Who should foot the grassroots bill?

In this week’s big grassroots football debate – The Wednesday Word – we want to know who you think should be most responsible for investing in improving our grassroots football facilities. Get involved and tell us what you think!

The biggest issue in grassroots football has, for some time, been the condition of our public football facilities.

After Club Website members highlighted it as their number one concern back in 2010, we paid a visit to some of the worst affected sites on our Facilities Tour.

FA research found that 84% of the grassroots community in England cited “poor facilities” as their main concern, which lead to the governing body publishing its first ever National Facilities Strategy this week, outlining plans for £150m of investment in new and refurbished pitches and changing rooms over the next three years.

As the cost of public pitch hire continues to rise amidst an economic downturn, many in the grassroots game are feeling the pinch, whilst some have begun to take action.

Sefton Council recently shelved plans to impose a 300% rise on pitch fees for under-11s in the face of public protests, including a demonstration by 8,500 young footballers.

Whilst that battle was won, the issue has sparked a wider Save Grassroots Football campaign, which has so far gathered over 3,000 signatures to an e-petition calling on the Premier League to channel 7.5% of its TV revenue into the grassroots game.

With the top flight of English football seemingly awash with cash – domestic TV rights alone will bring in £1bn a year over the next three seasons – the stark contrast to the lack of funds at grassroots level causes understandable frustration for those involved.

But is it the Premier League’s job to nurture the game’s grassroots, when all amateur football – the National Game – is the responsibility of the Football Association?

Some argue that, although outside their remit, the Premier League has a duty to invest in the grassroots, as it is a breeding ground for many of its future stars.

The Premier League themselves acknowledge their position within the game and argue that they already share more of their money than any other sporting league or institution in the world.

Last season the league distributed over 15% of its £1.26bn turnover outside of its member clubs, although less than 4% made its way beyond the Football League – via parachute and solidarity payments – to more wider work in the community, such as that carried out by the Creating Chances programme.

The Premier League invests £12m (1% of revenue) into football facilities each year via the Football Foundation, whose other funding partners the FA and Government contribute £12m and £10m respectively.

The UK’s largest sports charity has invested over £780m in grassroots facilities since it was formed in 2000, but during that time it has seen its annual funding cut substantially from an initial £20m per funding partner.

Half of the Premier League’s £12m investment is ring-fenced for the Football Stadia Improvement Fund, which helps non-league clubs, meaning a total of £28m directly funds grassroots projects.

Despite the funding cuts, thousands of smart, new, functioning football facilities across the country are testament to the Foundation’s work but, in attempting to overcome decades of under-investment in public sports facilities, there remains much to be done.

Envious glances are often cast over the Channel to neighbours such as Holland, where statutory local government funding means community football facilities routinely include immaculately maintained, floodlit 3G pitches.

The Government imposes no such statutory obligation in the UK, meaning that public sector facilities – which account for an estimated 80% of all facilities – are often in the most need of renovation, as we found out back in 2010.

But with austerity measures causing councils to cut their budgets, plans for the provision of sports facilities will likely be among the first to be scrapped.

Better football facilities should mean increased participation in sport, which should in turn help to tackle childhood obesity, improve physical and mental health and help to reduce crime.

So should the Government place a greater emphasis on the importance of sport in the community and take a lead on investing in sports facilities as part of their public duty?

Or should the football family do more itself; either through the governing bodies who are custodians of the game, or their colleagues in the professional game with their untold riches?

Despite the excellent work of the Football Foundation, the problem shows no signs of going away any time soon, so do we need one of the main players to really take a lead on such important and emotive issue?

Or is the current cross-game approach, with all parties contributing equally – as demonstrated by the FA’s facilities strategy – the only way to tackle the problem?

We want to know what the grassroots game thinks, so it’s over to YOU!

Tell us what you think!

Have your say by voting in our online poll via your club or league website (or our demo site). Alternatively, you can join the debate on our Facebook or Twitter pages, or have your say in the comments section below.

Dan Pope on LinkedinDan Pope on Twitter
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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12 Comments

  1. bryan sivewright on February 28, 2013 at 10:33 am

    having coached football at all ages on some very dubious bits off grass its not an easy debate in as who’s to blame our weather in scotland does not help but the goverment sfa and local coucils need to combine to make there are more indoor facilities for all sports ie like the village in aberdeen and there needs to be more 4g pitches in every area of citys and towns espescially in schools last year the goverment spent a fortune on the olympics spread the wealth and the proffesional clubs have to play their part

  2. Tom C on February 28, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    I’d like to see all of the key players invest more in the grass roots. The government should be providing good quality sports facilities for every community but we all know that’s not gonna happen. About time they started doing more in this area.

    We also need the FA and the PL to invest more. The PL certainly has the cash and the FA could afford to pay Capello 6 million a year, so why can’t they find more to fund something that’s so important to the future of the game.

  3. Edward Wyatt on February 28, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Until we invest more money into better grounds and training facilities this country will lag behind the rest of the world.Just take a look at the wonderful facilities available to grassroots players on the continent.One other thing,the changes proposed for grass roots football starting next season is ok in part.The proposal to play 9 aside for under 11,s and under 12’s is good.But why change the format of mini soccer from 6 aside to 5 aside for under 6’s and under 7’s.I think that it is a backward step,when the present format has served the game very well.

  4. Lee Rusbridge on February 28, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    It’s great that the Premier League distributes 15% of its turnover outside its member clubs, but the fact less than 4% is going beyond the football league means that the gap between the football league and the non-league can only get wider.

    From our own football club’s point of view we have 3 senior teams and over 30 youth teams, but most of those play outside the Town due to a lack of facilities.

    I would like to see the likes of the Premier League, the FA and Government working with established sports organisations who don’t have their own facilities and help them to thrive. There is more and more groundsharing these days and going down this route doesn’t help with the sustainability of the tenant clubs.

  5. David Ord on February 28, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    It has to be the PL and the FA. Wages and expenditure in those organisations is out of control!!
    And at the end of the day, who ultimately benefits, the clubs! Grassroots is not only their breeding ground for new players but also their fan base! Kids in grassroots but millions of pounds worth of replica shirts and merchandise, watch the games live or via TV!
    It is the PLs duty to support the younger generation!

  6. Andy Marriott on February 28, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    It would be great to see ANY funding at grassroots level. We pay over £300 a year for a pitch that is unplayable most weeks, have no access to changing facilities and have to fight off other teams for space on a public park for training space each week. Considering grass roots football is plundered every year for the top players to go to Academies at league teams there is very little coming back the other way that is obvious to us at the bottom of the triangle of football.

  7. Jim O'Rourke on February 28, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    I would like to see regulations brought in to curtail excessive pitch hire fees charged by schools run by private finance initiatives. There are local pitches available to play on but the PFI controlled pitches are standing idle during out of school hours
    for years due to excessive hire costs. This is a huge waste of resources and the government must tackle this problem. Entire football communities are having to relocate to other facilities miles away from where the need for facilties exists.

  8. leo quinn on March 1, 2013 at 12:58 am

    I think the football clubs invest a lot more in grassroots football.Thats where tomorrow stars develop.Top players get paid vast amounts of money no indivdual needs the money they earn in a season never mind their ten or fifteen years in football .So the big clubs should cut wages and spend the money where its really needed

  9. Castillon fc on March 1, 2013 at 1:49 am

    I run a team at HACKNEY MARSHES which costs on average. £85 per game to play on pitches that sometimes u can not make a pass in midfield due to a mad ridden centre circle i think the local council and top teams ie, tottenham west ham , arsenel ect should help as after all a lot of thier top young players have cone straight off these very pitches

  10. Mike I on March 1, 2013 at 11:04 am

    We’re not faring much better across the border here in Wales, where our pitches and changing rooms are in an awful state, yet the local council have the gall to announce a 44% increase in charges for next season.

    We’ve set up a petition to fight this outrageous increase, at the link below:

    http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/stop-cardiff-pitch-fee-rise.html

  11. Charlie Haynes on March 1, 2013 at 11:16 am

    The local County FAs also have a resposibility to assist in this area …. where does all the money from affiliation fees and fines go … surely this should be ploughed back into ensuring the clubs who they receive their vast wealth from have facilities to actually play on!!

  12. alan jones on March 19, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    If the parks want you to play on a plough field so be it as your using the park facilities? perhaps they should charge for children playing on swings or people walking the dog using the footpath,there is an open swimming pool victoria park,cardiff its free so half of cardiff are in there on a summer day so why dont they charge them,same thing,same horse different jockey.

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