Monday, 2 March 2015

Local councils, grassroots football and the TV money...


The Local Government Association, in the guise of Cllr Ian Stephens, chair of the LGA's Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, is worrying about the state of 'grassroots football':

‘There is an ever-widening chasm between the grassroots game, which is being allowed to wither away by the football authorities through pitiful investment, and elite football.'

And there's no doubt that this comment responds to a popular perception about the game - that the huge sums in TV rights and sponsorships aren't trickling down to those grassroots with the result that England's national team is rubbish. As ever, I suspect this is a case of the LGA looking for a source of funding for its parks departments.

But first let's look at that withering grassroots in English football:

Over 7m people play football on a weekly basis and they are supported by 400,000 volunteers, 300,000 coaches and 27,000 referees who give up their time to keep the game going.

There are some issues - more adults (and a thriving market) now prefer to play 5-a-side football and there is the perennial problem of having enough qualified coaches and referees not to mention people to do the dull old job of collecting subs and playing fees, registering players, organising fixtures and ensuring that, come Sunday morning there's a game for the team to play.

The Football Association spends a lot of money (much of which comes from those TV rights and sponsorships) on supporting grassroots football - around £50 million every year directly into supporting and developing all that local club football with a further £50 million spent on other development programmes. On top of this is a similar amount invested by the Premier League - along with the FA through the Football Foundation plus supporting the community programmes of individual clubs. This latter activity plus investment in other community sport (and an overseas programme) will see some £138 million invested by the Premier League in community sport. In its total three-year programme the Premier League will spend over £200 million on the grassroots of football.

It may be the case that more could be spent but to suggest that the grassroots of English football are withering away is pretty much untrue. The truth is that more money is now spent on developing football than has ever been spent. Those glory days when West Ham won the world cup for England were not brought about by investment in grassroots football because the infrastructure was all in place - even the cubs and scouts had extensive and organised leagues or cup competition.

The English Schools Football Association (ECFA) reports that 6,432 teams were entered into its competitions - this includes boys, girls and mixed teams. To provide some context, there are around 24,000 maintained schools in England suggesting to me that the biggest change in English football since 1966 hasn't been the lack of support for the game from the top teams or the big leagues but rather the collapse of competitive school football.

The Liberal Democrats recently call for 5% of the money from the Premier League's TV deal to go into the 'grassroots'. The new deal - the biggest ever - is for £5.136 billion over three years. Just so we're clear, 5% of this is £256.8 million. Under the current smaller deal the Premier League will invest over £200 million in grassroots football, community sport and the development of local football infrastructure.

What we're seeing here from the LGA - pig ignorance aside - is a crass bid for the FA and the Premier League to give local councils money:

The LGA said if the money invested in local pitches was increased and administered by local councils, it could help councils build upon grassroots initiatives.
This isn't about grassroots football at all. It's about local council budget choices.

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