pitch. It would be nice if there was a link to places that might assist with funding or development. Clubs struggle on each year but are they really developing or just making ends meet to reach FA tick boxes and criteria. Big clubs get bigger from plentiful funding, the small clubs wither or can’t access the funding and the local FA only seem to favour big clubs as they can provide academies and their funding secures them the preferential sites to play on in the area or attracts sponsors. How can new start ups or smaller teams survive like this? I’m sure our club can’t be the only one that faces these problems it would be nice to hear how other clubs/teams combat these problems or where they seek out funding. Our club is hand delivering letters to seek out sponsors in an area with high unemployment and fundraising throughout the year access to funding opportunities would be a start. Good advice is always gratefully received.

  14. David Martin on June 2, 2011 at 11:47 am

    I have recently retired from Bustleholme Football Club in West Bromwich after being secretary since 1975.
    We started with just one U/12 team mainly to give lads off our estate a game. From that time we grew to a set up of 24 teams covering all age groups including girls teams.
    Over the years finance as always been a problem but due to many people such as the kids’ families we progressed. Apart from a lottery grant of £20,000 in 1997 to improve a local unused centre we have received no help from anyone including the local council. We became quite a well known name in the area as a progressive club. As I said I recently retired mainly because I thought I was getting a bit passed it but the main reason was what has happened to the grass roots scene. We had problems with finance but nowadays it’s horrendous. To form one U/8 or U/9 team you need big money just to get someone to volunteer to take a CBR check as well as getting someone reliable to get a coaching badge.
    Our new secretary at Bustleholme is doing a great job but I don’t envy her trying to get funds from outside. As well as the Premier League making the type of money they do surely they should be putting just a small percentage into the gound roots game. The County FA’s also don’t make it easy by making demands on small clubs. I was proud to be a founder member of Bustleholme and to be honest after 35 years I would have thought that giving our record over the years and the progress we made, we should probably have our own ground by now. The club( like thousands of clubs in the country) has given thousands of youngsters the chance to belong to an organisation who want to see them progress through their young lives keeping fit by playing football.
    I’m sure the government, despite the current financial situation, would be able to put pressure on the Football Association and the Premier League to help.
    Dave Martin

  15. peter jones on June 2, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    i run an open age team in liverpool we are self supporting in an area of high unemployment.today we where told our council ground 6 pitches 1 changing room cat a! will cost us £450 next season a rise of £100 our kids meanwhile get a free pitch but what happens when they turn 16 when as someone else mentioned the fa seem hell bent on ridding themselfs of sunday morning open age football .

  16. Chris on June 3, 2011 at 2:28 am

    a sad day after over twenty years in grass roots football my leading striker says he might give up football and as a former qualified ref i do have some concern that his points about what it costs in fines and bans . the new laws are not making easy for refs or players taking passion out of the game
    apart from that i will make no comments but that sport is for meant to be fun the new laws dont make it is easy to do that
    kind regards chris

  17. alan goulden on June 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    whilst we are very envious of the proffesionals ability,facilities,equipmentand many millions of pounds that float about in the top teir we at grass roots who are the vast majority of people playing the beutiful game are at the mercy of the f.a s think tank that every season come up with a new regulation that makes things more complicated time consuming and inevitably at more expence.one the f.a. have done is to make it easiear to pay the many fines.when players are losing their jobs and disposable income is at a premium the cost to play keeps on rising.

  18. Stephen Eblet on June 4, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    I read with interest the comments following my original post. These stories are all too familiar. So, is anyone out these in the higher echelons of the game listening? Do you care?

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