Investing in grassroots football facilities can help bring communities together and teach valuable life lessons, according to Premier League referee Howard Webb.
Webb, who earlier this year received an MBE for his services to football, was speaking at the opening of a new £1.2m football complex in Huntingdonshire yesterday.
“Football is so important," he said. "It brings everybody together, encourages teamwork and it gives kids ideas about winning and losing in the right way.
“Being heavily involved in local football I have seen how passionate people are about the game, and what an important part it plays in people's lives first hand. This is why I am always keen to stay involved and encourage other people to get the most out of football”, he said.
Webb, who took charge of last year’s World Cup Final in South Africa, recalled the lack of facilities available when he started out refereeing in the grassroots.
“I have had to come all the way though different levels of football. I started local football as an 18-year-old, quite often changing at the side of a car and shivering on local playing fields. That’s why these facilities mean so much to the community, especially a 3G pitch that can be used all the time, in all weather conditions and when it’s freezing cold like today”, he added.
The project at One Leisure St Ives has seen the introduction of a new full-size floodlit third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch and an extension to the existing sports centre to provide four new changing rooms. Forecasts suggest that an additional 1,150 people will gain access to football on the site each week.
The council worked in partnership with the Huntingdonshire County FA to secure a £500,000 grant from the Football Foundation towards the project. Webb praised the country’s largest sports charity, who receives their funding directly from the Premier League, The FA and the Government.
"The amount of investment they have made in facilities is absolutely huge and everyone here today is so grateful for their efforts in making this possible."
Paul Thorogood, CEO of the Foundation, who was born and grew up in area, attended yesterday’s event and explained the transformation the site has undergone in the last 30 years.
“This was complete wasteland and to see the way it has been developed over the years has been fantastic. It means a lot to the community in a number of ways," he said.
"The Football Foundation is dedicated, with funding provided from the Premier League, The FA and government, to raising the standard of grassroots community sports facilities and to get more people actively playing the national sport."
Since it was launched in 2000, the Foundation has awarded around 8,000 grants worth more than £420m towards improving grassroots sport, which it has used to attract additional partnership funding of over £520m.
Dan Pope, Club Website editor