The grassroots of football needs supporting. Is the minister waking up?

By Tony Attwood

In the past week we have learned that the FA, when running England’s bid for the world cup, laid on a banquet.  The cost of the dinner was around £35,000.   This was part of the £25m that the FA spent on the bid, which ultimately got two votes – one of which was England’s, the other Australia and it seems that the man investigating corruption within the bidding process that led to Russian and Qatar getting the finals, is now investigating England.

Now, I have endlessly complained that the FA’s £25m should have been spent not on all the razamatz of taking a Royal Prince, a David Beckham and a Prime Minister around the place pushing England.  No one wanted England to have the World Cup, that was clear, so there was no point.  That money should have been spent on grassroots football.

Again if you read regularly you might remember that Drew Emma and I travelled around non-league and lower-league grounds last season, going to places as far and wide as Lancing, Corby, Stamford, Cambridge, Northampton…

It is something I would urge everyone to do – go and see football locally, because without those local clubs, we could have no Arsenal.

After this we had the shambles of the cutting of FA money by Sport England, because the FA was not doing enough for grassroots football.   The FA said they couldn’t do more because the weather was so bad – although the period that Sport England examined was before last year’s bad weather set in.   But it was a pointless argument.  The FA spend millions paying interest on the loans for the building of Wembley, and spent that £25m bidding for the world cup.

Now sports minister in  England Helen Grant has warned the FA that it must do more about mass participation in football.  The minister also wants more women in the boardroom tables.

Helen Grant also told the Premier League to do more to support the women’s game and said she would set up an “expert group” to promote the interests of fans.

At the heart of all this is the need for more and more artificial 3G pitches which are available for community use – something that would encourage the creation of teams.  But the FA doesn’t get out of it that easy because the FA has to do more to encourage participation.

Sport England’s report in March this year showed a continuing decline in the number of people playing football.  That was when they chopped £1.6m from the FA’s public funding.   That is about 50,000 banquets or 15% of a world cup bid.

In the last seven years £180m has been invested in grassroots facilities by the Football Foundation – which is funded jointly by the Premier League, FA and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.  £100m is set to be given over the next three years.  This is good, but it is still nothing like enough, because as with so many areas of British society we have let matters slip very badly.  Besides this is peanuts compared to the £5.5bn in TV income that the Premier League gets over three years.

We all need this investment in new pitches.  We need people playing football no matter how bad they are at it, because we can’t have a society in which people continue to become more and more grossly overweight.

Grant wants the FA to be more creative and flexible.  I would add, that it already is in terms of wasting money on WC bids, so it just needs to transfer that ability into something matters.

“I want many more of these pitches up and down the country with good changing rooms,” she said. “They’re wonderful in terms of being able to play in most weathers, they’re great for community sport and they’re great for talent development.”

The problem is the minister, like so many before her, refuses to take on the FA and other antiquated aspects of football.  She talks of the need for an “expert panel” made up of members of fan groups, leagues, governing bodies and the like.  What of course is never included in the list are people like those at Untold who find every excuse to bring the shame of the decline into grassroots football onto this agenda.  We’re here beefing away about the issue regularly, but never with an acknowledgement that ourselves, and many other blogs are trying our best to get the story out there.

The minister is also concerned by the low level of women in England playing sport.  If you have ever been to see and Women’s game involving Arsenal you will know that the numbers there are tiny.  We got a decent number at the Cup Final at Milton Keynes, but it ought to have been more.

The Minister is now in São Paulo to watch the men play in the competition that has sucked up so much of the money that could have gone into grassroots football.  With that £25m we could have started to catch up with what much of Europe has.

I hope she succeeds… but she is going to have to act very strongly to get the FA sorted, and stop all this World Cup bidding nonsense, and blaming non-existent bad weather.

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10 Replies to “The grassroots of football needs supporting. Is the minister waking up?”

  1. Tony,
    I may be naïve but why did “no-one want England to have the World Cup”?

  2. I see the FIFA bribery story has slipped off the news as the WC actually gets underway. If and when England go out the media will revisit all the short and long term reasons why but ignore the issue of the relative lack of coaches (that Tony has highlighted on here before). Now Five Live are discussing the ‘obsession with Rooney’ as if it is a new story having contributed to creating this so-called ‘obsession’.
    It goes something like this:

    pre WC journos camp on Rooney’s space and he complains (Roo rattled)
    pre Italy journos ask ‘should Rooney play and where?’ (questions asked about Roo’s fitness)
    post Italy journos debate that corner and that miss (should Woy drop Roo?)
    pre Uruguay journos debate why there is such an ‘obsession’ with Rooney (what are Roo like?)

  3. And everybody tries to tell the England manager what to do (Rooney needs to be played through the middle).

    Let the manager get on with his job. He’s under enough pressure as it is.

    On the grass roots football front, another angle; have you noticed how school playgrounds are getting smaller and smaller? I’d be surprised if school pupils even get chance for a decent kick about in their lunch breaks.

  4. Thanks for this post Tony and credit to Helen Grant for putting pressure on the FA in her first year as Minister for Sport.

    Can I concur with blacksheep63 post that as soon as we have the right facilities we must address the need for more and better coaches. As Tony has pointed out in the past our number of qualified coaches is poor compared to most other footballing countries.

    Lastly we need more young English footballers coming through preferably without the media hype that adds a silly premium to their value. Ironically we cannot rely sufficiently on the Acadamies as they will follow the Arsenal example of scouring the world for young talent; which given the top clubs need for world class quality cannot really be gainsaid.

    If our grass roots football is to be rescued from its increasingly parlous state then the FA must get real and get far more active and supportive.

  5. All the points you make about grassroots investment are undoubtedly valid.

    Unfortunately, from a pro football point of view if there is no money in it for them then it is a none starter, and it also lacks mileage from a political aspect.

    Investment is badly needed, but have you tried getting money out of the football authorities for a worthwhile local project, the hoops you are required to jump through and end up failing is unbelievable.

  6. Again I must agree with bob mac. A younger friend tried to get desperately needed funding for a football club house and changing rooms in Wood Green North London which is exactly the sort or area where grassroots football needs all the encouragement it can get but ended penniless and totally frustrated.

  7. Nicky, in the two years build up to the voting, England was seen as very much a whinging outcast. I think it came from the “football’s coming home” song, and we were always seen as going on and on about being the country that invented football.

    We are also seen, I believe, as a country that endlessly criticises everyone else, claiming that only we have the right way of doing things.

    England is just seen as old-fashioned and out of touch, but still demanding to be at the top table, by many other countries in Fifa. We don’t have a very good national team, but always believe we do.

  8. The vast difference in football between England and Italy was obvious to me during the World Cup. Just look at Pirlo, De Rossi and Marchisio. Three very different type of players and attributes. Oh, the combinations and compositions of these trios. Made Gerard like a retard. Not to mention the new young Italians. Unfazed and brilliant. The battle between pure talents and overhypes. Serie A will be a force again.

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