FA risks funding cut as participation figures drop

English football faces cut in lottery funding after decline in number of people playing the game

The Football Association could face a cut in government funding following a drop in the number of people playing the game in England.

Participation figures published by Sport England, who provide National Lottery funding to grassroots sport’s governing bodies, show that 1.84m people currently play football once a week – a decline of 100,000 since April and a 10 percent decrease on 2005 figures.

Last year the FA was awarded £30m of Sport England funding for 2013-17, but the recent decline will cause concern at Sport England, who could suspend up to 20 percent of the FA’s funding for their failure to meet targets.

Sport England chief executive Jenni Price said: “We are very disappointed by football’s results and the FA really need to grasp this.

“There is now to be a discussion with the FA and our board, but we operate a payment for results scheme so football are definitely in the ‘at-risk’ zone.

“The FA has the power to do an enormous amount of good for grassroots football as they have a lot of sponsorship, a lot of power and connections, but they need to focus and work much more effectively. They have to think big in their participation programmes.”

The results of Sport England’s Active People Survey show football behind swimming, cycling and athletics in terms of the number of people taking part in sport at least once a week.

The FA are concerned by the “clearly disappointing” results, which will be placed straight at the top of their priority list, according to their general secretary Alex Horne.

“These are clearly disappointing numbers,” said Horne. “Understanding and reversing the fall in participation is an immediate and top priority and we are working exhaustively with Sport England and our other partners to ensure the right plans and programmes are in place to achieve this.

“Notwithstanding the impact of external factors such as the weather and the economic pressures on local authority playing facilities; what is clear is that the nature of football participation is changing and that our players increasingly want football on their terms; less formal, less frequent, more flexible.

“Through our own research we are confident that we have the right programmes in place to ensure that we can meet these needs and to grow and sustain the regularity of the football they play.”

Despite the worrying results for football and similarly for tennis, Sport England revealed an overall post-Olympic increase in the number of people playing sport every week.

A total of 15.5 million people take part in sport once a week – an increase of over 1.5m since London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games in 2005.

Have your say – Why are fewer people playing football?

What do you think about the decline in the number of people playing football? Why are fewer people playing the game today? Have you recently given up? If so, what were your reasons for doing so?

Also, what should the FA do in a bid to attract more people back to the beautiful game? Have your say in our 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.

Take the hassle out of organising your sports team with Teamer. Organise, communicate and take payments.


  1. Thomas Hall on December 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    As secretary of a Sunday Football League I have witnessed first hand the decline in adult participation. Some of the blame is down to the FA,they have been pumping money into Junior and female football while totally ignoring the adult game. It has taken them till now to listen to the problems in the adult game and could be too little to late.

    Our League has just been informed that Walsall MBC due to government cuts
    parks pitches could increase from £800 to over £1900 per season this could result in our League folding.

    Regards Thomas Hall Sec.
    Lichfield & Walsall District Football League

  2. Sharron on December 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    A lot of of the decline has to be down to cost. Firstly the cost of playing fields. Then in winter there is the cost of indoor training, add to that new kits, nets, training equipment, referees fees, first aid course, child welfare course,the list is endless. Then of course all the meetings to attend and silly fines imposed on clubs for the slightest mistake, which actually has to be paid from any funds raised so is taking from the players. It’s not as simple as playing football and unfortunately people don’t want to commit to it.

  3. jess beech on December 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Its a case of chicken and the egg, which one comes first? grass roots clubs need funding due to the increase of local government facilities,you will find most clubs fold due to the rediculus amounts the councils are charging, clubs can only ask members to pay,they cannot enforce,also the amount clubs ask for has to be minimal,to attract members to join and participate in football

  4. Jim ORourke on December 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Far too many grassroots clubs in poorer areas have no facilities of their own, leaving them little alternative but to compete with other clubs for the les than essential community space and pay the market rate for the hire of facilities at schools etc.
    The hire of all weather pitches is typically about £75 per hour, then there’s the cost of registering players, hiring grass pitches, paying referees purchasing kits, in some cases a club may have 12 teams to buy kits for. The list of club expenditures is always increasing but the income doesn’t, there’s no way of covering all these costs out of players subscriptions. Even working families in the UK are resorting to food banks because their income is less than their outgoings. No wonder football participation is dropping.

    Amateur sports clubs, especially those in poorer areas are a victim of the recession, less money in parents pockets means less money for leisure and sport. We are amateur clubs paying professional prices for basic needs and its not a level playing field. Its time to support grassroots football clubs with direct financial support rather than paying it through an intermediary who takes a huge slice off the funding for administration regardless of whether their balance sheet is showing huge cash reserves. So fund clubs directly or watch our sport diminishing year on year.

  5. Stephen Hird on December 19, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    I feel some of the reason for drop out rate as follows , changing working paterns at weekends, other distractions , lack of funding to pay for pitch hire or 3 G , I can only speak about my area but to book a 3G in winter between £45-60 which is expensive , that to me is private organisations running pitch hire to make a profit , 3G pitchs should be in use all the time to improve development of grass roots football.

  6. Laurence Hughes on December 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    I have been running a mens’ Sunday League club for many years and the main reason we have had so many players give up playing the game in recent seasons is because they have to look after their kids on Sunday mornings while the wife or girlfriend goes out to work for the necessary extra family income. If the WAG isn’t actually working in a shop on a Sunday, then she will be wanting to go out shopping while our players stay at home and look after the kids. Unlike back in the 70’s and 80’s when we first started, Sunday is now the main shopping day for families. It’s basic lifestyle changes such as that which in my opinion have caused the biggest decline in adult Sunday morning football participation.
    I suppose the only answer is for the FA to set up free chreches/nurseries for the kids to go to on Sunday mornings in areas where there are still adult mens’ Sunday Leagues running, then the players can drop their kids off there while they play football and then collect them after the match.
    Most of our ex-players who have left us because of their babysitting situations are absolutely gutted that they can no longer play. They have not left us for any other reason.

  7. Graham B on December 24, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    Regarding the reduction in the number of players down by some 100,000 has a very simple reason and that is the introduction of 9v9 football which is now a pre-requisite of the FA for children at 11 to 13. this means that squad sizes have been dramatically reduced from the 11 a side game with a 16 player squad to 9 a side with a 14 player squad. so at least 2 players from each team nationally within these age groups is lost from the sport.
    what is utterly ridiculous is that at under 14 theses squads will then go back to 11 a side football and 16 player squads, but it is highly likely that the 2 players per squad that where released will by then have found other sports or activities and therefore never return to our game.
    well done the FA for introducing such a stupid concept and now the clubs who for years previous who have nurtured these kids to play football will suffer in obtaining needed funds to keep their clubs afloat.

  8. Gary Garvey on December 24, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    Graham – just a question – have you read the FA youth development review & the rationale behind the changes? I wouldn’t think the fall off is down to 9v9 alone. If anything I would suggest that 9v9 might keep more players in the game – previously going from 7v7 to 11v11 was a huge jump I would have thought in terms of pitch size/goal size etc. However in the transition period when 9v9 was introduced there was always likely to be some issues for certain teams whose squads may have previously prepared for 11v11.

  9. Tony Baxter on December 25, 2013 at 6:24 am

    I personally think the idiot parents from some areas put off decent people from wanting their kids to play Swearing and aggressive behaviour is not something you find, for example at my local tennis or cricket club

  10. Daniel on January 2, 2014 at 6:10 am

    Well, when you’ve got stories of players being shot in the legs and guns being drawn on referees I suppose a lot of people may be put off by that. Fair enough, these are fairly rare but I use them for their exaggeration. There is too much bullying and fighting involved; people are being put off it and quite rightly so. I don’t want to be the centre of abuse by some woman on the sideline. Maybe I’m wrong, I’m just going off the reason why I don’t play anymore (as much as I want to). There needs to be tougher regulations on the trouble-causers; if they’re going to abuse the ref, they’re going to abuse you. Don’t get me wrong the bastard government has a titanic part to play in all this but I doubt the majority of people are leaving (willingly) because of funding. Respect comes before anything in football; it’s basic sportsmanship and quite frankly, I find there to be a major lack of it in Sunday leagues today.

  11. D Leask on January 2, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    The reason is a combination of things. Lack of commitment by players and volunteers, rising costs of running a team/club with the pressures from the FA to improve standards, facilities and achieve ground grading requirements that are beyond what clubs can afford or need. This along with a lack of respect throughout society today turns people away from the game as nobody wants to go and listen to 22 young lumps of testosterone shouting and swearing at each other and getting frustrated by inconsistent refereeing, which fails to deal with these issues, despite initiatives setup by the FA.

  12. Martin Wood on January 14, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    The FA have failed ‘Grassroots’ football. If they were a genuine business they would have been bankrupt years ago. Its time the government stepped in and ended the FA’s monopoly on football.

  13. Dale Brown on January 25, 2014 at 9:32 pm

    Roll on roll of subs needed for adult grassroots football, lads turn up in crap weather, stand about for 80 minutes, then get a short run out, its the weaker players this happens to every week, so they leave the game…

  14. Ian on March 27, 2014 at 10:44 am

    I am a Level 1 coach and Chairman (7 years) of a children’s team and Club and I am about to give up and walk away from the game completely. I have taken about as much as I can take over bureaucracy, so called discipline that borders on bullying from regional leagues with the County FA doing nothing at all to keep them in check. I have direct experience of a Regional League going outside of their own written rules to penalize a team of 15 year olds who have been together since the age of 5 and as a result I now have boys walking away. The problem is that the grass roots game IMO is run by unapproachable people who equate it to the Premier league; abusing their position and hiding behind bureaucracy when questioned, forgetting that at the heart of all decisions that they make should have at their heart the development of youngsters playing the game.

Join the discussion