Sunday, 15 March 2015

Grassroots Football In Crisis

Football in England has never had it so good. The money being thrown at the sport from TV rights holders and advertisers is beyond the realms of any football club chairman's imagination from as little as even 10 years ago. Rather than seeing the bubble burst, which many doomsday merchants predicted, the money flowing into the game continues to rise at an extraordinary rate.

All of this extra money flowing into the game should signal good news for every level of the game throughout the country. However, this does not seem to be the case. Grassroots football is struggling to survive and is facing bigger challenges to it's well-being than it has done in living memory. How can this be the case when the game has never been so well off financially?

The reasons that grassroots football is struggling are, in some ways, numerous and complex. The rise of the Premier League, and the dominance of media attention for clubs at the top of the game, has had negative consequences for local teams not at the pinnacle of the English game - consequences more dire the further down the football pyramid you look - as potential fans of local teams give their love, attention and money to Premier League teams from far away. As more fans drift away from local football to follow Premier League giants then so the media responds by giving even more attention to the Premier League and exacerbating the problem even further. 

The inequality of a footballing environment, where the attention and money is focused on the top of the game, resulted in grassroots football becoming more and more reliant on the goodwill and support of local councils to promote local sport and continue to provide suitable pitches and facilities on which to play. The drastic government cuts to council budgets have seen many councils begin to sacrifice this support for young people's health and well-being through sport, in favour of other essential services.

Grassroots football is the lifeblood of our game and it needs help. The money exists within the game to help but it is not reaching the places it is needed most.

In response to this problem, David Crausby MP set up an e-petition to call on the government to put in place measures to ensure that some of the money flooding into the top end of football was passed on to support grassroots football - and so ensure the long term survival of the game.

The petition states:

We call on the Government to ensure that grass roots football receives financial support from the Premier League.

Every child should have the chance to take part in organised sport, but poor quality pitches and ever increasing fees are driving people out of grass roots football.

Government cuts mean that many Local Authorities are no longer able to fund grass roots football; we need a bigger investment from the professional game. The Premier League is the focus of huge amounts of money in English Football, it is right for them to support football from the ground up to ensure its future.

Global broadcasting rights give the Premier League as much as £5bn over three seasons. The Government must work with the FA and Premier League to ensure that 7.5% of broadcasting rights is committed to grass roots football.

Visit any football forum and you will read ordinary football fans complaining about the amount of money focused at the top of the game and berating the fact that not enough trickles down to support clubs lower down the football pyramid.

Listen to any pub conversation about football and it wont be too long before you hear somebody stating the opinion that the greed of the top clubs is killing the game in this country.

This e-petition seems to fit very well with the opinions of ordinary fans up and down the country. It is a running theme of football discussions that football fans want to see better distribution of the money within the game. Ordinary fans recognise how important it is to see money invested in all levels of the sport we love. It is not difficult to imagine football fans getting behind a campaign that listens to what they are saying and seeks to put words into action.

And yet...

In a week that has seen nearly a million people sign a petition to re-instate a very well paid television personality who was suspended from work for allegedly assaulting a colleague, a petition that stands up for ordinary lovers of the most popular sport in the country remains stuck on just over 26,000 signatures - over 73,000 short of the number needed by the end of this month to get the government to discuss the issue. Football fans cry out for more of a voice within the game, and yet here they are spurning the opportunity to be heard. Why?

Perhaps football fans have become so disenchanted with the game that they no longer believe that anything they say or do will make a difference. Perhaps apathy is leading people to no longer care about the game. Perhaps people feel so disconnected now from footballers who earn more in a week than many fans earn in a decade that they no longer feel a strong enough affinity to the game to care about saving a game they see as dead already.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that football fans are missing an opportunity if they choose not to sign this petition. This is an opportunity to make our voices heard and to put pressure on those who can make a difference. It is a chance to put pressure on the footballing authorities who are focusing so much on the very top of the game while neglecting those at the bottom. It is a chance to let the government know that a lot of voters care about the grassroots of our national game. It is a chance to put pressure on local councils who choose to divert money away from supporting local football which could be helping to keep kids occupied, disciplined and healthy. Most of all it is a chance to put pressure on the Premier League teams and let them know that football fans don't just care about the top of the game, but want to see the game healthy at all levels.

The other side of the coin is that not signing the petition is a chance to let everybody know that we don't care and to give them the green light to keep presiding over the demise of grassroots football.

This petition on it's own is unlikely to change the world. It is unlikely to result in Premier League clubs rolling over and immediately handing over 7.5% of what they receive in television money to support grassroots football. However, it is an important step in making a change and forcing people in authority to think about the consequences of letting grassroots football die.

As the petition has already reached 10,000 signatures then the government was obliged to respond. This is the response from the department of Culture, Media and Sport:

The Government works closely with the football authorities to ensure that the grassroots benefits from a proportion of the broadcast rights revenue generated by the Premier League and any commercial surplus made by the FA.

The Premier League makes a significant voluntary contribution to grassroots football that has continued to grow since the League’s inception. Over three seasons the League will redistribute over £850 million pounds to help strengthen football below the top tier.

This includes solidarity payments to support the 72 clubs in the Football League and the 68 clubs in the three divisions of the Football Conference. Part of this funding is ring-fenced to support these clubs’ work in the community.

£168 million will be spent by the Premier League solely on grassroots football and community sport projects in their current three years funding cycle. The Premier League has recently formed a strong partnership with Sport England to increase its work in this area. This includes the expansion of the Premier League 4 Sport programme that encourages more young people to take up sport and is helping deliver a tangible sporting legacy from London 2012. The £168 million is on top of direct investment from clubs themselves on community sport projects.

The Premier League and the FA Facilities fund will build and upgrade community football facilities in some of the most deprived areas of the country with an investment of over £100m across three years. This will build on the success of the Football Foundation - funded by the Premier League, the FA and Government – which prior to administrating the new fund delivered £780 million worth of investment in grassroots facilities in the proceeding ten years. On top of the Premier League investment, the FA returns any surplus from commercial rights into the game: they invested £43 million into grassroots football in 2012, and work remains ongoing to consider the matter of grassroots investment.

This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.

We have a choice to make. We can sit back and do nothing or we can choose to stand up and do something. Signing this petition is doing something. Each additional signature adds weight to the argument that this is an issue that needs addressing.

Please take the time to sign this petition and to let other football fans know about the petition. It really does matter, and does make a difference!

Save Grass Roots Football -


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