By Tony Attwood
On 27 March 2014 Sport England announced that it was cutting its funding of the FA’s grassroots football programme for failing the deliver results and value for the public money it receives. It was also told to improve its performance if it did not want further cuts. The money that Sport England saved was then given directly to other bodies that were investing in grassroots football.
Sport England took the funding away from the Football Association because the number of people playing football regularly – once a week, every week – had dropped sharply while what they were supposed to be pushing the number up. The report at the time said that, “The FA has improved its insight into why people play football, but they now need to apply it, especially outside the traditional game, for example in the five a side market. Grassroots football remains one of our biggest participation sports, so we are looking to the FA to work on a bigger scale and at a faster pace.”
Sport England reinvested the funding it had cut from the bloated FA budget, to create a grassroots ‘City of Football’ – working in one place to create a whole range of new opportunities to encourage more people to play football regularly and sharing the insight with the FA to help it grow the game. Bids were invited from interested cities in April 2014.
On 16 September 2014 Nottingham was named as as Sport England’s City of Football requiring it to deliver inventive ideas, wide reaching partnerships and showing a clear vision. You can see what they have been doing via the link.
And if you are interested that link is almost certainly where you will have to go because you won’t read much about the project in the newspapers, nor about the FA’s loss of funding through its own abject failure to do what it should have done with the money it was given – which was enhance the number of people playing football.
Instead all you get in the press is the bleating of the FA and wild and woolly ideas which are totally unfunded (they are announced, there is a call for sponsors, and then silence). In September 2014 Club England managing director Adrian Bevington said that the very best figure that could be put in the FAs finances was that it was still nine years away from being debt free – largely because of the vast funds spent on Wembley. The implication was that all the money they could lay their hands on was going into funding the debt.
Knowing that it has the press securely following it like a bunch of obedient poodles, the FA has subsequently carefully manipulated the news to ensure that the embarrassing loss of Sport England funding is never mentioned and instead the story is switched to blaming the Premier League for not doing enough to support grass roots football.
Of course the PL clubs are an easy target, especially as the last round of figures showed that 19 out of the 20 clubs made a profit. So the argument is put forwards: surely the profitable clubs can give some of their wealth to grassroots projects. “Just give them the money” seems to be the cry, echoing the pleas of Bob Geldorf a decade ago.
Arsenal Soccer Schools for example started in 1985 and the projects have continued to grow and in recent years the Premier League has indeed established a wide array of schemes to show that it is doing its bit, often basing them in inner‑city estates.
Premier League 4 Sport uses a combination of Premier League and Sport England cash to bring a whole variety of sports to schoolchildren, using the power and image of top-flight football clubs as a hook. Kicks uses football club community schemes to focus on the most disadvantaged areas of English society and has had much success.
The Premier League also put over £10m into a schools programme to fund more active PE lessons with qualified community coaches going into school and helping establish better sport lessons. It also paid £17m towards the fund for building artificial pitches in the areas where they need it most.
And all the while the FA scrabble about doing nothing other than managing to have the one grant it was given removed because it failed to spend it properly while complaining it is everyone else’s fault, but never their own.
So why do the press keep on complaining about a lack of Premier League spending on the community (which is after all not what the PL was set up to do) and lay off highlighting the inactivity of the FA (whose job it is to promote grassroots football?
This week there was the first tiny chink of light in the darkness created by the media – with the Guardian publishing an article Premier League alone cannot solve problems in grassroots football with the sub-heading
The FA, government, and clubs should join forces on the back of the top-flight brand to nurture and improve facilities in schools and the community
It contains this telling commentary…
“…the fraying patchwork of community facilities and coaching schemes needs urgent attention. The Premier League would argue that is what the Football Association is for. The governing body, however, is relatively impoverished and years of infighting and petty warfare have left it enfeebled. The chairman, Greg Dyke, and the new chief executive, Martin Glenn, are embarked on a cost‑cutting plan to save money to pour into a scheme for 3G “hubs” across the country. The Premier League could bridge the funding gap in an instant.”
And once again as one reads through an interesting article the question is not answered – why should the clubs that have independently managed to make money, and which pay vast amounts of money in tax to the state, bail out the work of the incompetent and inept FA, while leaving it there to go off and spend another £30m on a pointless and stupid bid to house the World Cup in England – which, god help us, should they ever win it, would plunge the FA and country massively into debt once more while quite possibly gifting another stadium to a club that can’t build its own. It’s been done at Man City, and at WHU, why not keep the ball rolling?
The Guardian reports that the sports minister, Tracey Crouch, has said she is appalled by the amount the “very wealthy” Premier League gives to the grassroots and will force them to contribute much more. But she has remained utterly, totally and completely silent on what she will do about the culprit in this affair.
And once again she is backed up by the media who are refusing to examine the true story. One again we are playing the very English game of ignoring the inept, stupid wastrels and instead seeking to penalise the successful.
The Premier League distributes almost 20% of its overall income to areas outside the Premier League. The clubs additionally give 20% of their profits to the state in corporation tax – currently around £37,000,000 a year. Additionally the clubs collect another £577,000,000 in VAT from fans and gives that to the government (and are fined if they get any of their sums wrong or don’t pay up on time). Another £15,000,000 is voluntarily given to grassroots funding.
And still the government want to squeeze more and more and more out of the clubs, rather than face the task of simply sorting out the idiotic FA.
What we need is for the media to wake up to the fact that for years they have been hoodwinked by the FA, and by governments seeking sound bites rather than proper solutions. It has taken the Premier League years and years to become profitable, and so now the state and the pathetic FA who have done absolutely nothing for grassroots sport, want more of its money.
What other business activity is there in which the more profitable you are the more the state wants the businesses to pay for what the state’s own funded institution (in this case the FA) should be doing but is seemingly congenitally unable to do?