Time for an independent national charity supporting Grassroots Football

Grassroots Football needs a big shake up

I touched upon the idea of a Grassroots Fighting Fund in the blog on Sunday.

The current situation has exposed just how fragile Football Clubs finances are at all levels. People have been saying for years that the bubble would burst. Outside of the Premier League it has for a lot of clubs.

Even as low as Step 6, clubs have an income of £200, but yet spend £210 on chasing false dreams. The chickens are coming home to roost, if they haven’t already made it.

I won’t go into how clubs at Step 5 and 6 should be run and how the leagues should be structured from now on, you can read that on the previous blog.

To say the Football Association does not support grassroots football is wrong. The FA’s coaching education has developed significantly over the last 20 years and makes a difference. Money through schemes such as Grow the Game and Retain The Game exist and provide vital support.

In parallel, The Football Foundation consistently delivers great work and has helped build some fantastic facilities over the years with the resources it has.

Other funding avenues are available, but the main two organisations and others can only stretch their resources so far going forward. More could be clearly be done.

The English Football chief executive Rick Parry said in the last few days that he is not fan of putting the “begging bowl out”. This crisis has revealed some very deep holes though.

Grassroots Football as we know it may come through this crisis. It just won’t survive the next one until radical changes are implemented.

Public Services were decimated by the Conservative-Liberal Democrats Coalition Government policies of austerity forced upon on the country because of the World Banking Crisis during the Gordon Brown-led Labour Government. What state will Local Government and Public Services be in after the crisis passes?

Council pitches on a whole are just as bad as they were in the 1980s. Will Councils be able afford maintaining them? Will cash-strapped grassroots clubs be able to step in? That is on a very low grassroots level.

Football has had 28 years to get his own house in order. It hasn’t. Money from the Premier League has clearly trickled into communities through the fantastic unseen work though all the Foundations run by PL and EFL clubs, plus Football Foundation schemes like The Premier and FA Facilities Fund, but clearly it is not enough. Billions have gone out of the game and never come back.

Listening to the Under The Cosh Ian Marshall podcast last week, it is claimed 16/17-year-olds earn £40,000 a week at top Premier League clubs and most never even kick a ball in the Football League. 

Whether that is the case, it won’t be far off the truth and it is obscene.

The problem for Step 5 and 6 clubs, many are just not sustainable. Very few are genuine community clubs. Some claim to be community clubs as they have two or three junior teams, an under 19s team and maybe a ladies team on top of the first team. The truth is that they are fragmented and detached from each other – just seven or eight teams who just happen to share the same name and badge and deep down resent each other,

The same clubs rely on their only source of income, apart from the odd bit of sponsorship, of one man and his dog at a home game every two weeks. Others need a sugar daddy.

The only way to really change grassroots football at Step 5 and 6 is the mass development of 3G pitches.

3G pitches turn clubs into sustainable businesses, provided the facilities are used to their maximum (24/7 more-or-less) and are looked after properly. Run correctly, clubs with 3G pitches should never have to appeal for financial help again (in a normal world).

On a whole Step 5 and 6 clubs have good facilities and are ripe for 3G pitches to be put down. It would impossible to provide one for every club at those two levels as there are hundreds, but rather than investing in 3G pitches at schools (who in turn charge a bomb for use), why are we not putting down at the home of clubs in the NCEL?

A few will rule themselves out anyhow through governance issues, but most would fit the criteria. Handsworth hope to be able to host games at Oliver’s Mount on their 3G pitch soon and Staveley look on course to get funding for their fantastic plan. So currently there is no-one in the NCEL with a 3G pitch used for first team matches. That is extraordinary and that under-lines the need for more funding.

Now you’re thinking ‘well how are you going to pay for them’? We have already established that the FA and Football Foundation are limited in what they can assist with.

That’s where the new National charity supporting Grassroots Football idea comes in.

It would require The FA and/or Premier League to fire the starting pistol to target the top end of footballers who earn the most. It would only take one player to put his hand up and the rest would surely fall like dominoes.

As Simon Jordan pointed out on Talksport, if the PL mandated a reduction in salaries by 20% for 90 days, it would bring home £170 million.

If similar totals were then received by the charity year after year, the opportunities to do great good are there in the long term, never mind just when normality returns.

The FA and Premier League should oversee the charity to begin with, and then after two years pass it onto trustees and workforces with no previous football connections.

Once as the current financial problems are cleared, the charity would be a place of refuge for grassroots clubs in distress and those who have sustainable forward-thinking plans – taking a big burden off the leagues and FA.

When distress is mentioned, it does not mean clubs where a madman has spent a fortune on players chasing a false dream and made a mess. The charity would only assist if the madman has been removed and local and caring people are trying desperately to clear up the mess.

The charity would:

  • Financially support clubs who face massive repair bills (Tadcaster Albion and other clubs hit by the string of storms earlier this year are an example).
  • Financially support Grassroots clubs whose floodlights are unsafe and need replacing or fixing
  • Provide financial support for legal representation who require it and would otherwise be unable afford it
  • Assist Grassroots clubs with transfer negotiations with Professional clubs for prized assets 
  • Help players not with the PFA who are badly injured playing grassroots football and need financial support
  • Assist local authorities with maintenance of council pitches, but only those used by grassroots football teams
  • Provide financial support to grassroots clubs who have a genuine and provable cash flow problem because of severe weather disruption leaving them without a home game for months 
  • Provide financial support for the development of 3G Pitches and necessary clubhouse/changing rooms. The charity would work alongside the FA and Football Foundation on projects.

The FA does help in some of these areas, but not totally and the charity would take the pressure off The FA and free up some resources for them.

The floods earlier this year proved the FA cannot assist with everything. How many clubs created ‘Save our Club’ Crowdfunder appeal? Quite a substantial number. No organisation in any walk can reach a crisis or the same one every year and think, ‘I know how we’ll get out of it, we’ll set a Crowdfunder page up’. It only works for so long before the message wears thin and less believable.

But the fact that clubs are using Crowdfunder as their first point of call in a crisis proves that there is either a lack of financial support out there from the FA for emergencies or a lack of trust that help will arrive?

With the country grinding to a halt, there has been never a better time to reshape the way grassroots football is run. It is a major opportunity to have a real debate. 

When the country does return to normality, the demand for local community facilities – shops, Leisure Centres, pubs – will have never been higher.

Grassroots Football clubs also have a part to play, but unless clubs are saved in the meantime and have avenues to tap into to create sustainable futures, they won’t see out the next crisis.

The elite game, as the FA called them in a recent statement, need to take note. We’re not saying there is no money out there from the Premier League, we’re just saying there should be more.

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