Support for grassroots football "embarrassing" – Waddle

Ex-England star Chris Waddle says grassroots football needs more funding and better facilities

Long grass pitch

Former England international Chris Waddle has labelled the financial support given to grassroots football as “embarrassing”.

The ex-Sheffield Wednesday winger now manages a Sunday League team in the city – Hallam FC – and has seen first hand the problems faced by grassroots clubs across the country and the escalating costs of getting a team together.

“It’s very difficult,” Waddle told BBC Radio Five Live. “The pitches we were looking for, we couldn’t get one. We ended up looking for a 3G pitch because of the weather and found one that was charging over £160 a game.

“Junior football is suffering badly. There are new teams folding every week. The majority of teams are finding it very, very hard to run. A Sunday morning team like us, if you’re starting off, you’re talking about £2,500 to £3,000 a season and that’s with players paying subs.

“It’s ridiculous. With the amount of money flying around in the game today, it is absolutely embarrassing that a country like England cannot keeping funding football at grassroots level.

“I just want to know, where does all the money go?”

The Football Association points to £260m of investment in the grassroots game over the next four years, including the creation of new football “hubs” in 30 English cities. The first of these – a £6.8m pilot project in Sheffield, one of three hubs in the city – is due to open this summer, but BBC and ESPN pundit Waddle thinks more should be done to get existing facilities up to scratch.

Chris “They are opening a centre in Sheffield, which is not far from where I am, but you’re talking about so many people who want to play football.

“If you’ve got so many football teams, from six onwards, who want to play [at the new hub], then they’ll have to join the queue.

“Instead of investing £7m on just one thing, where it looks great for the FA, go and do the park pitches up.

“Park pitches are shutting down. They cannot look after themselves if nobody cuts the grass and nobody looks after them.

“There are so many football pitches in England – use them! Get quality into them. Get people to play and invest money in them. We don’t!”

There are around 33,000 grass football pitches in England. 83% of which are publicly-owned – many of which have fallen into an increasing state of disrepair as local authority budgets are squeezed and councils are forced to cut pitch maintenance services.

Pete Ackerley, head of participation at the FA, joined the debate on Five Live Daily and argued this case, as he asked people to consider what needs doing with some perspective about the scale of the task in hand.

“I totally get where Chris is coming from and many others,” said Ackerley. “We’re part of that as well and we’re doing everything we can. We’ve announced an £8m investment in grass pitch upgrades, which will take some time to do and will upgrade around 2,000 pitches, which gives an idea of the perspective we have to put on this.

“I’d love everyone to be able to play on a pitch like Wembley or a great 3G pitch, and we’re investing £36m over the next three years into those pitches.

3G artificial pitch

“We have to put some perspective on this. We’ve had another 5,000 new teams in the last two years and we’re trying our absolute utmost to support them, with help from Sport England and the Premier League, to get as many of these pitches as we possibly can.”

The radio programme also paid a visit to Fletcher Moss Rangers in Manchester, who have been in the news recently after former protégé Marcus Rashford made a huge impact after breaking into the Manchester United first team.

Dave Horrocks, coach at Fletcher Moss, who also helped bring through England international Danny Wellbeck, said their current changing room building “serves a purpose, but it’s not fit for purpose” and called on more to be done to support clubs at grassroots level, but not just those whose players go on to play for professional clubs.

“There should be more support for [grassroots] clubs full stop,” said Horrocks. “If you improve the standard of grassroots facilities, you will improve the standard of player that comes out of those grassroots facilities.”

You can listen again to the full grassroots football debate on the Five Live website and you can follow Chris Waddle on Twitter at @chriswaddle93.

Chris Waddle on Twitter - grassroots facilities

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Dan Pope
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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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22 Comments

  1. richard billinghams on March 23, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    At last, people starting to take notice of costs and lack of descent pitches or facilities to play our national game at grassroots.
    Everyone keeps blaming costs. Too many greedy clubs or councils looking to make an easy profit more like.
    Or struggling clubs spending funds on on other things other than facilities.
    Go over to Europe and take a look at their facilities and pitches. They don’t have any problems recreating Wembley pitches. Or financing local teams and clubs.

  2. Kevin Stears on March 23, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Totally agree with Chris Waddle. I think the FA do not really know what grass roots football is
    I have been involved with grass roots football for over 25 years, my club has been going since 1992. We have 13 junior teams and 2 adult teams. We have to use a mix of council pitches and schools. None have any facilities not even a toilet. For school pitches we have to supply goals and mark the pitches ourself. We got thrown of one school because they wanted to build a 3G so we lost four pitches for the the sake of one
    We have no choice our leagues (we play in four different leagues) who stipulate our KO times
    Kids games cost us around £60 a game plus £30 for a ref, adult games cost £90 a game plus the ref. A lot of kids can’t afford subs so we have to susidise about 20% of the players.
    Because they are public council pitches we pay whilst anyone else uses them for free.
    The FA should realise that grass roots football is not about the elite they are catered for very nicely. It’s about the thousands of bouts and girls who may never sent thee world on fire but just want to play football with their friends

  3. Andy on March 23, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Investment in to grass roots football is an embarrassing joke! I run an under 14’s team, the only involvement we get from the FA is them dictating that as coaches we must have to be FA Level 1 qualified as they want kids to be taught the FA way of football coaching. Surprise surprise, the FA charge £150 for their course. As a volunteer, I need to pay this before I can even start, never mind all the other financial outgoings I have to pay. Parents are unwilling to take on this commitment and costs, no wonder teams are folding, especially at Under 13 / 15 age group. . These coaching courses should be FREE of charge to anyone who wants to attend. The FA are killing our kids football! Get me in front of the FA and I will tell them how to spend this grass roots money to help save the future of kids football in this country!

  4. Jim ORourke on March 23, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    Sounds as if the FA would rather try to reinvent the wheel by setting up new football hubs one of which is a £6.8m pilot project in Sheffield, one of three hubs in the city. However this does nothing for amateur football clubs who are all desperately struggling without proper or no facilities and pitch hire costing a fortune.

    I would dispute that F.A. figure of 83% of pitches being publicly owned. Every school becoming an “academy”, and the government is making all school into academies, that means the school pitches are passed into private ownership. And a great many schools are run by Private Finance Initiative means you have to hire the pitches of the PFI contractor, who will charge amateur clubs a fortune , so again “not in public ownership”. There’s no getting away from it , FA must support amateur clubs or soon there will be no amateur football clubs. Support them now.

  5. LCSYFL Gen Sec on March 23, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    I agree with Kevin Stears
    The FA need to understand what Grass Roots is or what they see as or mean by Grass Roots!
    So the lowest level can get on with providing football for all. All they need is good facilities at a reasonable cost; not a lot to ask

  6. Brian Radford on March 23, 2016 at 7:11 pm

    I have been a coach & manager of girls football teams for over 20 years and I can confirm what another coach has mentioned on here, At one time I used to be able to start teams up & pass them on to a parent who was keen to get involved but no longer, the amount of work they have to do before they can even begin to take charge of a team is just putting them off.

  7. David Bird on March 23, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    I am chairman/dogsbody of a club in Essex called Academy Soccer which was started by my son 4yrs ago. He has worked his socks off and still does, 5 nights a week and weekends in building the 13 teams, from under 7 to vets. Because of poor council pitches we have fought to obtain our own rented field, planning permission etc. and apart from one very small council grant and possibly a slightly larger one from Football Foundation, we constantly find that for some reason we do not fit “the criteria” for funding in trying to establish a ground with amenities fit for boys, girls and older players that just want to enjoy a game of football. The game “above” is awash with money which only reaches the local FA and seems to not reach the very clubs that are trying to teach and further the game, start at the bottom!

  8. dean bradley on March 23, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    i helped my local junior football club as a manager for 4 years and the state of the local council owned pitches were beyond playable alot of the time .the pitches were costing around 15 to 30 pound depending on age range for each home game that was played .we would end up payaing thousands of pounds to the local council each year but the pitches had not had any work done on them in the summer to replace holes from the prevous season.the cost of pitches would go up as per the councikl and then when questioned why we had to pay more we were told because the funding had been cut.so i agree with chris waddle and everyone else were has and does the money for grassroots go.i now help with an adult team on a sunday and we have exactly the same problem with costs and have seen at least 5/6 teams pull out of the leagues this season .

  9. Peter Busuttil on March 23, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    Local FA are not looking after anyone in grassroots football except themselfs like to take money off teams but when it comes to helping players they turn their back my son who played sat football broke his leg badly when we phone the insurance up which the FA recommend we found out the insurance we pay is only cover for players if they lose a leg etc or lose their sight so in reality we giving more money to FA it’s a joke my lads 23 loved his football and now can’t play and what does the FA do RIP clubs and players off just for the sake off money

  10. Mike Turner on March 23, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    I’ve been saying all of this for years. The situation in Wales is, if anything, worse. Plenty of FAW officials to strut about in blazers able to stay in luxury hotels on jollies, precious little cash at the bottom end though. I attended a lecture last night by a world renowned sports surface expert. He was adamant that 3G pitches are NOT the answer. Taking refurbishment/replacement costs into account, he calculates that the real cost of maintaining a 3G pitch is £15,000 a year. The real answer? A well organised programme of drainage and seeding of existing pitches. The cost of this is around £20,000 with minimal maintenance. That’s where the FA should be investing their money. Not spectacular, not headline catching, but effective and for the long term good of the game. The much hyped Sheffield scheme alone would pay for the refurbishment of over 300 existing pitches, probably more than enough for everybody in the city to enjoy a game – and, I suspect, money to spare.

  11. chris simpson on March 24, 2016 at 6:52 am

    Darlington Sunday invitation league I have recently taken over as chairman and it is a struggle with funding I have run my own team for five seasons in this league and never had any help with kits nets or equipment it’s been difficult to get 3g pitches in our area the lads have to pay £7-50 with the weather being bad we are so far behind and having to try and play during the week and obv with light nights coming it can be possible on grass pitches which some are free but to book schools etc it’s £37-50 obv plus ref can be £28 most clubs get £4 subs which doesn’t cover costs or gets kit cleaned which that’s usually done by the gaffa me it’s a thankless task to bring on future talent and keep grassroots football going love the game as does ex ref Alan rusk who is in his 70s now and helps me every game rain or shine we have asked local teams for help best we got was signed football from the Boro we lost three at the weekend ha rant over be good to get some help but in the meantime it’s down to individuals who just love the sport thanks to all the lads and managers in our league because we couldn’t keep going without you guys and to mark waldock referee who gives his time up to sort officials and fixtures on the FA site

  12. Bill birch on March 24, 2016 at 11:25 am

    Been involved over 40years in grassroots. Have said for a longtime the wrong people are running football. Just had another team pack up this week. Our. Club alone pays in the region of £100 every home game for. Officials Then kit wash etc. And these people think. 3G pitches. Is the answer to the problems. No. Get the grass pitches sorted. We having 4hubs built in Liverpool. And 90% of players hate playing on them. Also there is a link to cancer caused by the rubber pellets. 25000 on. Each 3G pitch Bill birch. Chairman south Liverpool fc

  13. john palmer on March 24, 2016 at 11:42 am

    most of us local players we do not want hubs of excellence we just want sunday morning get together a decent grass pitch a ref and a good game of footie we don`t need coaches with badges cause we know were all average (apart from me cause i could have had a trial with Portsmouth if they had seen me) please repair our pitches nets and perhaps have some corner post with flags on them don`t ask for much

  14. Vernon Leese on March 24, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    The problem being faced at grassroots football is exactly the same as being faced by grassroots rugby. Monies are being spent on the elite, their facilities and players whereas the ordinary players who enjoy a game of competitive football or rugby are suffering as money is not being distributed from FA or RFU to where the majority of players are playing. We have grass fields and desperately need new drainage to allow the demands to be met.

  15. Lisa Samiotis on March 24, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Our club has 21 teams and 18 in juniors approx 220 kids and we have nothing! No pitches, no facilities, no buildings. Nothing.
    No support at all…….get’s quite tiring actually, constantly banging heads against brick walls.

  16. John Belton on March 24, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    Here in Loughborough we have one of the finest sports universities in the world with facilities to match.
    But the facilities available to the community of Loughborough are “the worst in the county of Leicestershire, some of the worst in the country and some are illegal” and 75% of the football clubs have gone out of business.
    You can blame the FA who tend to follow whatever happens to be politically fashionable but I blame the local council also who simple price out clubs with ridiculously high pitch fees. To break even a club has to charge around £10 a game; coupled with all other expenses it is cheaper to go down the road to Leicester (quite entertaining at the moment) and simple become terrace fodder.
    Football is no longer the original “sport for all” it is now the sport for those who can afford it.
    There is a lot of talk about supporting grass roots football (youth and junior) but it is foundation football (open age football) that is falling apart and needs serious financial help.

  17. Rob on March 26, 2016 at 10:44 am

    It good to see this being brung up at last. Been manager/chairman of victoria cross for 6 years and the league is now embarassing. Zero help with funding,pitches and affliation costs are a joke (we are a memebr of bournemouth f.a) the coucil has just taken over and hiked the prices up again this year, i know from someone on the council that they dont want sunday football and this is a tactic. our premiership now has only 5 teams and 3 includeing us are folding due to expenses. Team should get together fuk the f.a/coucil off and just play…wont happen but be good to see, they only care about making money (fines aswell r a joke)

  18. Phil Button on March 28, 2016 at 9:35 am

    I live opposite a site where Central Bedfordshire Council are developing new pitches. The contractors have laid a heavy clay topsoil which doesn’t drain at all: puddles a foot deep persisted all through the winter, and last week someone came and just filled them in with soil. They haven’t seeded it yet but you don’t need to be a genius to imagine how patchy the surface will end up looking.

    It’s as if there’s a belief that any sort of soil and drainage will be ok – or, perhaps, that it will look ok for a while and then, when it’s realised that the pitch is unusable, it will be someone else’s problem.

    When you talk about grass roots, it really is the roots of the grass that provide the surface, and because of this not being understood money seems to be being spent on facilities (much hailed by the leader of Central Beds Council recently in the local press) but not as well as it could be.

  19. […] has been done to improve football training at a grassroots level. Former football greats like Chris Waddle are complaining out loud, saying that if some of the money allocated to premium football facilities was diverted to […]

  20. msb03 on March 28, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    At last someone beginning to talk some sense. Invest in what we have. Let the club’s take over the running of the pitches from the council. They would do a much better job and cheaper than the cost of renting them from the council’s. The FA seem to forget that all clubs and players are not in City or large urban areas. I live in a small coastal town population mid 20,000 s we have 3 junior clubs 6-16 years with just short of 600 players. Two clubs have access to their own/council pitches my own club rents in the surrounding villages. There is an old carpet Astro at the local school. We get by but on most of the pitches there is little or no maintenance and the adults teams always get first call on their availability. Spending money to get the existing pitches up to good standard would be about 30% of the cost of the most basic 3g and would be available to all the existing clubs rather than limited access to a 3g pitch

  21. Mark Fiddes on December 13, 2016 at 10:37 am

    I have been running a youth team now for six years, and totally agree with these comments. Grass roots football is an absolute joke. You have huge amounts of money at the top of the game, with nothing filtering down to the kids playing on the local field every Sunday.

    The local leagues are authoritarian, and more interested in keeping their funds and fining clubs. Still very much old school tie mentality and creating a them and us situation, when in fact we are all volunteers. Here is a scenario for you. We have match sheets, and if you forget to cross out whether it was home or away, even though you have the teams entered in the home or away box below, and the fact the league sets the fixtures, you are fined £15. To put this in perspective, that is £15 in our club, where our lads have gone on sponsored walks, bike rides and even climbed Snowdon. Hard earned fees for a jobsworth attitude, and our league having £50K in the bank since I have been a coach.

    The local FA is just as bad. Spend little time supporting local football, apart from maintaining the rule book, and when you question the support it is down to lack of funds.

    Now lets look at the performance of our England team, or the amount of British coaches coming through at the top level. You can see why this isn’t working at the top level by spending some time in the real world where young players are developed.

    The reality of youth football now in our town is shrinking leagues, less teams, disgruntled coaches, fed up committees – all because we are truly isolated by the league, the FA and let’s face it, the authorities in the game generally.

    Now make a comparison to Germany, superb facilities, great support from authorities, money being pumped into local facilities, instead of extortionate prices for private company training pitches.

    The demise of our beloved game has been going on for years, and the authorities play lip service, the premier league only want to line their own pockets, and our national team unlike the Germans, keeps underperforming.

    Hello, wake up, something’s not right!

  22. Mark Fiddes on December 13, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Another quick comment…

    If Football in the UK is a business, why is all the investment at the top level. Any business cannot function unless there is investment from bottom up. So ironically, the outcome is an England team, which you can only describe as liquidation! The receivers came in years ago!!

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