National Game Strategy - £60m boost but big challenges remain

Facilities and coaching central to FA plans for record £260m grassroots investment from 2015-2019

Keeper punch

Increased investment in facilities and coaching are among the top priorities for the Football Association in their latest grassroots football strategy, which will see £260m spent on the game - an increase of £60m - over the next four years.

The latest refresh of the National Game Strategy, which was announced this month, outlines the FA's plans for boosting participation and developing the grassroots game from 2015 to 2019.

FA spending on grassroots football will increase by £15m a year to £65m per annum, although critics say the funding increase doesn't go far enough.

The slimmed-down third edition of the strategy, which is light on stats and targets compared to both the original 2008 strategy and the 2011 refresh, outlines four key areas for investment: facilities, coaching, participation and developing the football workforce.

FA chief executive Martin Glenn said: “There are challenges facing grassroots football both in terms of facilities and coaching. Today we have set out how we will tackle the challenges head-on.

"We have identified four key areas in which we have committed to investing £260 million over the next four years. Our goals are ambitious, but achievable.”

Kelly Simmons, the FA's director of participation and development, told Club Website: "We’re trying to build on what we’ve done over the last four year strategy and setting our stall out for how we’re going to support, grow and develop grassroots football over the next four years."

Players from Lostock Hall Reds celebrateSports minister Tracey Crouch welcomed the strategy, saying: "The government shares football's ambition to improve facilities, coaching and provide more opportunities for people to work in the game - all these areas are included in the government's sports consultation and I'm keen to hear views."

The majority of the extra £15m annual investment - which the FA will fund through a major restructuring programme that will see 100 staff lose their jobs - will help create new football 'hubs' across 30 cities in England by 2020.

The FA's 'Parklife' project will be supported by £50m of government investment, with the Premier League expected to follow suit, while all three funding partners will continue to fund the Football Foundation to invest in grassroots facilities across the rest of the country - which represents £12m of the FA's £65m annual investment.

Despite the promise of increased investment, many in the grassroots game are concerned that it represents too little, too late. Among them is Kenny Saunders, founder of the Save Grassroots Football campaign, who believes the investment falls way short of what the grassroots game needs.

"It is not good enough," Saunders told BBC Sport. "Football and grassroots football in this country is in massive crisis. Greg Dyke himself has admitted that. There are teams and leagues folding left, right and centre and in four years we will lose many, many more to affordability. Four years is a long time and I am not prepared to wait for another FA strategy to fail.

"You don't build a house from the roof, you build it from the foundations. For years, the FA has looked after the top of the pyramid and the bottom has been forgotten. This money will not touch the sides."

Club Website members also had plenty to say on the announcement, with many of those posting on our Facebook page underwhelmed by the headline figures.

Among them were Rosie Butcher, who said: "Grass roots should mean grass roots help us stop Saturday afternoon mens football dying out completely by subsidising the scandalous pitch fees local councils charge for well below par facilities."

Sean Gargan was also not impressed, saying "Load of rubbish. FA invest in local authority 3G pitches which are hired out at rates beyond grassroots football teams."

Tell us what YOU think! Have a read through the strategy detail below and then give us your thoughts in the comments section. 

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National Game Strategy 2015-19 - the breakdown

The FA wants the new strategy - which you can read in full here - to make an impact in four key areas: boosting participation, developing better players, improving facilities and the football workforce.

Here are a few stats about the current state of the game in each area, along with the views of FA director for participation and development Kelly Simmons, who spoke to Club Website about the new strategy.

Participation - Garforth Villa under-12s

Boosting Participation

* 5,700 more youth teams since 2011 - now over 60,000 (up 10%)
* 2,500 fewer men's 11-a-side teams since 2011 - now less than 28,000 (down 9%)
* 40,000 more girls and women playing football in last two years
* 600 more disability teams since 2011 - now more than 1,700 (up 56%)

The FA says it wants to build on the growth in youth, female and disability football, while addressing the decline in men's 11-a-side football by delivering more varied formats of the game.

Women's and girls' football will get £16m of investment over four years, which the FA hopes will help increase female youth participation by 11% by 2019, building on the England team's success at the Women's World Cup.

“We’ve got to capitalise on this opportunity," said Simmons. "The game’s never had such a high profile and we’ve got to work hard to make sure we translate that interest into more girls football teams and more girls playing.”

Having seen more than 3,500 men's 11-a-side teams leave the game since the strategy launched in 2008, Simmons describes this as "the most challenging area" but says that, despite the need to strengthen in areas such as facilities, that there is no magic formula for a difficult problem.

"If you speak to other countries in UEFA, you see a massive decline going on across Europe, so there is no silver bullet. It’s a big challenge," she said.

We'll look at the men's 11-a-side game in more detail in next month's edition of The Clubhouse.

2019 targets:
* Boost female youth participation by 11%
* Retain and support existing 119,000 affiliated teams
* Increase over 16s playing every week by over 200,000 by offering a variety of formats available

Coaching - Cheddar Under-15s

Developing better players

* 425,000 qualified coaches in England, incl. 35,000 females
* 83,000 coaches with UEFA accreditation (Level Two & above) and 28,000 with an FA Youth Award
* 85% of youth teams have Charter Standard, meaning 1m under-16s have access to qualified coach
* 4.38m five- to 11-year-olds through Tesco Skills progamme - up from 2.67m in 2011 but short of 5.5m target set out in 2011 strategy refresh

The FA says it wants to elevate both the number and quality of coaches at grassroots level, whilst improving the quality of play available to everyone involved in the grassroots game.

To that end, they will invest £4m per year in grassroots coaching over the next four years - including £2m per year from the government - in a bid to raise standards across youth football, with a focus on coach education, development and mentoring, through a network of county coaches.

Simmons admits that the costs of taking FA courses “can be prohibitive”, particularly for courses beyond the standard Level One, but she says that a new bursary programme should help encourage more youth coaches to further their training.

“A good chunk of that money is ring-fenced for bursaries to support those coaches who are working week in, week out, with young players and who want to become more qualified. We want to keep raising standards of coaching in children’s football.”

2019 targets:
* An extra 1,000 top level (FA Youth Award Module 3) grassroots coaches developed at FA Charter Standard clubs
* Create the best competition formats and environment for young players
* Ongoing investment in FA Skills programme for 5-11 years olds

Seagulls perched on a crossbar

Better facilities

* FA to invest £10m a year in new 'Parklife' project, to develop football hubs in 30 cities
* Government to match FA contribution; other partners (incl. Premier League) yet to announce plans
* £12m a year commitment to Football Foundation to continue

"Facilities are a massive challenge for so many reasons," admits Simmons. "The investment required is huge, we know we have a shortage of 3G pitches and that 80 percent of the pitches that we play on come under local authorities, who are under massive pressure."

The FA's new Parklife project, a product of FA Chairman's Greg Dyke's England Commission, will see new football 'hubs' built in 30 cities nationwide by 2020. An initial pilot is underway in Sheffield, with Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester following.

According to Simmons, the £230m project provides a "new funding model", which will see the FA work with national and local partners to increase the number of 3G pitches, whilst "looking to understand exactly what is required from facilities in those cities".

The project is about "investing in our cities", adds Simmons, with the facilities to be owned and operated by local trusts, so that they are "not at the whim of local authority budgets".

The government has matched the FA's £50m commitment, with the Premier League expected to follow suit once their overseas TV deal for 2016-19 is finalised and details of their spending plans are confirmed.

"It’s early days obviously, but so far there’s a real willingness from partners to find the cash to invest and change that model.”

But what about everyone who plays grassroots football in the rest of the country, away from the big cities?

“We’re focusing on the big cities just because we reach more people more quickly,” said Simmons. "But we've still got our Football Foundation funding, which could potentially end up diverting more money outside of the big cities, because Parklife should cater for them.

"We've also just launched the Pitch Improvement Programme, which sends pitch experts into clubs to help them with pitch maintenance. The early feedback from 200 clubs in our pilot has been fantastic.”

2019 targets:
* Invest in 100 new grass pitches and improve 2,000 more via the Pitch Improvement Programme
* Roll out a new sustainable model for grassroots facilities in 30 cities through football hubs owned and operated by local communities
* Ensure half of mini-soccer and youth matches are played on high quality artificial grass pitches

Workforce - Framwellgate Moor Girls

Football workforce

* Half a million volunteers help keep the grassroots game alive
* Referee numbers up from 23,000 to 27,000 since the strategy launched in 2008
* Technology like Club Website and League Website helping to support the grassroots game

The FA plans to support its volunteer workforce by rolling out new technology to run the game more efficiently and create direct lines of communication with players across all grassroots leagues, to make football truly integrated.

Their Football Futures programme will support the next generation of volunteers, while inclusion initiatives will help make football more representative of the communities it serves.

“We have the most incredible army of volunteers in football in this country," says Simmons. “When you hear the hours and dedication that people put in, it is inspiring. Football is completely indebted to them and it’s our job to support them."

One area where Simmons pledges continued support is that of refereeing, which has seen numbers grow from 23,000 to 27,000 during the course of the strategy.

“In many counties we’ve got 90 percent coverage now, which was unthinkable just a few years ago," said Simmons, "so it’s really important that we continue to recruit, develop and support our referees.”

“We need also to increase the diversity of referees, so it’s not just about keeping our current referees, but about having more referees from black and Asian communities and more female referees as well.”

2019 targets:
* Communicate directly with all participants
* Each County FA to have Inclusion Advisory Board with targets to diversify coaching and refereeing

* 90 per cent of youth and adult matches to be officiated by a qualified referee

Now have YOUR say! You've read what the National Game Strategy 2015-19 is all about, now tell us what you think! What elements are you most in favour of? Which bits would you change? Do you think that the targets are realistic and achievable? Have your say in the comments field below.

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This article appeared in The Clubhouse - the monthly newsletter from Club Website. To get the best grassroots news, offers and competitions straight to your inbox every month, sign up today!

Posted in Funding, Uncategorized, Facilities, Participation

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