Is £260 million of FA Money Enough to Save Grassroots Football?
As part of the FA’s National Game Strategy, the FA has announced that £260 million will be invested in grassroots football over the course of the next four years - a new record.
While this might sound like an avalanche of cash, there are some within the game that believe - after so many years of under-investment - this latest cash injection is simply not enough.
Between 2015 and 2019, the £260 million of investment will go into grassroots facilities and coaching. It is believed that £48 million of this will come from the Football Foundation, while the government and the Premier League are also expected stump up some of the cash.
Is the FA’s National Game Strategy Under-Funded?
The FA’s National Game strategy is all about increasing participation in grassroots football and improving standards among the young English players coming through. The flagship scheme of the FA’s initiative is the creation of new football ‘hubs’ across 30 English cities and towns. But such an ambitious project might need more than £65 million per year - given the dreadful state many facilities and local clubs are already in.
The FA’s initiative to improve the state of grassroots football in England has been heavily criticised in recent months - and with good reason. Since the launch of the National Game Strategy in 2008, the number of men playing in 11-a-side teams has actually fallen. Indeed, the number of registered teams in England has dropped by 4,000 to 28,000 in seven years. The FA has been recognising this statistic in recent years by developing new formats of the game, but the results have been mixed.
While men are leaving the game in their thousands, women and girls continue to take up football in their local communities. The number of registered players in the women’s game is up by more than 40,000 since 2013 - a direct result of the huge success the Women’s World Cup team enjoyed recently. While the FA will be keen to point to this incredible success as proof that its approach is working, it will be interesting to see what happens in women’s football when the euphoria of the World Cup has subsided - particularly with so little investment being made available specifically for the women’s game.
One statistic that will alarm many within the game at the grassroots level is the amount being set aside for the development of coaches during the next four years. Just £4 million per year will be used on the training and development of English coaches, which simply isn’t enough. What is perhaps most alarming is the fact that the cash-rich FA is only providing half of this money - the other £2 million a year coming from central government.
The FA’s National Game Strategy is - on paper - an ambitious project. A four-prong approach will aim to develop England’s ‘football workforce’, increase participation, improve local facilities and raise the standards of coaching across the country. These goals are ambitious, but they seem to be unrealistic given the the budget available.
Why Won’t the Premier League Do More for Grassroots Football in England?
The Premier League seems to be dodging calls for a bigger slice of the forthcoming £5 billion TV rights deals - due to start in 2016. What is becoming increasingly apparent is the fact that grassroots football in England is unlikely to replicate the incredible achievements in Germany, Spain and the Netherlands without the direct input and wealth of the Premier League.
Tragically, the Premier League simply doesn’t care all that much about the state of grassroots football in England - although many argue that it’s not their place to care. The Premier League serves its 20 members, and as long as TV rights deals continue to grow in the way they have been doing, the world’s richest league can simply leave the hard work at the grassroots level to others.
On the opening weekend of the 2015/2016 Premier League season, just 73 of the 220 starting players were English. As long as the greatest players in the world can be enticed to the Premier League with the promise of untold wealth, it is very unlikely that Richard Scudamore and the Premier League board will lose too much sleep over rotting club facilities and waterlogged pitches.
£260 million over the next four years might sound like a lot of money, but it must stretch to new facilities, new training programmes, prize money, FA skills programmes, local competitions, outreach in schools, education and mentoring. Until the FA start to get real about the funding of grassroots football, or until the Premier League has an economic reason to care about the quality of young English players coming through, grassroots football in England will continue to deteriorate and cast doubt over the future of the entire domestic game.