Will the FA Commission's 3G revolution work?

FA Commission report outlines plans for huge 3G expansion to improve grassroots football facilities

Grassroots football in England received a shot in the arm this month when the FA launched plans for a revolution in grassroots facilities and coaching, including the creation of hundreds of new 3G pitches and 150 new football ‘hubs’ in 30 cities by 2020.

As his England Commission published its second report, FA Chairman Greg Dyke spoke of a “radical new approach” that will see a 50 percent increase in 3G pitches nationwide and a 130 percent increase in urban areas at a cost of £230m over the next six years.

The news will be seen as long overdue for many in the grassroots game, who for years have struggled with poorly maintained and under-funded public facilities (83 percent of all grass pitches in England are publicly-owned). Club Website reported on the parlous state of grassroots facilities back in 2010 and cuts to local authority funding as a result of government austerity measures since then have made the situation even worse.

As costs continue to rise, the standard of facilities has got worse and when the usual British winter weather arrives many pitches become unplayable. A 2013 FA survey revealed that 49 percent of players had more than five games cancelled per season, predominantly due to unplayable pitches.

“We have a big problem in grassroots football because of facilities,” said Dyke. “I wouldn’t say it’s at crisis point but we have to do something about it.

“We all know that the maintenance of facilities, particularly the local authority ones, has declined over the years. We’ve had two terrible winters. The advantage of the artificial pitches is that you can play on it 60 to 80 hours a week whereas the average grass pitch is four to five.”

The FA admits that grassroots football is over-reliant on publicly-owned facilities and so it has set out to its stall to reverse the trend and get football back in control of its own destiny with lots of first class artificial pitches used year-round and managed through a sustainable business model.

But what exactly will this involve? Here are the FA Commission’s key proposals for revolutionising our approach to grassroots football in England:

Facilities – by 2020 there will be:

* More than 150 football ‘hubs’ in 30 cities, increasing the number of top-quality artificial grass pitches (AGPs) in urban areas by 130% to over 500.

* A 50% increase in the total number of full-size, public 3G AGPs in England, to more than 1,000

* Hubs to be run by trusts or football organisations, supporting the delivery of FA and pro club youth development and coach education programmes

* Over 50% of all mini-soccer and youth football matches – about 3,750 per week – being played on the best quality AGPs

Coaching – the targets for the next three years are to:

* Recruit 25 more full-time FA coach educators

* More than triple the number of Youth Award Level 3 coaches from 800 to 3,000

* More than triple the number of Advanced Youth Award holders from 200 to 750

* Increase Pro Licence holders from around 200 to 300

* Significantly increase the number of qualified coaches from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds and others who are under-represented, including female coaches

Having established the commission to address the shortage of English players playing in the Premier League, the reasons behind the FA’s grassroots plans are straightforward: more and better pitches plus more and better coaches should mean more players and, in the long term, better players.

The ambitious proposals for both facilities and coaching will merge at the central hubs, which will put a large focus on youth football, but will also be shared by adult clubs and leagues, schools and community programmes for matches, training and coaching courses that fit in with national coaching strategies.

Built on local authority land and leased to private trusts or “football organisations” – whose members could include the local professional club, County FA or the local authority themselves – the hubs would require councils to invest capital up-front to get them developed, but would then substantially reduce their running costs in the long term.

The first hubs will be built in Sheffield as a pilot trial, while plans are in place for Liverpool and Birmingham. The number of hubs in a city will vary depending on size and demand but, if the plans come to fruition, most cities will have between five and 20.

By targetting 30 cities, the hubs will get to work in the greatest catchment areas and will significantly improve football provision for 30 percent of England’s football-playing population by 2020, in areas suffering most from cuts to public subsidies.

The hubs will be music to the ears of anyone living in a city with a love of football. A group of high quality pitches at a first rate facility, available in all year round in your local area – what’s not to like?

Of course, such an ambitious project doesn’t come cheap. The FA estimates that completing phase one of the project – building the hubs and 3G pitches – across all 30 cities will cost a total £230 million spent over five years.

With not much change out of £50 million a year, the commission’s report admits that “the scale of funding required to deliver this radical new approach is well beyond the means of the FA.”

Whilst the FA will aim to trim some of its own costs to find funds of its own, Dyke is relying on the Premier League and the Government – their Football Foundation funding partners for the last 14 years – to also step up the plate and contribute their share.

“The Premier League and our clubs have a long-held commitment to investing in and supporting community sports facilities, sports participation projects, and schools football,” said chief executive Richard Scudamore.

“We were consulted by the FA Chairman’s England Commission as part of its research into the provision of grassroots facilities and coaching and welcome proposals to enhance both areas.

“Getting this right is imperative to the good health of the game at all levels – players like Raheem Sterling and Calum Chambers have to start off somewhere. The Premier League and our clubs will keep playing our part to help ensure that the provision of top-quality facilities and coaching is delivered where it is needed most and will have greatest impact.”

To what tune the Premier League will “play their part” is unclear, but Dyke is confident that they will back the plans with increased investment. Some will argue that, with annual revenues of over £2.5bn, the Premier League could fund the entire project themselves many times over.

On the other hand, the Premier League redistributes more income than any other league in Europe and can point to contributing over £1.3bn in tax revenue to the Exchequer.

What’s to stop the government using a little bit of that to help support local authorities in the development of hubs and to help tackle the growing obesity epidemic while they are it?

Sports minister Helen Grant said: “I’m keen to see what more we can do to help further improve the nation’s facility stock, putting 3G pitches in places that need them most, and I am continuing discussions with the football authorities.”

We can only hope that these discussions produce a positive outcome and one that sees government place a just and proper value on good quality sports provision within the community.

The Government’s current annual £10m contribution towards grassroots football facilities is nothing short of derisory. The £12m contribution to the FA and Premier League Facilities Fund (FAPLFF) by its two title sponsors is not enough, but for the Government to come in below that amount, at half of the annual £20m contribution originally made by each of the three partners, is shameful.

Since they launched in 2000, the Football Foundation, who run the FAPLFF, have been doing amazing work with the limited amount of money at their disposal, supporting more than £1 billion of grassroots facility projects in that time, usually centered around 3G pitches.

Their stats have consistently shown that good quality football facilities get more people active. New Foundation-funded facilities demonstrated a 9% increase in football participation last season and a 12.4% increase in multi-sport participation. Despite all this, the Foundation’s funding has been slowly eroded over the last 14 years.

Its three funding partners all have a responsibility to the grassroots game but they have became stuck in a triangle of inertia – nobody taking the lead and all seemingly happy to steadily reduce their investment in facilities over this time.

So fair play to the Football Association. They often have their critics but credit where it is due. Whilst the commission’s report has no guarantee of success, the grassroots facilities story was slowly drifting towards an unhappy ending for many clubs, teams and players.

It needed someone to put themselves forward, take a bit of a punt and hope that others followed suit.

Football has woken up belatedly to what many have been telling them for years – that 3G pitches are the way forward and significant investment is needed, as demonstrated by our European neighbours for years.

“When you look at the facilities in Germany and the Netherlands, we think we are behind in this country,” said Dyke, doing his best Monty Python impression of stating the bleedin’ obvious.

Even if the FA Commission’s targets are met and they can increase the number of 3G pitches to over 1,000 by 2020, it will still be just over a quarter of the 3G pitches that Germany has today, and who knows how many more they will have added to their current 3,735 by then.

So we’re playing catch-up, but we knew that. To catch up, we at least need to try something new and fresh and the FA’s plans are certainly that.

Who knows, inner city football hubs could be the breeding grounds of generations of future England stars. At the very least, they should give a large chunk of our youngest footballers a decent pitch to play on every week.

They might take some time to reach beyond our major cities, but improving facilities for almost a third of the country’s footballers in just six years would be a big step in the right direction.

It feels like this is a moment that must be seized for the long term health of the national game. If the FA’s ambitious plans get the backing that they seek, then who knows what good it could do for football in England.

Let’s hope all of the game’s key players want to play ball at the new football hubs.

Dan Pope, Club Website editor

CW Poll: Are the FA’s new plans for facilities & coaching cause for optimism about the future of grassroots football?

Vote now on your club/league website, or on our demo site.

If you want to read every last detail of the FA Chairman’s England Commission second report, please download the full report. (PDF file, 5.2MB)

Alternatively, if you’d prefer just a short summary of the report’s key findings and proposals, please download the executive summary. (PDF file, 800KB)

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Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, specialising in football and with a passion for grassroots sport. Former editor at Club Website.

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12 Comments

  1. Steve Francis on October 31, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    Long overdue most would say, but welcome nonetheless. Would dearly love to see the FA looking at investing in ways to retain existing coach volunteers in the game for longer. Too many experienced grass roots coaches leave the profession after their own children finish youth football and the amount of knowledge lost takes time to replace.

  2. Richard Sears on October 31, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    All in all, it would appear to be a clear step in the right direction.

  3. Derek King on October 31, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    After a miserable winter and having been unable to play at our home ground for nearly three months, we have taken our entire club onto 3G pitches for this season. We also train 36 weeks a year on 3G. It’s early days yet, but our kids love it and our coaches love it and that is before winter takes hold and pitches turn into mudbaths. We see the future of our club on 3G and expect more clubs will follow us once more facilities come available.

    It is, of course, a small part of the picture, but a welcome move.

  4. msb03 on October 31, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Whilst I appreciate the reasoning behind wanting to improve facilities, coaches etc, I feel the FA are ignoring the hundreds of coaches already in grassroots football, many have taken their FA1 but have progressed no further because the FA makes it so difficult and expensive for them to progress to the next level. The majority of coaches at grassroots level are doing it for the love o the game and/or because their children want to play football. They all volunteer their time and do so many other things to keep grassroots clubs running other than coaching. Very few if any want to be full time coaches as a career. The FA needs to support these coaches so they can get the basics right at an early age with all the players. The County FAs need to run centres for those players that have been identified as “better players” and have them up to the age of 16 or so and being coached by “professional” coaches, leaving the club players who just enjoy football and don’t want to be professional footballers at grassroots. Keep all the League Clubs well away from all junior players and let the County FAs pass their players onto League Club academies at the approriate time with the arrangement that any future transfer fees a proportion comes back to the County FA and grassroots football.
    facilities is the biggest issue any grassroots club face. I live in a small coastal town in the west counrty, we have 3 junior football clubs with about 500 players from 6-16 there are also 2 colts teams and 6 adult teams. There is one school astro pitch, the old carpet style not 3g or 4g within a 10 mile radius which is shared between us all and the local hockey teams. My own club can only book 2 hours once a week to share between 6 age groups u11 up so each age group gets a third of a pitch for 1 hour a week. The younger players who would benefit from it don’t even get a look in. The Astro is also booked by teams from the much larger adjoing towns who also only have one or two astro pitches but shared between a larger number of players. The FA needs to start somewhere but i feel they often overlook all the players not in the big cities because they don’t get the same headlines for putting money into a town in the West Country as they do for inner city Sheffield or the like.

  5. Gary Dudman on October 31, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    I disagree we are in crisis already ! Grassroot coaches are given little or no support from the FA and with little funding and facilities we battle on, working 10 to 15 hours a week ! The level of investment needs to be ten times what has been suggested. I’m lucky enough to be part of a well run club with what I thought were good facilities, until we went on tour to Holland and visited a club of similar size who had 6 full sided 3G pitches. So saying we may have this In ten years is similar to me sending my goalie up for a corner when we are 10 nil down and in injury time !! Good .. great but simply not enough to catch up !

  6. matt hoarty on October 31, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    Are these hubs going to be indoors? Younger kids are less bothered about a soggy surface than they are about getting drenched and cold. 3G/4G pitches will be a great help but if they are outdoors, the impact will be much less for the younger age groups, in my view

  7. martin eddy on November 1, 2014 at 1:29 am

    I am involved with an adult club with 2 teams who play on Council facilities. cannot knock them as they get less money each year and it will only get worse. We are based on a complex of 4 pitches that are in bad need of attention and the changing rooms are a disgrace some should be condemned with mushrooms growing in them but its all we have. Astro turf we would just like a level playing field.

  8. Paul Grainger on November 14, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Valid point from Steve Francis, volunteers, good volunteers are a premium and retaining them would be hugely beneficial to club survival in many cases. My club has talked about appointing mentor coaches, to guide and assist new coach volunteers coming into the game and share their knowledge.
    This could be a logical step for the coach who’s son or daughter has moved on to youth football and above.
    Maybe the FA could help assist this?

  9. Mac McLeman on December 12, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    Yes it may be a great idea to have 3g pitches in towns and cities where loads of clubs might benefit. But what happens to the little village clubs? Where will the funding come for their facilities.
    Or is it the FAs idea that there will be no home and away matches in local leagues and teams will have to travel to a central hub to play.
    Sounds the beginning of the end for small village set ups who will never have the funding for 3G.

  10. Crazy Horse on January 15, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    Once again i shall try to highlight how flawed this very, very expensive (over a quarter of a billion pounds in the next 6 years) policy that aims to improve grassroots football is.

    Firstly, with installation costs at upward of 600k to 800k for an artificial pitch. This is not something that should be installed lightly. If an organisation, school, club or council has obtained funding for their artificial pitch they are liable to yearly inspections of the artificial surface. If they fail the inspection, they are prevented from hiring the surface out to external clubs/organisations. The surface has to be repaired before they can hire out again. With multiple artificial surfacing companies out there competing with eachother for this multi million business, research into new, better surfaces is constant. We now are on the verge of 6G and other variants that are supposedly better than the 3/4G. So, will these companies be still repairing existing surfaces with the former 3/4G, of course not. They will soon cease production of the 3/4G materials and will be solely using the newer technology 6G or whatever is the latest breakthrough high tech surface. Will it still cost the same as the 3/4G? Of course not.

    There are loads of schools out there who have overused their 3/4G pitches and will fail their yearly inspections. A lot of these schools have not maintained the pitches as they should have, brushing the fibres after every 4 hours of use. Is it the schools fault? No, they were not given the machine to do the brushing, they probably couldn’t afford to buy it or afford an external contractor to do the work. The result is that the 3/4G pitch degenerates into a glorified and extortionately installed astro turf pitch, with flattened grass fibres.

    The leading artificial pitch installer has recently researched that 4G pitches degenerate after a couple of years and they have ceased installing them, moving on to better newer surfaces.

    4G surfaces have just failed a FIFA skin abrasion test.

    The myths regarding these surfaces are everywhere, possible 24 hour use, guaranteed external hiring income, easily maintained and the biggest myth being that they are a long term product.

    They have an estimated shelf life of 6-10 years. I liken the artificial pitch surface industry to the computing industry. You buy a computer and very quickly, technology moves on and yours is out of date and soon becomes unusable.

    Now, most of these synthetic pitches are being built by councils or organisations who are part funding the building costs. So if an artificial pitch costs 800k, the football foundation will pay 400k, the council/ organisation will pay the other 400k. This is a vast investment on behalf of the councils which means that with their budgets severely reduced other grass pitches and facilities will not receive the funding and maintenance they need to flourish.

    So, the grass pitches will become more neglected than ever and the synthetic pitch technology will continually advance making the former vastly expensive installations out of date. Councils, Football Foundation, National F.A and other private pitch management companies will run out of money and we will be stuck with even poorer grass pitches than what we have now and glorified astro turf pitches.

    Greg Dyke and his committee that contained no one involved in grassroots football have devised a flawed short sighted strategy on the proviso of trying to play catch up with Germany, Spain and Holland. What works for them, will not necessarily work for the U.K. Why can’t we develop a strategy that they will want to follow in 25 years rather than playing multi million pound catch up?

    Simply, it is not how much money that we spend but how prudently we spend it. Greg Dyke, i have a feeling you won’t be around when the money runs out and this strategy is shown up for what it is.

  11. joe mc guinness on June 28, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    are 3g pitches for all who need most or just big cities
    we run 2 junior leagues 1 winter 120 + teams
    1 summer league 60 teams but were told only cities ( liverpool ) will benifit seems very unfair

  12. Richard on December 25, 2015 at 2:25 am

    I have worked many years in the industry and am well aware the state of council pitches. Many clubs are just as bad as their is little or no budget for essential maintenance and volunteer grounds men with little idea of the job at hand and not knowing where to look for advice.

    Before everyone jumps on the 3G bandwagon how many people are aware of the ever growing news stories over 3G in the USA?

    I’d suggest people have a look at the news stories below from over the last few weeks. This now has congress asking the environmental protection agency questions to clarify the safety which they haven’t been able to answer.
    In my opinion waiting until someone can prove there are no health issues is a far better option than risking a generation of kids with major,health issues. just a thought ?

    think the speaker in the last one sums it up perfectly, no real evidence but why take the risk

    http://m.wftv.com/news/news/local/9-investigates-no-proper-studies-show-crumb-rubber/npWD2/

    http://espn.go.com/espnw/news-commentary/article/14206717/how-safe-fields-where-play

    http://q13fox.com/2015/11/10/city-of-edmonds-considers-banning-crumb-rubber-turf/

    http://once.unicornmedia.com/now/master/playlist/98330877-5095-4ac9-9a8c-7cdcd3944274/15a750c8-e7be-4371-b5c3-dd911c0d8bb0/c3b5f64d-e1ee-4664-9d48-741dcf810e9f/content.m3u8?visitguid=989d6a95-1f29-4ee6-9417-76a51853c70e&UMADPARAMcsid=nws_smartphone_vididx&UMADPARAMcaid=news-35016596&UMADPARAMusernum=653086

    http://m.wftv.com/news/news/local/crumb-rubber-work-resume-seminole-county-sports-co/npTPL/

    http://espn.go.com/espnw/video/14068890/new-health-risk-concerns-playing-turf

    http://www.clickorlando.com/news/seminole-county-mega-sports-complex-delayed-over-crumb-rubber

    http://m.ksbw.com/news/concerns-with-crumbrubber-artificial-turf/36664960

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=FjGb73nsSHI

    You find stories like this on news channels from dozens of states of last 3 or 4 years, many states and cities have now stopped any new installations and some even taking them out.

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