About a year ago, we wrote about a campaign and petition called Save Grassroots Football. The petition managed to gather around 42,000 signatures, some 58k short of the target needed to trigger a debate in Parliament. Every time the petition falls short of its target within the given timescale, the person running the campaign – the admirably unyielding Kenny Saunders – simply starts again from scratch and ploughs on campaigning on social media, with little success.
As it stands, another petition to save grassroots football is ongoing and it has 29,000 signatures. To put that into context, that’s 12,000 fewer than a petition to get an image of Harry Maguire riding an inflatable unicorn on the front of the next £50 note.
It’s Time The Issue Became a Priority for the FA
Despite the slightly curious lack of success for that particular campaign, the parlous state of grassroots football in the UK is an ongoing concern to the millions of us involved nationwide, and perhaps the recent collapse of the proposed sale of Wembley Stadium will bring greater exposure to the issue.
While everybody connected to grassroots football undoubtedly wants to see far greater, and critically, sustainable investment, that Wembley debate was a bitterly polarising one. On the one hand, there are those who fervently believed ‘we’ should take the cash injection from the sale (the FA claimed £70m would be allocated to each county FA region, funding 27 3G pitches, 330 improved grass pitches and 31 changing pavilions per area) – and on the other side were those who believe we should look for a structural ‘root and branch’ overhaul and implement a proper and sustainable long-term plan.
There’s a nagging sense that the sale route smacked of a short-term solution to a long-term problem. That problem is one of completely warped and unacceptable distribution of the vast wealth that sloshes around modern professional football. What happens when that large-but-finite amount of money runs out? What would the FA sell next?
PUTTING PRESSURE ON THE GAME’S ELITE
Those at football’s top table surely have a duty of care towards this country’s footballing future, from the bottom up. The increasingly influential Gary Neville proposes taking some money (around only 3.5%) out of the colossal Premier League TV deals, alongside placing a levy on agents’ fees, to reinvest in the grassroots game. It is thought his passionate intervention was a key factor in the Wembley sale collapsing.
Furthermore, questions have to be asked about how the latest television deals mean the Premier League can rake in gargantuan profits of around £4.5bn a season, but then see fit to only invest a relatively paltry £24m a season, as part of a wider £100m investment in community facilities and participation projects
The debate ought to ramp up the pressure on the government for its shameful neglect of grassroots sports facilities – and the slashing of local council budgets – that have lead to this lamentable problem of thousands of cancelled games every week and decrepit facilities across the country.
Alongside that, the discussion around the grassroots game should bring serious and informed consideration of other related issues – such as the best time of the year to play games, since regularly inclement weather is wreaking such havoc. On the face of it, summer football for kids would seem to make a great deal of sense, but it would clash with the cricket season and, with plenty of kids participating in both, that brings a whole new set of problems.
Ultimately, all of this surely demonstrates that selling Wembley was not the be-all-and-end-all, not the only choice. But it should now bring the most important debate facing grassroots football, and arguably football full stop, to the top of the FA’s list of priorities.
What do you think?
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