Liverpool is set to receive its biggest ever grassroots football investment, after the green light was given to a £17 million project to help transform facilities in the city.
The project was signed off on Friday when Liverpool City Council approved plans for four new all-weather sports hubs to be built in the city as part of the FA's Parklife programme.
The £17.3m bill will be covered by £12.9m of external funding - including £11.9 million from the Football Foundation on behalf of the FA, government and Premier League - whilst the council will pay £4.4m towards the scheme.
Four new football hubs - located in Allerton, Woolton and Otterspool in the south of the city and Fazackerley in the north - will each contain three floodlit 3G pitches, along with grass pitches and extensive parking facilities, whilst the latter two sites will also include health and fitness facilities.
Work on the hubs is set to begin this June with the new sites scheduled to open in April 2018 - news welcomed by the Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson:
“This is a huge investment in grassroots football and will be pivotal in improving the facilities in Liverpool. Far too often during the winter, matches have to be called off because the grass is waterlogged or frozen, causing disappointment for thousands of people.
“Unlike many other councils, we have chosen to keep the use of pitches free. But we have far less money than we used to and we can’t invest as much as we would like to improve the pitches and associated facilities. That is why we have worked together with our partners to come up with an innovative new approach that will deliver major investment in great new facilities and get more people involved in the game.”
Football is Liverpool's major participation sport with over 1,200 teams - more than 60 percent of which are junior/youth teams - and an estimated half a million people playing the game every year.
The new project follows discussions in 2015 between Mayor Anderson and FA officials about a new approach to football in Liverpool, which was designed to meet the changing needs of participants and drive up the standard of facilities, whilst reducing the reliance on council subsidies by ensuring any income from the new sites is reinvested back into football locally.
A new development programme will also ensure the new facilities are accessible to all sections of the community, as part of a drive to ensure both football development and social outcomes are delivered.
Dave Pugh, chief executive of the Liverpool County FA, said:
“We have been working hard with the Liverpool Grassroots Steering Group, Liverpool City Council and the FA to develop this project, which will not only see a huge investment in the city for grassroots football, but will also provide opportunities to support grassroots football leagues, both junior and adult, by providing high-quality facilities for them to access for match days, and clubs for training during the week.
“The new facilities will also improve the access and quality of our coach education programmes, improve skill development of young players, allow more people to access football opportunities and ultimately change the way we support and deliver football in the city for the better."
Parklife is the FA's flagship flagship project, which aims to introduce multi-pitch football hubs to 30 English cities by 2020.
Plans for the project were first announced in October 2014 as part of then-chairman Greg Dyke's England Commission, which sought to address the shortage of English players playing in the Premier League.
The project officially launched in October 2016 with the opening of the first Parklife hub in Sheffield.