Grassroots football pitch

Years of underinvestment have left thousands of grassroots sports facilities across the UK in a state of almost complete disrepair. And while local councils and sports associations are grappling with the cost of living crisis, money to put this travesty right is in very short supply.

So when the UK Government announced a national funding programme for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, thousands of grassroots institutions around the country breathed a sigh of relief. 

The money is being delivered as part of the Government’s long-term initiative aimed at giving all communities access to clean, safe and functional sporting facilities. And it appears football pitches across the British Isles could benefit from this welcome announcement. 

Money for Grassroots Sports in All Four Home Nations

A total of £168 million has been set aside for English grassroots facilities alone. And that cash is in addition to the Government’s £18m a year pledge. The money will be distributed by the Football Foundation, which is a cross-organisational body aimed at developing grassroots football at all levels of society. 

More than £18 million will go to facilities in Scotland, while Wales will receive more than £12 million. Northern Ireland can expect to receive in excess of £6 million. And unlike previous schemes, this much-needed cash won’t be drip-fed to those in need over a decade or more. Sporting facilities across the UK will benefit from the investment between now and 2025. 

Grassroots football is supposed to be the country’s great leveller. The beautiful game has the ability to transcend social background, nationality, religion, race and gender. More importantly, it’s a very powerful societal tool that brings people from all walks of life together. And in many cases, it’s the glue that holds some of the most deprived societies in the UK together. 

So it’s even more gratifying to discover that at least half of this new fund will be set aside for the most deprived areas in the country. Several hundred pitches and playing facilities are expected to receive direct grants for improvements to pitches and changing facilities. 

The mechanisms for grant awards will differ in England, however. In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, each nation’s FA will be in charge of distributing the funds — either by selection or invitation. Those UK nations will be able to claim awards for major infrastructure projects such as the installation or upgrading of football pitches. There will also be funds available for changing rooms, lighting, pavilions, and accessibility measures.

The Football Foundation will take charge of the process in England. In the first instance, schools and local authorities will be able to claim a share of these new funds. But there may be provisions for other non-profits and private organisations at a later stage. 

A Bright Future for Grassroots Football in the UK?

While football in the UK is, essentially, a working-class game, it seems more detached from those humble beginnings than ever before. The communities that need to harness the positive power of football the most are the ones that are forced to put up with the worst facilities. Thankfully, this latest initiative is designed to prioritise the communities most in need. 

In order to qualify for a grant, each project must be able to demonstrate its ability to use the money to drastically improve facilities in deprived areas. Projects must also show that any improvements must support multiple sports, increase representation within grassroots sports and provide widespread access to members of the local community. 

The Government is keen to stress that this latest funding is for sport in general, and not just grassroots football. That’s why at least 40% of the total fund will be set aside for regularly used facilities used for sports other than football. 

The first awards are expected to be announced within weeks. And local communities around the country should be benefitting from pitch and facility upgrades by the end of 2023. This is incredibly positive news for grassroots football, but it’s even more important for inclusion, social cohesion and morale in the UK’s poorest communities. And if the UK Government can continue its support beyond 2025, community sport across the country will have a much brighter future.