Grassroots Football in Decline

CAS trust member Samantha Mason reports on the disappointing Olympics legacy: 

As school children look forward to their holidays, they might struggle to find facilities to play a game of football this summer. Playing football anywhere as long as you have a ball and something to improvise as goalposts is always possible, but organised grassroots football is in serious decline.

Through a combination of local authority funding cuts and price hikes on pitch hire and insurance, many clubs across the country are playing on poorly maintained pitches and having to cope with sub-standard facilities. Some clubs are also being forced to fight for their survival such as Hallan FC at Moorhouse Lane, Bristol and home to two senior and five children’s football teams.

In Birmingham, a hike of 1,400 per cent in pitch fees by Birmingham City Council is putting the future of one of the region’s biggest children’s football clubs - Sporting FC - at risk. Perhaps not household names down south, but Cardiff City defender Ben Turner and former Birmingham City defender Michael Johnson are products of the Central Warwickshire League club.

A twitter posting by SaveGrassRootsFooty @savegrassroots said recently:


And that is the point. Getting into the professional game, Premier League or otherwise, starts from being able to participate in the first place.

Just three years ago, we all enjoyed a summer of celebration watching Olympic and Paralympic sporting heroes. But whilst Super Saturday may have lived up to the billing, the Olympic legacy has far from matched the hype.

Sporting success is not just medals or trophies; it is how those successes inspire youngsters in particular to take up sport. Here the Olympic legacy is widely recognised as failing.

Swimming, the biggest participation sport, has lost 1.4 million since 2006. Football follows behind going from 2.9 to 2.66 million.

According to Public Health England a quarter of 2-10 year olds and a third of 11 to 15 year olds are overweight or obese. Obesity has obvious health risks but also social ones. All good reasons why sport should be accessible to all and not the privilege of those who can afford it.

The Local Government Association (LGA), the voice of 400 local authorities in England and Wales, said in February 2015 that “the current spending on developing the game at lower levels is pitiful compared with the vast profits accrued from TV money”. With 40% council budgets cuts since 2010 for grassroots football this has meant reduced maintenance of local pitches and deterioration of facilities.

In a year that saw staggering riches awarded to the Premier League as part of lucrative TV deals there would appear to be an obvious answer - redistribute Premier League profits to grassroots football.

Across all TV deals – Sky & BT Sport (£5.136bn); BBC Match of the Day (£204m); and pending overseas TV deals – its expected that the Premier League cash haul will exceed £8bn over the three seasons 2016-2019.

Some Premier League money is ploughed back into grassroots through the Football Foundation, a charity funded by the Premier League and government. Recently they received around £15.1 million from the Premier League and FA Facilities Fund for local football facilities programmes around the country. However many argue this is far short of what the Premier League could well afford.

Clearly greater investment is needed throughout the game given the gross level of financial inequality across all leagues. However if we want to sustain our football clubs into the future, we need to start by saving football at the grassroots.

Even players like £49 million Raheem Sterling started in grassroots football - at Alpha and Omega Youth FC - not in an academy.