The increasingly unequal divide between the elite and grassroots in sport has been underscored once more with the shocking news that the Powerleague Trafford Sportsdome in Manchester is to close in January.
Hammer blow to local grassroots footballers
Known to most locally as the JJB, due to a previous moniker, the facility houses 18 indoor five-a-side pitches, with a further five floodlit pitches outside. Most north-west based grassroots footballers, including a few of us at KUDOS, will have played there at some stage since its opening in 1997. The likes of Phil Jagielka, Robbie Savage and Phil Neville have been spotted watching their kids play there. Paul Pogba has played there with his mates, while former Manchester United prospect Ravel Morrison was a regular. Professional clubs including Rochdale, Oldham and Bury have trained there, with Manchester United, Manchester City and Everton regularly send scouts on a Saturday morning, combing the venue for future stars.
But forget the professionals – its essence, its entire raison d’être, has long been the 300+ football teams that use it on a weekly basis, from junior boys and girls on Saturday mornings to adults during the week, who play in five or seven-a-side leagues until 11pm. Scores of local kids teams train there during the winter months, providing a reliable, warm and hospitable venue in which to play, while the elements invariably howl outside. It has always seemed to be flourishing – you can turn up at any time and the place will be packed. So how on earth has it come to this?
On the doorstep of obscene wealth – how can this happen?
To bring it into even sharper context, it nestles next to the Trafford Centre, just a couple of miles from Old Trafford, the home of the richest football club in the world, Manchester United. A few more miles across the other side of the city is, of course, the uber-rich Manchester City and its sprawling Etihad complex. This is the unpalatable, galling reality of grassroots football on the doorstep of two of the biggest and richest clubs on the planet. The English game is awash with more money than ever, and yet the largest indoor facility in what is arguably the country’s biggest football city is about to close. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that football is eating itself.
It may be easy to point to the hitherto silent United and City and ask what are they going to do about it – but these clubs have a vested interest. The facility is packed with kids running around in their strips, while City and United scouts stalk the pitches with the express intention of taking some of them to their academies. Where are they going to spot them in future?
Football is nothing without its grassroots
Local footballers are fast running out of facilities full stop. In Whalley Range, South Manchester – even closer to Old Trafford – another Powerleague facility is to close, along with a further dozen nationwide. Unfathomably and inexplicably, Powerleague have run into financial difficulties and finds itself on the brink of administration, unable to pay for future leases.
There has been understandable anger locally, and a petition is up and running that is hoped will put pressure on local authorities to act.
Grassroots football in the UK faces an existential crisis. Football without fans and kids playing at grassroots level is, frankly, nothing. The elites could not possibly function without us, so surely it is time for some intervention from the top of the game. Any intervention would not simply be a handout, it would be an investment in their own future.
The final whistle has not quite blown on the Trafford Powerleague, however, with eleventh hour negotiations taking place in an attempt to put together a rescue package. But the fact it has come to this is alarming, and should alarm anyone involved in grassroots football. Please sign and share the petition – it is imperative thousands of footballers are not left in the cold this winter and beyond.
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