After England's under 21's disaster this summer do the FA need to overhaul grassroots football?
This year’s UEFA European Under 21’s Championship was hosted in Israel between 5-18th June. Qualification for the tournament started in 2011 with 52 teams, the English team was placed in group 8 alongside Norway, Belgium, Azerbaijan and Iceland, to their credit they came top of their group winning seven out of eight games, their two-leg playoff match was against Serbia they won both ties 1-0 giving them a 2-0 lead on aggregate and securing them a pace in the final tournament with host team Israel as well as Germany, Italy, Holland, Norway, Russia and Spain. There were high hopes for under 21’s in their England football kits however, the results on the pitch didn’t materialise, they were drawn in group A along with Italy, Norway and Israel, they played and lost three matches only managing to score once from the penalty spot against Norway. Following this disastrous showing manager Stuart Pearce, whose contract was subsequently not renewed, blamed the lack of commitment from the players who appeared to lack the motivation to get out there, play well, score goals and ultimately win. He also blamed the lack of support from clubs that are reluctant to release young players from their first team squads for national call-ups.
Grassroots football is the young amateur players and teams across the country playing in Saturday or Sunday leagues using mainly local authority maintained pitches and facilities. Over recent years there has been much debate about the lack of funding available for such facilities that are often substandard and inadequate. The Football Foundation is the UKs largest sports charity and feeds around £30m each year into grassroots football, money also comes from the Football Association (FA), and the Premier League however, many people argue there is not enough money to provide the high quality facilities required for finding and training young and upcoming talent that should eventually feed into club level and the national squad. In 2008 the FA unveiled the National Game Strategy, this was updated in 2011 pledging to introduce a further £200m into grassroots football between 2011-15.
Despite the thoughts and initiatives surrounding grassroots football and the amount of money spent over the last few years, in a survey earlier this year 84% of respondents involved at grassroots level cited “poor facilities” as their main priority for improvement. In response to this the Football Foundation have pledged £50m a year up until 2015 for improving large football sites mostly in economically deprived areas. Rob Flemming who is the chairman of Bournville Warriors FC based in Birmingham has highlighted the issued suffered by his teams, according to him matches are frequently cancelled due to inadequate pitch drainage and water logging. Add to this that when matches do go ahead, over the course of a Saturday over 150 children and their parents play and spectate, yet there are no working toilets, the lack of basic adequate facilities is a contributing factor making recruiting players and volunteers to help a difficult task. This is not an isolated situation it is replicated across the country.
Over the next three years it is aimed that over 3,00 pitches will be improved and 150 artificial pitches will be built however, those involved at grassroots level feel this is not enough. A petition has been set up aiming to lobby the government to force the Premier League to give more money to support grassroots football, they currently give around 1% of their TV revenue, the petition calls for this to be increased to 7.5%, the Premier Leagues broadcasting rights are collectively worth around £5bn this is a staggering amount of money of which 7.5% would make an immense difference to grassroots football. The future under 21’s and senior squad players to wear England football kits could be being put off getting involved in the sport due to appalling local facilities, the FA and Premier League need to recognise this and implement a sustainable structure whereby money and expertise is directed into the lowest levels of the sport, encouraging and shaping young, future talent that is vital if the England national team are going to challenge other sides like Spain or Brazil in winning national tournaments, such as the World Cup or European Championships.
Are you involved in grassroots football? What do you think of the facilities for your local teams?
What do you think of the proposal that 7.5% of Premier League TV revenue should be given over to improving grassroots football?
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After England’s under 21’s disaster this summer do the FA need to overhaul grassroots football? was originally published on Football Shirt & Soccer News