The Football Association will be working closely with local authorities across England on a plan for the future provision of grassroots football facilities.
That was the message from FA General Secretary Alex Horne in response to a Sky Sports News survey that confirmed investment in facilities as the biggest issue facing grassroots football.
The poll of over 2,500 people found that 84 percent felt the FA was not doing enough to preserve grassroots football, while 66 percent thought their local council was not doing enough to maintain pitches and facilities.
“The number one issue of people we speak to is the quality and availability of facilities so Sky’s survey results are consistent with FA research,” Horne told Sky Sports News.
“We’re working really closely with 17 local authorities and trying to work out what their pressure points are.
“We know their sporting spend is discretionary and they’re under pressure to cut their budgets so they’re thinking about ways in which they can save money because it’s costing them money to keep grassroots pitches in good condition week in, week out.”
Over 80 per cent of grassroots football matches are played on pitches owned and managed by local authorities, many of whom have been forced to slash their budgets as a result of recent government cuts, with a resulting rise in pitch hire costs for many clubs as a result.
Spending on sports provision is not mandatory for local authorities in the same way as it is for healthcare or education, which makes it an obvious target in times of austerity.
The strengthening of ties between FA and local government includes plans for a new pilot project involving three local authorities that aims to address their individual needs.
“We are talking to clubs and schools and actually asking them ‘how many pitches do you need and where do you need them’?” explained Horne.
“We’ll try and come up with a solution which is different to what we’ve got now and will be different for every local authority. We believe that there’s a solution for every local authority that sees pitches in new ownership, and a new mix of pitches across artificial and grass.
“That way we can deliver the right facilities across the country for people to keep playing football. That’s clearly going to take a lot of time but also goodwill and we’re getting that goodwill.”
No further details of the plans are currently available, but any long term facilities strategy is bound to include the use of artificial pitches, which can provide round-the-clock football for the local community.
“We know of course that grassroots pitches only really get you four or five hours of football a week and increasingly we’re seeing people being comfortable both training and playing on artificial 3G and 4G surfaces,” said Horne”
“We know we’ve only got 600 decent quality artificial pitches in the country and we’re building on that with the Football Foundation, who are building 24 pitches per year, and we think there’s room for a big increase in number of artificial pitches there.”
The big question is where the money to fund this big increase in new pitches will come from and, as yet, the answers are unclear.
The Football Foundation has been responsible for over £1bn of investment in grassroots facilities since it launched in 2000, but an initial funding pot of £20m per year from each of its three partners – the FA, Premier League and Government – is now down to a combined £34m per year.
FA Chairman Greg Dyke’s commission, seeking to increase the number of English players playing top-flight football, is due to report back in the coming months.
A thorough and wide-ranging review is expected, with people at all levels of the game from invited to submit evidence, which gives hope to the grassroots community that the issue of facilities provision – fundamental to the development of the next generation of players – will be addressed.
Image courtesy of TheFA.com