The Football Association's consultation on proposed changes to youth football in England has been met with an overwhelmingly positive response from the grassroots football community.
That was the message from senior FA figures as the Your Kids Your Say roadshow stopped off at The Valley, home of Charlton Athletic FC, on Wednesday for the fourteenth of 16 events on a national tour.
Director of Football Development Sir Trevor Brooking said the proposals, which would lead to the most radical shake-up of youth football in over a decade, have been widely supported by roadshow attendees over the summer.
"It’s been very good," said Brooking. "There's been lots of different views but, overall, the majority of the suggestions everyone is supportive of."
The FA's proposals, which aim to make youth football more child-focused, include the introduction of 5v5 and 9v9 formats, delaying 11-a-side football until the under-13 age group, removing competitive league football for all children of primary school age and shifting youth football from the traditional academic year-groups to run instead by calendar year.
When the consultation period closes this month the proposals must be passed to various FA committees over the coming months before being put to FA stakeholders at the next AGM in May 2012. If signed off, the changes will become mandatory from the start of the 2013/14 season.
The FA is keen to provide time for leagues, clubs and volunteers across the country to prepare for any changes but, if the roadshow is any indication, they feel the mood is there around the country to embrace change.
Kelly Simmons, the FA's Head of National Game described the roadshow as "really positive" and said that the FA were "delighted with the response we’ve had".
"There’s been a lot of support for bridging the gap between mini-soccer and 11-a-side," she told Club Website, "and we’ve had a really healthy debate about the impact of introducing competition too early and providing the right kind of environment for young kids where we prioritise development over results."
Nick Levett, National Development Manager for Youth Football and the man behind the roadshows, echoed Simmons' view.
"If, before the consultation started, you’d said that it would be as well-received as this, I’d be over the moon," he said. "I thought there would be more dissenters or people against different parts.
"That was the bit that staggered me. I thought there would be a real opposition to that but I think leagues are recognising the flexibility to be creative with child-centred competition, which is great.
"Around 70 percent agree with the move to the calendar year birth bias. 22 percent weren’t sure - it’s something new and they might not have thought about before. It’s not something tangible, like a game format or the size of a pitch, so I’m not too concerned about it. Only 8 percent disagree so, again, there's good support for it."
The consultation draws to a close this month, but there is still a chance for the grassroots community to get involved. If you live in the East Midlands or North West you could attend one of the final two roadshows in Nottingham (19 September) or Bolton (21 September).
Levett encourages people to attend if they can. If they can't, he says people can still email their feedback on the proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org, where all information will be read, if not responded to individually.
But people need to act soon if they want to contribute to the consultation because, as Levett says: “There comes a time when we decide that this is what it looks like, otherwise we’ll be talking about it forever and we’ll never make a decision.”
Whilst Levett admits that the roadshow may have seen him preaching to the converted, he is pleased by the positive attitude toward the challenges faced in implementing the changes, particularly those concerning new pitch markings and goalposts for the new formats of the game.
“There have been a lot less challenges than I thought there would be. I thought that facilities were going to be the major blocker but it’s not been as big a deal as I expected overall. Maybe it’s because the people in the room are the converted ones; the positive proactive ones to try and find solutions.
“Hopefully the funding from the Football Foundation will help. With £1m over two years ring-fenced to help pay for goalposts, hopefully we can try and solve that issue.
“I think the key thing is support for the new things. Giving flexibility to leagues, providing ideas about competition that that might work.
Brooking added: "The main thing is for people not to be worried about it and frightened of the changes. We’re going to try and be sensible and not force too many things on people. In the end, the lifeblood of the game is the volunteers, the mums and dads and everyone who are running the teams.
"Overall, the majority of the suggestions everyone is supportive of. Now it’s just making sure we deal with that sensitively, understand some of the challenges and, if there are greater concerns about one or two of them, then perhaps we take our time before introducing them. I’d like to feel that we have listened."
Dan Pope, Club Website editor
If you would like to attend either of this week's final two roadshows in Nottingham or Bolton, click here for details of how to book a place.