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