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The Numbers Game - FA facing participation challenge

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Dan Roan | 09:51 UK time, Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The FA has a number of things on its mind at the moment.

Managing its relationship with Fifa; a government inquiry into the way football is run; qualifying for Euro 2012 after England missed out on the last European Championship in 2008; finding a replacement for Fabio Capello next summer; improving standards of player discipline and behaviour; youth development and coaching education; paying for Wembley, and retaining its senior management for longer than six months.

But arguably its biggest headache is the most fundamental of all: actually getting people to play football.

The harsh reality is that the numbers participating in the national game is declining. Sport England reports those playing regular football fell from 2,144,700 in 2007 to 2,090,000 by last year. While the number of small-sided teams has gone up by a thousand in the last five years, the FA admits the number of traditional, adult, male, 11-a-side teams has fallen from 33,568 in 2005-06 to 30,355 in 2010-11, driven by a rapid fall in the numbers of 16-19-year-olds playing the sport.

It is with this in mind that the FA has launched its Just Play initiative. The aim is to arrest this decline by providing a new kick-about format at specialist centres throughout the country as well as an online tool to help adults find a place to play football near them. The target is to get 150,000 more playing for at least 30 minutes a week by 2013.

The truth is the FA is worried.

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Kelly Simmons, FA Head of the National Game, and Sport England's Hannah Bladen discuss the new 'Just Play' programme

It has already been warned by Sport England, the body responsible for investing £480m into grassroots sport through the Whole Sport Plan, that its current four-year, £25m funding stream could be cut if it cannot urgently reverse the downward trend in participation numbers.

With both basketball and rugby docked millions of pounds worth of much needed funding recently for dwindling participation figures, the FA knows the threat is a real one.

There are a number of theories as to why participation levels are falling.

Busier lifestyles and less leisure time, working at weekends, more transient communities with less volunteering, the loss of referees due to poor player behaviour, and the distractions of TV and computer games are all of course factors. There are also high costs involved in running amateur clubs. A Grassroots Football Show survey recently found that it costs clubs £2000 a season to run each team. But the state of our grassroots facilities is arguably the most critical of all.

Theo Walcott and Peter Crouch were drafted in to help launch the Mars Just Play scheme at Burgess Park in Camberwell. Funded by the Football Foundation, the facility's excellent, all-weather pitches and modern changing facilities just off the run-down Old Kent Road are sadly the exception to the rule in inner-city Southwark. Like most of London, the borough suffers from a chronic shortage of decent, well-maintained, public football facilities.

With a significant shortfall in the supply of such provision compared to demand, the city's artificial pitches are over-subscribed by as much as 40%. London has 16% of England's population but just 3% of the football facilities. Nationally, the FA estimates as many as 1.5m youngsters and adults want to play the sport but have nowhere to do so.
At a time when the sport is desperately trying to encourage more females to take up the sport (with £6m recently invested into the Women's Superleague), tens of thousands are alienated because of a lack of civilised changing facilities.
It is estimated that around £6bn is required to upgrade the national footballing infrastructure of pitches and changing rooms to bring it up to the levels of continental countries where local authorities regard sports provision as a priority on a par with health and education services.

Ironically, at a time when the onus on boosting the numbers playing the sport has never been greater, the amount of money being put into grassroots facilities is being reduced. Along with the FA and Premier League, Sport England puts money into the Football Foundation on behalf of the Government. The UK's biggest sports charity proudly reports that average participation rates increase by an astonishing 10% in areas where they upgrade or build new facilities.

But despite the vast wealth in the sport, the obvious need to reverse falling participation rates and rising inflation, the foundation's funding has almost halved from an initial £60m a year in 2001-2004 to £34m now. From its original commitment of £20m per annum, the FA currently gives £12m; a mere fraction of its income. Later this month, its board will meet and discuss cutting it yet further.

The cost of equipping clubs with goals for age-specific formats (a positive step), finally building the 'coaching university' of St George's Park and the desire to extend the Tesco Skills Programme mean that savings will be made, and I understand that the amount given to the foundation is almost certain to be cut once again to £10m, and possibly even less. Placed in the context of Fabio Capello's £6m annual salary, the governing body's contribution to the entire country's grassroots facilities appears far from generous.

Nor indeed does it at the Premier League - earning £3.1bn from its 2010-13 television broadcasting rights deal - but also investing just £12m into the Foundation each year. Some may argue the professional clubs have no obligation to pay a penny. Others would point to the money generated for a Sunderland from a home-grown player like Jordan Henderson and argue it makes complete sense to invest in the pipeline of talent.

The Premier League also gives £20.3m to the clubs' community and social inclusion schemes, £3m internationally and £8.1m to the Football League for community work and youth development, but it still represents a fraction of the vast broadcasting income it generates.

Meanwhile, the government has already cut its contribution to the Foundation to £10m, with cuts in funding to local authorities already resulting in the inevitable closure of leisure centres and pitches up and down the country. No wonder the key legacy target of the 2012 Olympics - the pledge to get one million more adults to simply be more active - has been dropped.

The Sport and Recreation Alliance says local councils put £36 per capita into sports facilities, but that still puts the UK way behind other countries we consider to be our peers - the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Finland, France and Ireland - all of whom spend at least £15 per head more. Furthermore, the UK is the 3rd lowest investor across the EU in sport from central government too.

Next month the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's inquiry into football governance is due to recommend how the sport could be run better. Increased supporter representation in clubs, greater independence at the FA, and a winter break will all no doubt be dealt with.

But the most fundamental issue of all, simply ensuring the sport is played on pitches up and down the country, must not be neglected.

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Great blog Dan, fascinating stuff

  • Comment number 2.

    Sport England having stupid targets is the main problem. Numbers of people playing sport, any sport, go up and down depending on many factors.

    Is it not possible that the recent decline in playing numbers is because people are having to cut back on the 5-a-side league that charges £5 per game, or the sunday league team which cost £100+ across the season in subs and fees.

    The numbers will return as people have more income. The numbers will shoot the roof if England put together a decent performance at a major tournament.

    Maybe the FA should get their own house in order, stop wasting ££££££ on foreign England managers and wasted years trying to build a glorified sports hall in Burton.

  • Comment number 3.

    It is ridiculous that with the amount of money the Premier League gets in revenue, they barely bother investing in grass roots. With all the moaning nowadays about "young English talent", isn't it fairly obvious that if more money was invested in the facilities etc of grass roots, more youngsters will have better equipment/training etc and in the future that means there will be more quality young English players coming through Academies. Think it through!

  • Comment number 4.

    Just Play

    "There are no results within your search area. Try increasing your search radius and filters and try again."

    Within the default 20 mile radius.

    Well, I suppose if I live in London I wouldnt have this problem.

  • Comment number 5.

    My nephew is 11 and just starting to go through this system. We live in South London and yet the only team we could find him locally plays in Kent. His registration kit etc cost over £100. After one season the team is about to fold due to lack of volunteers as his coach quit due to several overly aggressive parents who demanded to know why their son wasn't playing more. The system is broken from top to bottom I'm just amazed any kid makes it.

  • Comment number 6.

    How many more world cups failures, with all the accompanying hot air about developing grassroots football, do we need before those at the FA start to realize what their job entails and actually act to direct a sensible proportion of their wealth to where it is needed? Their folly would almost be funny if it wasn't so depressing!

  • Comment number 7.

    I'll admit, before I post this, that I've only really skim-read this article, but I couldn't find any reference to what seems to be the most glaringly obvious point in this: watching football is prohibitively expensive.

    I'm in my mid-30s, a lifelong Arsenal fan, but can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've been able to afford to go to see my team at home in the last 15 years.

    I know, and I understand, that we live in a different world to that of my childhood, but is it REALLY so different to the one that saw me pay £3 for a ticket (a concession, maybe, but even so) on the North Bank for the last-ever match to be played before it became all-seater? That was less than 20 years ago, but the last time I paid to see a league match at Arsenal it cost nearly twenty times that amount.

    I have a 2-year-old son who's just starting to show an interest in football. The last time I went to see my local football league club it cost me the best part of £20, while the last team I went to see even my local non-league club it was about £13. I just can't afford to pay that for every home match.

    The slightly laboured point of this is that I was an Arsenal fan before I went to my first match but the cost of tickets, even for an adult, was affordable enough for me and my Dad to go to quite a few games as I was growing up, and that cemented my relationship with the club. What chance is there for my son to develop that relationship with that or any club if we can't afford to go?

    And if I, a football-mad Dad, am just about clinging on to a relationship with my club, nurtured over three decades, and hoping against hope I'll be able to afford to take my son to a game so he can grow to love it and that team, too, what hope is there for the casual fan in the same financial position as me, with his son?

    It surely can't be too much of a mystery that numbers playing the game are dwindling when people can't afford to go and watch it, can it?

  • Comment number 8.

    Pitches too big, too much onus on winning and aggressive parents shouting at everyone from children to officials... hardly a surprise is it! Look at Spain etc... smaller pitches, more onus on the team game and passing, ball control etc... rather than winning on full size, muddy pitches! youth football in UK is a joke! need's a complete overhaul

  • Comment number 9.

    When I was visiting a friend who is studying in London, that was one thing I found odd - I could not find a single place to play pick-up football, which I was really looking forward to. I asked around and when doing so I received looks as if I had a second head on my shoulders. I understand there are leagues and such, but here in the States in any decent-sized metropolitan area or suburb you can usually find a park where people are having a kick-about. Around any university or college, too, which is where I used to play regularly. It was quite a shock to see this. Also, I was not there just a day or two but almost a month, so I think that my experience is not necessarily an aberration. Just my observation.

  • Comment number 10.

    list of problems, many self inflicted:

    - make more games available on terrestrial TV instead of satellite - it cant be a coincidence that OUR game is available less in homes and more in pubs or to people who can afford a minimum of £40 per month subscription?
    - instead of having schemes connected with business and fancy training centres etc, who grab yet more profit from spin offs, merge and put more funding into schools. The earlier the better.
    - releasing new football shirts every season then charging over the odds for them, after being made cheaply abroad, does not encourage children one bit. its indirect marketing and i for one do not like it.
    - ticket prices.... stop treating the fans as cash cows!
    The price of a ticket for a league game for manchester city and the price of a man city ticket for the fa cup semi final, was a joke. Fans expect some difference but some of the prices quoted were obscene.
    A dad taking his kids to the game, with ticket prices, food, parking etc, can turn out to cost a weeks wages for the average man in the street.

    If they want to get more children involved in playing our national game, then return the game back to its roots, a working man's game, not a toy vehicle for the rich.

  • Comment number 11.

    Why does everyone assume that this is just an inner city problem? I help run a mens league in West Oxon (David Camerons constituency) and we have had this problem for years. Each season we have to turn teams down from playing in our league http://witneyanddistrict.pitchero.com/ simply because we do not have enough pitches or changing facilities.
    Next season we have had 8 or 9 new teams apply to join us, but there is the same old problem where will you play?
    New pitches were laid by the council in Carterton a few seasons back and one of these has been condemned.
    Another set of pitches in Witney are soon to be built on for more housing, yet where will the kids and adults play? The answer nowhere.
    As a league we sadly get little or no help, from our local FA and the FA. There may be 100's of millions of £ being pumped into football but I can assure you none of it finds it's way to the bottom of the pyramid

  • Comment number 12.

    This reduction in kids playing football by something like 2% over the last years might have a lot to do with (4, mbb) where he states that a starter kit and a registration for his son costs him some £100. Should we forget that UK has gone through a stiff, long recession?

    Another interesting figure is this £10m the government gives for grassroots football.
    How much is the government make per year only by charging VAT on football transfers? Isn't it something like £50m-£60m+, annually?

    It's interesting mentioning the money the Premier League brings to the country due to its international viewing success. I'm wondering what the desire is in some minds to get their hands in that cash. Does the Premier League have an obligation to solve every football problem in the UK? Is it their job?

    It reminds me of a kitty of some £50bn "sitting there" cash from pensions that were freed for only to learn a few years later that there is no money for pensions and people have to make their own provisions. When a large amount of cash can be seen, many are willing to rush to make good use of it.

    £6bn cost of upgrading facilities to become level with other leading countries looks massive. Break it down to the requirements for each grassroots football unit and I'm wondering what the number would be. What about placing some standards so that, in order such units to exist, they'll have to comply with the standards and improve them gradually?

  • Comment number 13.

    I'm all for encouraging kids to get into sport. My nephew plays for a local team, he's only six. They played a friendly match recently where they were beaten by the visiting team. The coach of the visiting team, at the end of the match, got his team to bare their bums to my nephews team! The coach of my nephew's team complained and was then threatened by the visiting coach. 1: encouraging 6 year olds in this manner is inappropriate and 2: aggresive behaviour by the coach of the other team was out of order. Coaches should be role models to the young and easily encouraged and if this is what constitutes getting kids in to sport then I would rather my nephew didn't play. It all starts at the top in the Premier league where players are constantly swearing at the ref, badgering the ref and diving. My 6 year old nephew has certainly picked up the diving from watching Premier league football, hopefully he doesn't pick up some of the other traits!

  • Comment number 14.

    @ 7, Teffers,

    excellent posting.

  • Comment number 15.

    Wow! A whole raft a posts that are spot on!

    Post no.7, exactly. When I was a kids I sued to both play AND watch the game. Fat chance nowadays. I too would have liked my son to have followed in my footsteps and become an Arsenal fan, but with prices the way they are - forget it. We watch our local team occasionally, but even that, for League one football costs us £30 a pop, from next year it'll be forty as he's no longer a 'young person'.

    Post 8 & 9 again - on the button.

    Post 10, that argument has long been espoused, in particular by the likes of WSC. You're right, but they aren't listening.

    One final thought, and that is football has become, for many kids, an unreal, 'hollywood' type World. Instead of getting out there and having a kick about, pretending in a semi serious way to be to be (from my day) Brady, Brooking, Barnes (Peter), Cunningham et al, they wear the shirts but don't play the game. It's become a rich man's, unreachable World. It's no longer a working class lads escape........

    Add to that, listening to footballers of today motivated as they are purely by greed, and behave like power glutted politicians off the field (flouting the law, affairs left right and centre), I'm not sure many parents want, and therefore encourage, their kids to be footballers.

  • Comment number 16.

    The cost of participating has got to be the biggest factor in this.
    I have ran a Junior side in Burton on Trent for the last 10 years and currently we are charged £55 per game to use sub standard facilities with no warm water in the winter and a shocking playing surface to boot.
    The FA have chosen to divert grass roots cash towards the National Football Centre only 2 miles up the road and teams like ourselves are left to soldier on having to fork out in excess of £80 a game after officials expenses have been paid.
    This cost has to be met by the players so is it any wonder people are deciding to look elsewhere for recreation and entertainment?
    To cap it off we have this brand spanking new facility on our doorstep and its treated like Fort Knox with no chance of local sides being allowed to play on the pitches which will no doubt remain unused for 10 months a season!

  • Comment number 17.

    1. Lifestyle - remember when a Sunday used to mean Sunday morning football, family time, rest & relaxation. Now its just another day to work or shop. 24 x 7 convenience has come at a cost.

    2. Park Life - local parks have taken away the goal posts and planted trees & shrubs. Parks are now for dog walking & cycling not ad hoc football or cricket

    3. Bureacracy - to run a sports team now takes more time and effort than ever you have to jump through so many hoops each season as a volunteer it wears you down after a few seasons.

    4. Cost - pitches, kit, officials, training time all cost - volunteers are few and far between and coaches have expensive insurance and course to complete.

    In short we have lost sight of the main reason we used to play sport FUN we have bowed to the culture of Health & Safety and everyone is a criminal or has to prove their innocence before you can help/volunteer.

    Sad times and I'm not sure we can ever turn the juggernaut around.

  • Comment number 18.

    One word.

    Xbox.

  • Comment number 19.

    Do they not have games consoles in other countrys ?

  • Comment number 20.

    Heh Nelly (@15) - i was always keegan/toshack, brady or brooking if i didnt have first pick of teams.
    football was never an expensive game, coats and a footy thrown down on some uneven grass somewhere was always the case, fuelled by the romance of watching our heroes on match of the day highlights on an old black and white portable with the sound turned down as my brother and i were supposed to be in bed.

    winter games with orange balls in snow, with just the lines cleared and rock hard pitches, or mud baths, all of which were great levellers for the smaller clubs, which worked well to build up the reputation of the fa cup for decades.

    the players were almost always accessible to the public who paid their wages. some even sat in the pub outside the ground prior to the games. almost all the players/staff popped into local schools regularly, opening up the local football grounds.
    All my friends and I could name almost every player in every team in the old division 1, we knew all the grounds and what division the clubs were in.... how i used to love grabbing the sports pink off my dad before my older brother got it.

    it sounds like it was a fantasy world... but it wasnt, it was the how the game connected with the people. Parks, back streets, uneven fields, against the side of a house, etc, all turned into division 1 grounds in the eyes of the young.
    you didnt need money to play football, one person had a ball and others would join in.
    unless theres money in anything sporty these days corporate big business just dont want to know and at present, they are pulling all the strings. its got to change.

  • Comment number 21.

    My 6 year old son played this year for a team affiliated to our local non league team.

    The win at all costs approach from the club, manager and other parents have made us withdraw him from the team next year.

    they are children for heavens sake, but this is what childrens football is all about now, and they wonder why numbers are falling.

  • Comment number 22.

    I have twins aged 12, it cost me £200 each per season (including a £25 discount), I agree there is too much onus on winning. Because their team did not do well last season 5 boys have move to other teams. One team (league winners) we played last season beat us twice in the league and in one cup but when we beat them, their coaches and parents turn into a mob shouting at the ref and the boys.
    PS if you have young children take them to league 2 games at Barnet under 14 Membership is just £20 for the season under a pound a game.

  • Comment number 23.

    Interesting article. I have been involved for the last 10 years in running mens football teams admin and managing. Cost and lack of interest are the 2 things that are killing Saturday football. We are finding it very difficult to get any sort of sponsorship for a set of kits, we (the players) already pay an annual fee and match day subs to play. There is also a lack of interested more lads interested in doing something else rather than playing on a Saturday, there is a real lack of commitment and this is not the local dog and duck league this is a county league which you would think (well I would) that people would want to play in... sad but I think numbers participating will continue to drop

  • Comment number 24.

    Thank god £850m was spent on Wembley

  • Comment number 25.

    I would like to see the FA realistically and purposefully address this situation. I am a coach and have worked at club and grass roots levels. The facilities in this country leave so much to be desired and grass roots football is floundering on the will of people to ensure their sons/daughters and friends play.

    I would like to see the FA abandon Sunday football and run licensed football centres around the country to meet the needs of our nation. It is after all our national game. The licensed centres should be run by qualified coaches and be audited by the FA to ensure the coaching standards, discipline and respect is high. Coaches can then run it full time. earn a living and the centre can be self funding. Those coaches can also be developed and encouraged so that we have full time, knowledgeable and experienced coaches to assist in the development of our national game. It is no good putting rules in place and not providing practical help to those that are involved in grass roots football, i.e. 9 - a side. Who is going to pay for the smaller goals etc? But we need modern up to date facilities where young players can play and train on pitches or 3g surfaces that are flat, safe under lighting and where all players can develop their love, ability and understanding of the game.

    At the moment all we do is follow the country who is having the most success at the time. We need to build on our strengths and make it the game we used to love, and encourage young players in the right way.

  • Comment number 26.

    Great blog .... scary figures.

    And in 20 years England will still be harping on about grassroots development when they can't qualify for Euro Champs and WC. Go figure :/

  • Comment number 27.

    Great blog Dan and some well thought comments too.

    I'm 20 years old and play Saturday afternoons, Sunday mornings (both 11 a side) and Wednesday evenings (5 a side). I don't have to pay for Saturdays which I'm grateful for however the travelling to away games (play in the combined counties prem) costs a bit in petrol. What surprises me the most is the cost of playing on Sundays and Wednesdays! I have to pay £7 on a Sunday and £5 on Wednesday evening even though my 5 a side runs for just under 40 mins?! I cannot believe the amount a team has to pay referee's, council pitches for a Sunday! For the part time amateur player it's really burning a hole in their wallets!

    I wish the FA took more notice of this and not paint every player with the same brush that they are thugs down in lower level football!

  • Comment number 28.

    Used to be the working mans game - has now become the game of choice for the yob element. I no longer play as I've noticed huge difference in the attitude of younger plays. Far more aggressive, not as sporting and have no hesitation in two footing someone. I'm not saying this hasn't always happened, but it's more frequent and it's just not fun anymore. I shall be encouraging my son to play rugby....far more genteel.

  • Comment number 29.

    England needs to stop its hubris over the WC bid and get some proper role models in from the EPL to promote the attractions of their game properly. Off the top of the head my suggestions would be people like:

    John Terry

    Ryan Giggs

    Wayne Rooney

    Steven Gerrard

    Peter Crouch

  • Comment number 30.

    I dunno. There are probably a lot of broader social and economic issues here.

    Are we a fat lazy society that spends money on vanity and material possessions rather than getting off our backsides and doing something like playing football?

    Has football got such a reputation or largesse that younger people don't want to be part of it?

    Is football the only sport to be 'suffering'?

    Tell us Dan, what do YOU think?

  • Comment number 31.

    I can only speak for my involvement in my local area, or what was.

    The issue being that whilst referee’s do get a lot of abuse, and we all know it is wrong, it is partly because week in week out some wally turns up, who can barely get around the pitch and has clearly never played the game and ruins it for both teams resulting in poor discipline.

    With the decline in available referees, the leagues allowed Managers or Coaches of the home team to officiate, with any cards issued being valid now, which wasn’t the case with a non-official referee before. All this did was ensure the qualified ref’s only operated around the very top divisions and cup finals and you would be cheated every single week by one of the players dads or supporters standing in the middle with the whistle, resulting in poor discipline.

    That said, there is a growing number of teams, sometimes even pretty good, but as someone as pointed out full of yobs or who bring yobs with them. This is a double barreled issue, you have a team who are perfectly good enough on skill alone yet threaten both on the pitch and off it with the gang of stellar swigging yobs on the sides.

    Lastly, the costs. It’s ridiculous, with greedy council pushing up the prices of pitches, that they don’t even maintain and are often not fit for purpose, particularly in the winter months. 3 seasons running the local FA had to cram in several double headers at the end of a season which meant some teams suffering as a result, and other seasons where they split points. How pathetic is that?

    Sadly, it’s not just at the top of the game where the FA is run by a bunch of buffoons who are out of touch.

  • Comment number 32.

    Dan

    Great article, but what will you do now?

    You need to champion the Football Foundation and reverse the trend of their funding being slashed - again

  • Comment number 33.

    First time poster, long time reader. Great article.

    As an American interested in growing the game here in the States, it's informative to hear about the issues you are all encountering in making sure the game continues to grow in it's birthplace.

    It sounds like available land is a major problem, one that we don't have in the States. The last time I was in London, we had to play 5 a side on a concrete basketball court, and I think I've only played on grass in England once, this over the course of several extended visits. I can generally find a pick up game wherever I go here in Texas, and it is unusual to think that people actually play the game here more than over in the UK.


  • Comment number 34.

    There are lots of children who are put off from playing football because of the horrible atmosphere and abuse from the sidelines from parents at junior games.

    Until the Premier League and FA start to tackle this problem form the top it will only get worse.

  • Comment number 35.

    Football is history in this country from top to bottom

    Two words; computer generation

  • Comment number 36.

    Boy oh boy, talk about don't get me started. I have just returned from a weekend of Football in Germany in the Black Forest. Ok where to start, to paraphrase the greatest American president of the mid nineties, "It's all about the facilities stupid." , we sorely lack them , poor at best in most cases , no co-ordination, no central management , no chance.

    Then the FA try regularly to screw as much money money out of the Kids, Parents, Clubs, Coaches, as they can without offering too much back - see respect barriers for a £100 for a couple of bits of plastic, don't expect poor clubs to have to pay £100 for a piece of cheap Chinese manufactured crud that broke in weeks, while I believe they work, £100!! cost price please. (note to BBC please let me see a Panorama into the shocking ineptitude in our FA before going after FIFA Fat cats). German FA offer financial incentives to take coaching exams, pay to keep up to date, give referees a decent whack too. Ours charge for everything. And BTW didn't Germany win the European u16s / u17s championship?

    Now we get a campaign to get adults to have a kick about, well where would that be, on the sold off school playing grounds or the municipal hell holes that we have to struggle on, one with no changing rooms, no toilets, no grass most of the year, just mud and dog excrement.

    An ex Liverpool manager lives not too far away and a number of past Liverpool legends drive around in their nice cars, meanwhile money is pouring out of ordinary punters pockets, in the form of six monthly replica kits, either England or Liverpool, or Everton or name any premier league team 3rd change champions league away kit , into the pockets of agents, overpaid also rans, FIFA/UEFA/FA/SFA pockets while grass roots struggle to pay for training sessions at the over subscribed local astroturf on which we try to teach our kids passing football but come Sunday the local ploughed field makes you try to keep it out of the centre circle before it drops into the 2 foot deep puddle.

    Well I did say don't get me started, we just have to hope for world cup in saturday night binge drinking / fighting / crying / public urination /litter dropping pentathlon, we'll do really well with that.

  • Comment number 37.

    At a junior level the impact of consoles I think is overrated, most kids are really keen to play football.

    Personally have found that because most people who are involved are volunteers there is a lack of discipline, in that there is a "i volunteer for this, if you don't like it you know what you can do" attitude. Clubs may be run and administered by people who are twenty five years out of date or are incapable of adminstering, but hey they are volunteers so you can't criticise them.

    There is also a nasty undercurrent of win at all costs / try to get my son noticed by a professional team element which sucks out the enjoyment for both kids and parents alike, which may appeal to a few but will disenfranchise many. You don't get this in other sports, why does football in particular attract this? It only takes one idiot to ruin it for everyone else.

    The FA camapigns are pretty worthless. You can't educate parents / spectators who don't want to change / listen.

  • Comment number 38.

    Seeing as one of our nations most successful modern exports, football as a game and now the Premier League, is so highly regarded world over, it is a shocking state of affairs that in parks all over the land, decent pitches, goals and nets are not provided or maintained.
    Having been in Austria and Switzerland recently I was hugely suprised to see in even some of the smaller villages they had excellent rubber crumb pitches, floodlights, proper goals and yes even nets in those goals to practise with!

  • Comment number 39.

    #33 bricharito

    There may be an issue with grass inner-city (e.g. London) but I don't think that's true of much of the country.

    Also, 'street' soccer (a phrase I hesitate to use) is still football. There wasn't grass in my primary school play area many moons ago, but we still played and often using something else as the ball.

    You don't have to be going hell for leather and slide tackling to play football. In fact, in the early just, perhaps just the opposite is the way forward!

  • Comment number 40.

    I'm quite surprised the article didn't mention anything about the whole computer deal. Nowadays instead of heading down the park and pretending to be your hero, you switch on the Xbox and control your hero. Much easier, and honestly it can be a great deal more satisfying than hanging around outside while better players than you run rings around you.

    My old coach had a policy of dropping players who got mouthy or yobbish, and it worked like a charm. We had one season where all us kids were a bit disgruntled, but then we figured out that it was better to keep our heads and get on with playing the game, and that was that. The only problem came when the other village team folded and all their players joined our team. They had been a couple of leagues above us, so were naturally the better players, and then our coach got into the habit of dropping all his old players so he could win. It didn't matter that we'd been with the club for years, or that he'd promised we'd all still get to play. Most of the original team left within the year. I guess this is a little exposition on the ups and downs of coaching kids.

    Maybe we as a nation should just stop assuming we have a right to be at the top of the game, then we might actually get something done.

  • Comment number 41.

    I'm always a keen supporter of the non-league, and if parents feel that the Premier League clubs are too expensive then take them to a non-league game. There are hundreds of clubs around the UK that don't charge more than £15 a game for adults, the food is cheap and they won't ask you to remove your bottle caps.

    I just finished a photography project based on the non-league, and I enjoyed the interaction between fans and players, not hostile, purely banter. I always view the non-league as good and honest football that doesn't try to be the millionaires in the Premier League. The officials though at times are clumsy and make rash decision, but that's not to say they are all bad, that would be grossly unfair.

    http://tinyurl.com/inacres

  • Comment number 42.

    #37 EazilyGrizly

    There is also a nasty undercurrent of win at all costs / try to get my son noticed by a professional team element which sucks out the enjoyment for both kids and parents alike,
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Good point there. Though is it because football is out national sport, and manifests itself in such a primal fashion.

    Perhaps football is seen as a route to a living, a route to professionalism, an analogy of one's position in life etc etc

    When youngsters play other sports, cricket, golf etc, there doesn't seem to be the same pressure and they remain played for fun.

  • Comment number 43.

    #7
    Another person who clearly will not give something else up to go to the match.

    Yeah I understand that it might be more expensive than when you were a kid, but so is milk and I bet you buy that...

    If you wanted to take your son to the match then you should look at your priorities a bit more, encourage him and stump up the cash.

    Thanks
    S. Kronke and A.Wenger

  • Comment number 44.

    Maybe it's just that weekend players and kids can't relate to footballers anymore? When I was a kid, we used to aspire to be like our heroes because they were, after all, not all that different from us. Now they live in a rarified atmosphere and are never out of the media (and not always for the right reasons). They come from, and live on, a different planet.

  • Comment number 45.

    As well as encouraging the youngsters and change the rules to better the talent of young footballers (technical and with more vision)

    I think they also should encourage futsal in England (indoor football)
    Ideal when the weather and pitches outside are bad, that there is a alternative to still play football inside.
    The futsal pitches are very small and the surface is very smooth which makes the ball roll much quiker.
    The ball is also much smaller than a normal football which makes it harder to control but will benefit when you are playing with a bigger ball (ballcontrol is much better)

    Promote futsal and I think it will be a big succes.
    I live in Holland and it is very popular over here, it definately increaes the interest in football and is very good for young players increasing their skills.

  • Comment number 46.

    I have 2 boys playing for teams that will cost £ 190 each next season. In addition I am going to coach one of the teams as we have nobody else willing to do it. The cost of the basic coaching course is £150, CRB check £15 ( I already have a CRB from another activity but the FA insist on their own one)

    Football for kids is becoming a luxury item on our tightening budget.

    One tenth of the cost of Wayne Rooney's hair transplant would fund a youth team for the season. FA need to sort out their priorities.

  • Comment number 47.

    I don't know why fans moan about ticket prices for Premier League teams. How do you think they afford all those expensive players? In fact most are still running at a loss. You shouldn't really expect to go to every home game of Arsenal, Chelsea, etc. unless you are quite wealthy or your priorities with your money are to spend it on football viewing. The market works out the prices, like everything else. If you want to take the family to a football match on a regular basis, go watch your local club and I bet you'll find the quallity and atmosphere just as good. Maybe go see your Premier League team 2 or 3 times a year as treat. It's not like you can't watch them on TV every week.

  • Comment number 48.

    4. At 14:05 8th Jun 2011, Jesus the Teddy Bear wrote:
    Just Play

    "
    "There are no results within your search area. Try increasing your search radius and filters and try again."

    Within the default 20 mile radius.

    Well, I suppose if I live in London I wouldnt have this problem."

    I just used the same link to search for my local teams and it appears that within 20 miles of Fulham there are only 4 teams. Wow, thank the Lord the FA are doing their bit....

  • Comment number 49.

    Mr BB

    Unfortunately exactly right, at least from where I see it.

    Clubs send coaches to games / tournaments and start looking at people from the age of 6 / 7. For the parent with "ambitions" for their child these are must attend events, and god help anyone who gets in the way of this.

    There are parents who have shortcomings in their own lives and try to live their lives through their kids and make up for their own disappointments. It is sad, and the way that football in this country is run can allow them to do this.

  • Comment number 50.

    Such a shame how football's being lost to allot of us. I'm only 21 and already I'm not playing regularly and havent done for the past 4 years, despite the fact that I am crazy about the sport.
    Noone is able to play anymore due to University and Work commitments. If the recession was not so severe I would drop out of Uni and get a weekday Job so that I could join an amateur team.

  • Comment number 51.

    As the secretary of a park team in Bristol, I dont mind saying that the cost and planning that goes in to a season these days is unbelievable.

    Everyone wants their money up front, £500 for the pitch, £40 affiliation fees, £175 League entry and cup fees, and if you want to by new kit or equipment its more again.

    Our lads pay £6 per game and a £20 signing on fee and we still have a short fall every year.

    Our side is made up of guys on the wrong side of 25 but how a 16 year old is expected to stay involved in adult football is beyond me.

    We have a Saturday and Sunday side and I am taking £50 a month out of my families pot to run around twice a week.

    We advertise everywhere and if it were not for the same core of 7 or 8 players that we have been using for a decade the side would fold. I dont know where all the youngsters go?

  • Comment number 52.

    I'm currently in the process of setting a team up for entry into an FA league next year, and despite assurances that they do their best to make it easy, we have found it quite different, the amount of bureaucracy, rules, regulations and costs that turn up left right and centre have left us all feeling like we are up against it. We are all aged between 18-26 and most of us havent played in a while, I'd have thought we were the exact kind of group of the FA (and the government) would want finding sport again. I'd like to see them find a way to make it easier and cheaper for prospective new clubs, football is supposed to be our national sport, one that we all should be able to play, I'd like to see some breaks given to new clubs, because we are now unsure if we will be able to set it up, which has been a years hard work, purely due to hidden costs and hours of paperwork.

  • Comment number 53.

    As much as we like to bash them, as a rower, British Rowing are doing a great job of introducing and retaining juniors in the sport.
    Grassroots schemes all over the country have gotten every demographic and age onto the water and competing - and strangley enough, we keep winning at the top end of the sport on the world stage.

    So whats the difference between the FA and British Rowing?
    British Rowing care about the people regisitered to compete. Draw your own conclusions about the FA

  • Comment number 54.

    The FA and the Football Foundation should look into the startups working on many different ways to tackle the problem. London has at least 3 top startups working on ways to make sure people can find games to play in by using the power of the internet to bring people together in the real world. Jogabo is one of them but there are others and each one is approaching the problem in an innovative way.

    Startups are lean and more efficient, they are usually way more innovative while at the same time creating new jobs... stop wasting money and get people to Just play!

  • Comment number 55.

    looks really organised in the background...lol.

  • Comment number 56.

    #53

    So whats the difference between the FA and British Rowing?
    British Rowing care about the people regisitered to compete. Draw your own conclusions about the FA


    ---------

    To be fair there can't be more than a couple hundred rowers in the country

  • Comment number 57.

    Having just (2 months ago) taken my FA Level 1 coaching course through my work, I have to say the FA are stressing fun to their coaches. They know this "win win win" attitude isn't what sports about for kids, that if you ask any child why they do pretty much any activity fun is pretty much always the top, maybe followed by the social aspect. But getting that message through to parents is the issue (and some coaches as well!)

    The downside of this, as with every sport, is funding! It's no good having coaches who get the principles of fun if the entry costs are prohibitive for most families. And it's not just football! You only have to look at any sport! At times when money is short and people are struggling to pay ever rising bills, is it a wonder participation is lower? I'm also a black belt martial artist of 9 years who loves training, yet I have to carefully weigh up if I can actually afford the 35 a month it costs me. And some months, when I'm struggling to put petrol in my car to get me to work, it has to be sacrificed. My five a side participation is long since gone for this very reason!

    The FA, Premier League and Football League all need to take a hard look at themselves. With the money that's involved they should be looking at increasing funding to grass roots levels, not decreasing it! It's short sighted, narrow minded and detrimental to our nation's sport. With rising obesity levels across all ages, surely we need a coherent, government lead initiative which sees money put in to sports facilities across all sports. It'll save money in the long run with the reductions in demands on the NHS from obesity related illness. And other areas! Sport is proven to reduce depression etc

    It also has other benefits. I work in schools (coaching sports) and the number of behaviour problems that children exhibit that are improved through sport. Well, sport that's properly coached, where things like fun and team work are the goals and not merely winning, can be fantastic. I'm shocked by the number of children today for whom winning is everything, and if they don't win, they have a tantrum (which can often end in physical outbursts).

  • Comment number 58.

    Is there anyone out there that remembers school lunchtimes playing football with a tennis ball on a rough blacktop school play ground?

    We were not allowed to play on the grass at school during the winter. We were dressed in school uniforms (shirt, tie and long pants). And other kids were playing marbles, tag, chatting or something else on the same on the same playground.

    Enough, that the facilities are a deterent!

    The cost of organised football is almost certainly a deterent!

    I was never "coached" as a kid - except by my dad and the school PE teacher - we just played the game, imitated what we saw on TV and at the games... AND BELIEVED THAT ONE DAY WE WOULD BE PLAYING FOR ENGLAND AT WEMBLEY.

    I coach in the US now and the kids are soccer crazy - but expect to be turned into soccer players without putting the effort in themselves.

    We (US and the UK) need to return to the passion and dreams of the earlier generations and just play the game when and where we can - KEEP IT SIMPLE.

  • Comment number 59.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 60.

    I have to agree with everything BobbyD60 (no. 25) has to say.

    I'm a level 2 coach and actively involved in grassroot football and would love to take my coaching further. Problem is that there is no support for coaches (financial or guidance) and it's next to impossible to take that next step (you have to be an ex-pro to have any chance). This is detrimental to every aspect of football, as kids/players don't get access to good coaches and good coaches walk away from the sport. If the FA is serious about a bottom up approach to improving our national game they need to support it bottom up.

    The other issue has been commented on by others regarding players/parents and managers/coaches. The token 'respect' campaign was futile. The FA should make it mandatory at club level that every person involved signs a charter and the clubs should be held responsible where parents/players/coaches etc breach the respect charter with teams/clubs being dissolved for failure to maintain acceptable standards.

    Grassroots football is also in need of a root and branch reform, currently being lip serviced by the FA, but again it needs to be set in stone. One major point is mixed ability teams; currently being advocated by the FA and largely ignored by clubs. My club follows this philosophy (I totally advocate it) as it stops kids become disheartened by being beaten week in week out by teams that have had their strongest players in one team. Mixed ability does work; I coach/manage a mixed ability team, with the emphasis being on FUN. It means more to me to see the players putting into practice what has been coached and enjoying their football than a win win attitude. They have just won their league without the need for me to shout, scream or abuse players/refs/coaches or parents. Sadly my team is in a very small minority. The 'big clubs' (usually the filter clubs to local premier clubs) won't do this until they are made to do it.

    For anything to change in this country, the development of youth football and coaches needs to be fully taken under the FA jurisdiction and away from clubs. Local FA clubs (run and financed by the FA), feeding into local centres for excellence, feeding into elite academies (all under FA control). The German FA have implemented this type of philosophy and they are now reaping the rewards. The problem however is that The FA are weak willed and pander to Premier league and money.

    I would hope that the new centre for coaching excellence at Burton on Trent may help me get to where I want to be as a coach, but sadly the reality will be much different.

    A note on funding. Our club have a fantastic club house and facilities that the local council are now trying to force us to adopt. The running cost of the facility is estimated at £15,000 without the other costs (registration, refs, pitch fees etc). For winter training we have to pay a local facility with 3g pitches, the cost £13,500. Funding from FA... peanuts. Is it any wonder that clubs are struggling?

  • Comment number 61.

    @ 36, NerfMiester,

    I'd love to read more of this.
    Excellent article!

  • Comment number 62.

    i) Councils are reducing availability of grass pitches - hey, they're great to play on once you scrape all the dog mess and broken glass off them. ii) PPP schools have jacked up the price of floodlit 'astroturf' pitches until youth clubs (not just football) can't afford to use them for training. iii) Parents (a minority, thankfully) who think they have a junior Rooney on their hands and the coach knows squat. iv) Youth footballers (a minority?) who watch the premiership on TV and think that they are as good as Rooney...and the coach knows squat. v) Lack of respect for referees. A small number of them may well may be overweight Napoleons blah blah but the vast majority do an excellent job, sometimes confronted by obnoxious players, fans, parents. The game needs them, whatever some people may think, and the FA is shedding them like a spectacular case of dandruff! vi) Parents who treat their club as a creche. Hey, you get back what you put in. Don't expect everybody else to put in the graft for your kid if you don't contribute something back as well...and I'm not just talking about money.

    The pramid of power in football is upside down, tilted 180 degrees by the wads of loot washing around the game, and all too ready to collapse. Build from the grassroots (childrens and local leagues) up rather than the illusion of wealth 'trickling down' from the premiership, FA, FIFA etc. However, that would mean a lot of well-paid turkeys voting for Christmas.

  • Comment number 63.

    I coach a team in an independent school. Our boys play rugby one term and football the next. Sadly the same boys who are polite and respectful during a rugby game, begin moaning at referees using inappropriate language when they play football. Why? The copy what they see on TV

    However, we have strict expectations however and disrespect is punished. Last year one of my players swore at an opposition coach. Promptly sent off, made to apologize and banned from sport for 3 weeks. Sadly too many coaches and parents are happy to allow poor behavior to go unpunished.

    There is also misguided attitude about how the game should be played. We lost a few games this year where the opposition simply played high balls to the biggest strongest boy on their team. Our boys continued trying to play a passing style and involve everyone. Frustrated parents however kept shouting for defenders to 'clear it' and cheer for every long aimless ball despite it going straight back to the opposition most times.

    However by the end of the season most boys are a lot more comfortable on the ball, are able to play better passes and have much better positioning. Why? Because it's not all about the one or two bigger stronger players with most others just watching them play.

    I wonder how many smaller boys are put off the game because coaches of younger boys take the easy option of picking bigger stronger boys who win by strength rather than skill and technique.

    It's about time parents remembered the point of the sport, fun and enjoyment. Be happy when you win, be gracious and look at for improvement when you lose. Smaller pitches, smaller teams, less focus on results, more recognition for improvement of skill and technique as well as sportsmanship at under 14 level would all help.

  • Comment number 64.

    Sorry the computer thing is a cop out, they have games consoles all over the world, yet Spain, Germany etc.. all manage to get kids playing football (and playing it correctly)

    If anything its a cutural thing, you cant blame a piece of hardware for the lack of people playing the game.

    One of the funny things I remember when I was little was having a kick about on the street on the small estate I lived on, I was lucky it was a very quiet area so there were not many cars, so we used to play on the road etc..

    Kids cant do this now, I have been guily of telling kids to flock off when they have been kicking a ball against the wall of my house, but every time it is hot I see kids playing football on the green next to my house, so kids are playing the game outside.

    I searched the "just play" site in interest, to see what was in my area and as I posted earlier there is nothing.

    Sure I dont live in a huge built up area but within 20 miles I have two large (ish) towns, and not one of them have any entries on that database, it seems bizzare.

    Kids are playing football, kids still want to play football, but they cant play football with coaching etc...

    Blaming games machines is irrelevent unless we are one of the few countries in the world that actually has them.

    If there is any link to computer games, its parents using them as babysitters and got I feel old saying this but back in my day we were told to go out and play, and heck we enjoyed it.

  • Comment number 65.

    I am one of those people disillusioned at the difficulty of just playing football. I have played football with schools and clubs from the age of 7, managed to represent my county and had trials with a couple of professional clubs but wasn't good enough. However, I just wanted to play and carried on until I was about 24 when work kind of got in the way. Now aged 28 and having moved to London I want to get back into playing regularly but I find it impossible to join a club or even just play in a 6 aside league. The price for half an hour was recently increased from £5 to £7.50 each. Given we have rotating subs means for a total of about 25minutes football and a pint afterwards it costs over a tenner a week. For someone who loves the sport and has played it from such a young age I am annoyed I am essentially being priced out of the game. £40 a month on top of London's already excessive housing prices etc is not something I or many others can afford.

  • Comment number 66.

    Football uk. Can I just say that on behalf of everyone who blogs on this website. We don't really care about all these stupid stats about random rubbish. I bet everyone just reads on the next comment after they find out how much time you waste typing this rubbish up. Do us all a favour and get a life. Who do you support anyway.?

  • Comment number 67.

    Dan - good article, you highlight a number of issues that impinge on the decline in numbers in the traditional 11 a side game of football. I have no idea whether the funding is right or not, or whether it is a lack of facilities, refs etc. Two things stand out for me, first of all the English FA is just about as 'broken' as an organisation can be, therefore if we are looking for solutions there we can forget it. Secondly when I was 11 years old we didn't need adults to organise a game of football, we found some kid with well off parents who could afford a ball and made him captain (or sometimes we used a collection of rags bound together with tape), found some space somewhere, preferably with grass on it, but not always, then coats down for goals and off we went. In the light nights we played through from about 4.30pm to 10.oopm, sometmes without a break and scoring was like in basket ball, 85 to 83 -suppose we will never get them days back!!

  • Comment number 68.

    Whether there are 2,000,000 people playing football, or 200 people playing football - one thing will never change. Come the World Cup or European Championships, the media and fans will delude themselves into thinking that England has a good chance of winning. And when we don't win, it will be because "we need an English coach" or it will be because "we need a foreign coach".... It is quite a pathetic cycle really with absurd amounts of money spent on the manager, which should go to helping smaller clubs that invariably make a loss.

  • Comment number 69.

    The FA spent £787m on Wembley - a stadium we do not need. Meanwhile, my son and daughter labour on huge pitches resembling swamps and savannah only to be beaten by cloggers. I wonder why we can't match Iniesta and Xavi?
    How many 3G all-weather pitches can you get for £787m?
    And we need a winter break.
    The FA should be ashamed.

  • Comment number 70.

    I think first and foremost we need to establish what we are trying to achieve. Getting more people overall to take up football or getting more kids to play football at a younger age with better coaching. I hope that it is the latter because although it would be nice to see more people playing i would be alot more interested in encouraging more kids around the age of 4 and 5 to start playing. Because as a result they will have a good chance of making it professionally which will improve the game for the national team and yield better results on the field. We need to be encouraging kids to play from as young as 4 and it involves teaching them all the correct basics like how to kick the ball properly and how to control the ball properly and how to feel comfortable dribbling passing shooting and crossing the ball with both feet. This is something which is not taught enough and people only really try to develop these aspects of their game when they go to clubs at the age of about 10 or 11 and even at that stage sometimes it is too late and kids are already stuck in their habits of what they know and it is very hard for them to adapt. So what should be happening is that parents should be encouraging their children to go to clubs at a very young age about 5 or 6 and schools should also be bringing in coaches to encourage kids to join clubs because then they have coaches who are qualified unlike some parents who are just concerned about winning. But their aren't enough coaches who are good enough and develop the kids the right way and encourage them to play football the right way and pass the ball the way barcelona spain and holland do and get the kids to watch players like messi ozil xavi iniesta ronaldo xabi alonso fabregas etc, players who are maybe not so physically imposing bt are the best players in the world and coaches should be modeling kids around them.

  • Comment number 71.

    Excellent blog. You've done a great job in identifying the main problems. IMO the thing that puts off most players and organisers continuing their involvement is the thuggy lad-culture and souless tactics employed at most grassroots clubs. It's taken around 30/40 years to develop and unfortunately there is no easy fix. But really well done on discussing the main challenges facing us

  • Comment number 72.

    @ 66, joe_Wolves,

    it's interesting to have a fan in blogs following you about.
    thanks :)

  • Comment number 73.

    There is money in local adult football. It's just you cannot get access to it.

    The league that I play in are sitting with a bulging bank account from player and club fines (e.g. £20 for not offering the referee a drink). At each league committee meeting the league's treasurer proudly announces their current bank balance, and all committee members agree how well they are doing and how financially stable they're looking.

    But when any club within the league asks if they can apply for funding from this bulging bank account to develop changing rooms or to develop land so they can build a 2nd pitch, the request is not even given the time of day.

    I know there are leagues where this is not the case, but if the FA want to increase the amount of money available at grassroot levels, they should start asking their affiliated league organisations to start re-investing.

  • Comment number 74.

    A lot of good pieces in reply to a good blog

    Football will be dead in this country by 2020 as a participnat sport.

    You have seen the gas price hike this week by 20%, where do you think those prices are heading.

    Where is the price of petrol going ?

    Price of commodities is going through the roof thanks in part to the speculators, so where are prices heading there ?

    No correlation to this blog ?............................... well eventually councils, the FA will pricw would be grass root participants out.

    Then you will have the Premiership where the first £500,000 a week footballer will be unveiled soon.

    Then you have FIFA

    The peoples game ?

    Yeh right


  • Comment number 75.

    I've lived this year in Valencia in the poorest district of the city (near the port), and even in an area that is chronically underfunded in almost everything - i've seen various street protests against lack of school facilities, signs in the street condemning the state of the water supply and the drains are constantly blocked and stink the place up... and yet there are three full size football pitches within five minutes walk of my flat. It doesn't take long to realise that the reason the two Valencia teams (Valencia CF and Levante) both have such good a good production line of local talent.

  • Comment number 76.

    #74, do I need a visa to enter your world or is it in the Schengen zone?

  • Comment number 77.

    @ 75, markmboro1990,

    Perhaps it is a good time to add, along with your post that, recently, a London council started demanding citizens training in groups to be paying a fee in the region of about £300, annually, because they argue that it costs to maintain the grass in their parks.

  • Comment number 78.

    Remind me Dan. How many football pitches did we lose to accommodate the Olympic Park and its ancillary facilities?

  • Comment number 79.

    # 77,
    I was referring to groups of people training on the grass of council parks.

  • Comment number 80.

    I think we have forgotten what a club is. In this country, most of our top clubs (or even middling clubs) are businesses. Take a look at Germany, where 'ein Verein' really is a club. Many German clubs, even those that we in this country may think of as football clubs, are actually sports clubs, encouraging participation by both sexes, at all age levels, in a variety of sports. And the club members will own the club (even in the Bundesliga). One of the effects of all this is that Germans have a very different attitude to Junior and Women's sports i.e. they take it seriously - and provide adequate facilities and competent coaches. Perhaps this is why they have a conveyor-belt of talent that feeds youth sportsmen and -women into the senior levels of many sports. We should NOT have been surprised at the talent that blossomed in the German team in South Africa last year. The England Women's team has actually improved greatly, but I will eat my English-German dictionary, if the German Women don't win the World Cup at home this summer.

  • Comment number 81.

    The trend for declining numbers is bad all over the UK in general which is a real shame.

    We're launching a service in August at www.bouncefootball.com precisely to get more people back playing football.

    I was in the Netherlands in May for an end of season tournament, hosted by an amateur team 30 minutes outside Amsterdam. Their facilities were sensational – they ran something like 8 senior teams, and 24 youth teams.

    Our whole team were amazed by the number of pitches you saw all over the country and how well used they were. It was an eye opening experience and shows what a well organised football body can achieve.

  • Comment number 82.

    Great article Dan.

    The answer is MONEY, funding at grass roots level.

    I have been a junior football coach for 5 years. I have had to fund my own courses, Level 1, Level 2, Futsal. Even had to fund my own CRB check. How many volunteers are prepared to do this?

    My club is in a socially deprived area. We try our best to raise funds through tournaments and other fund raising but it is hard. Requests to County FA etc for funding falls on deaf ears.

    We struggle to fund winter training and the kids only get an hour a week due to the costs charged by local authorities.

    I would love to get the kids playing more futsal but the costs of hiring a hall at £30+ a time is prohibitive.

    The pitches we play on are to be frank, absolutely rubbish. I have studied kids football in Europe and know for a fact that goverment funding ensures good pitches and good facilities.

    While I applaud some of the things the Mr Brooking and Southgate are doing such as more SSG's and removal of league tables and published scores i'm afraid nothing will improve until more money is poured in at grass roots.

    The 100 million + spent on Burton and the millions spent on the New Wembley would have been better put into facilities for youth football.

    Youth football needs an overhaul, what is being done by the FA is ok but is just tinkering at best.

    These blogs will go on for many more years and we will witness more of a decline in English football.

  • Comment number 83.

    Participation in grass roots football is down because people are getting tight and lazy!
    From my experience of running a sunday league team (for the final year next season), its annoying that players are afraid to commit time and money to the club, when they get to participate in a full match every week for £5, with the pitch set up and even the kit washed, training equipment supplied and the disciplinary fines (red/yellow cards etc) are dealt with and paid for and then reclaimed.
    Locally, we in Basingstoke have reduced from 7 to 3 divisions in the last 6 years, so this is no shock to me whatsoever.

  • Comment number 84.

    We have lost a lot of the places we used to play football. To be able to kick a football near home just before tea or have a game with your friends on the street has diminished. We need more kids back on the street, we need ways of calming traffic so its safe to play. Thats one of the big reasons kids now play on computers.
    We have asked our local parks for more football areas but its taken 10 years to get a basket ball net!
    As for the football fan, we dont have a voice with the FA nor were we given a full explanation for the dismal world cup performance last year. This is the most fragmented period for fans, football and grass roots and it will get worse. We need to win back kids back into the game with new ideas and incentives. We also need better grass roots football pitches as what we have is a disgrace. In the winter our local amateur teams play on mud!

  • Comment number 85.

    @43 and 47 I hope those posts were tongue in cheek, otherwise, well........

    It's interesting to read how expensive it is at Grass roots level now. However, I remember just before I hung my boots up, and I was playing for a works team then, it was getting expensive in terms of subs.

    For local authorities, the temptation to use 'ground fee's etc as a way of gaining some much needed revenue is too tempting - and with the recent cuts this will get worse.

    As for the FA running the youth system from the ground up, isn't that rather like putting an incompetent manager in charge of a critical dept? ;)

  • Comment number 86.

    I too think facilities are important.

    At my local park, they've just relaid the surface and put up near full-size goals with nets. Perfect for a 7- or 8-a-side game. After school or at the weekend, there's usually a game going on (in fact sometimes a separate lot have commandeered the basketball court for another game).

    Compare that to the park where I grew up. It used to be ok (I reckon I spent at least 1000 hours of my childhood playing football there), but over the last few years it's been totally neglected. The grass is practically knee-length except on the one or two occasions when it gets mown per year. There are three sets of goalposts, but not in any configuration that would lend itself to playing a game, and certainly no nets. There are massive amounts of dog cr*p to contend with. In fact sometimes there's people playing golf there! It's no surprise that the local kids don't bother.

    It's easy to blame playstation etc, but I still optimistically/foolishly think there is a lot of enthusiasm for playing the game. We had computers in my youth, but it was never a susbtitute for the real thing. The love of sport has to be nurtured in schools, and then youth football made realistically inexpensive to enable kids to play the game, even if they know they're not going to be the next Pele. Councils seem to be caught in a vicious circle: no kids playing football makes it look like they aren't interested, which becomes an excuse not to keep facilities up to scratch. Entertainment isn't hard to find these days, so at the very least you need playable surfaces to tempt people into playing.

    Maybe it's time for a supertax on Premier League clubs!

  • Comment number 87.

    Maybe if the supermarkets stop buying spaces where people play football...

  • Comment number 88.

    when i was a kid this is what happened...

    if you were ok at football you played for your school on saturdays/weekday evenings.
    - there was NO training, no tactics, nothing. Just maybe a PE teacher would say 'Try to get it forward quick' etc.

    Then, you played for a sunday team.
    - the coaches were not qualified in any way, they were usually Dad's of kids who were'nt quite good enough to get into school teams.

    if you were good you played for your town a few times a year.
    - a little bit more training, maybe 2 or 3 times a year. Some tactics, eg 'Get it down the flanks'.

    if you were very good you played for your county a few times a year.
    - Once a year short-break at a local center, in our case at a Country House for 3 days and nights. Some training and tactics. eg 'When the keeper gets it split wide'.

    then, if you were very very good you played in regional games, in my case, for East Midlands in what were really showcase games for scouts to have a look at you.
    - no training, no tactics, play for yourselves.

    if the scouts liked the look of you they offered us a trial, then schoolboy forms.
    - usually by phone or letter or through the school, no direct contact.

    The first time i went to train with a professional club, the very 1st training session, we were taught how to dive for a penalty, i kid you not!
    - Old men shouting at young teenagers for misplacing a pass. Angry ex-pro's who wanted kids to be aggressive like men. No skill involved. F*ckng awful.

    If you were the best in your region you got chosen to attend a trial for England Schoolboys. In my experience, the big strong kids and the ones who could follow orders and do one job well got chosen. The skillful players, who liked to express themselves, were not chosen.
    - A couple of days and nights spent training in the baking sun and doing a few dull drills, no tactics. Even at this level!

    Then, school leaving age kids offered YTS(!) forms for their local professional team. A choice between University and YTS forms. A choice between having the love of the game you grew up with bullied out of you by thick-as-sh*t coaches who couldn't care less that you could hit someones backside with a ball if they were 50 metres away and having a pee.

    This was a good few years ago, but not that many. I bet its still pretty much the same at most places. The problem lies with the very Culture that surrounds the world of football. I bet in Spain its a very different footballing culture that prevades.

    The problem IS NOT how many kids are playing. Their are so so many kids who grown up loving football. The problem lies with the idiots who provide the choices for the kids as they get older. Coaching badges or not, its the aggressive, macho, sexist, brain-less idiot culture that blocks true talent from flourishing. Football is about expression not might.

  • Comment number 89.

    I agree that there should be cash injected into football, new piches, better facilites ect.. but to some of the perents that are complaining about the price for there kids local teams ect.. just be thankful that they are intrested in football and not say Golf or athletics. but if your child is not worth paying say £190-£250 a year to play for a team, the price of say 3-4 console games or a weekend away or 3 months sky TV or a couple of nights out, or a weeks boozing/drug taking. I don't want to tar everybody with the same brush but be fair, £200 over a year for your child is really not that much whatever your family income. Pointing your finger at this as the reason to why your children don't play sport is not a reason it is an excuse more often than not some of will you spend more on yourself in a month.

    However having said that I do think that the money could be put to better use. Perhaps professional clubs could be encoraged to set up better facilites arround there local communites, why for example do Chelsea FC not run an outside league, it could be say 18 teams, 9 a side or 11 a side, with good grounds, goal posts ect an organised set up, the same sort of cost as sunday league, all played in one area. With good manegment it would pay for itself. People would go for sure, it would put a stop to perent power and if Chelsea got one youth player in 10 years that would be good. If every club did this that would be fantastic. I have not gave it much though so the reality of such a thing may not work but it is an idea, something the current FA seem all too short of.

  • Comment number 90.

    I play in Wandsworth with really good facilities. The problem we have is getting enough players each week for a game.

  • Comment number 91.

    When I played Sunday and Saturday football league in the 1970s we generally used school pitches. I once played on a pitch which was covered in mole hills. Our hosts had to remove some traps before the game kicked off. The changing facilities could be bad and in those circumstances you wouldn't bother with a shower. The football was usually awful, not much skill. Usually a lot of the players were over-weight and unfit. If you were young, fit and fast you could look like a superstar. But over time you started to play like everybody else - badly.

    Unfortunately successive governments decided to sell off many of the playing fields, which is sad.

  • Comment number 92.

    A very good article and some interesting comments posted. From my point of view I believe the lack of football on terrestrial TV has done some damage to kids not playing football in country. I used to love laying football when I was a kid but am not prepared to fork out the monthly subscriptions to watch it now and that is probably why my has not shown an interest in watching when the odd game is on the box.

    I am also a member of West London football Club (www.wlyfc.co.uk) who started in 2010 and offer free training for kids in the West London areas. The members who started the club were concerned with the high costs for kids to play football and subscriptions at the club are £90 per year. even some parents cannot even afford this but we cannot do it for less. Luckily we have had great support from the local council and some grants coming in which has kept costs low.

    One last thing, when younger my father used to take my brother and I to many internationals at Wembley and he didn't earn a great wage. Nowadays you are probably looking at £120 to £150 for a family of three to attend including travel and food etc.

  • Comment number 93.

    Like someone else before said “ don’t get me started. “

    I don’t know what the true meaning of Grassroots as expressed by the FA really means but I have absolutely no doubt that the great bulk of children who wish to participate in football will never be encompassed within the terms of what they are doing.

    I don’t think as a kid I was hardly ever indoors. Tennis, cricket, football, running, swimming, riding a bike, climbing trees, all manner of activities that took place on my road or at local parks. A couple of pullovers for goals, a ball, and hours of fun. In the summer when the park keeper locked the gates we would wait to watch him disappear on his bike around a corner and climb back over the fence and play until it was too dark to see. Night after night.

    I was involved in a soccer school taking 250 youngsters every Saturday, other training on Wednesday evenings, run youngsters to matches at other times, had regular meetings, taken badges, acted as treasurer, agonised over funding, all on a voluntary basis with 17 other volunteers, whose personal expenditure of time and money was freely given. And every Friday afternoon, I also took on my own, football training for my local primary school. We got this off the ground, built it up, and sustained it through hard work and dedication. And it has gone from strength to strength although regrettably I had to call it a day.

    So what’s my beef. Well what exactly do the FA hope to achieve and what are their motives. Because my motive was always to give youngsters the opportunity to play football in an organised, safe, way. I organised a tournament between four local schools but the first criteria was that only those who had never played for their school could be in a team. Relieved of the more talented players you would be surprised just how good the relative performances were.

    And that to me is more in keeping with the essence of grassroots. Not necessarily as the reservoir from which future talent will be drawn (which is probably how the FA see it) but the widening of opportunity to a greater number so that the reservoir overflows and talent which might never be discovered at least gets its chance to be seen. How many youngsters are lost, or never even part of football, because the path of opportunity doesn’t exist. Isn’t it a sad condemnation that potential may never even have an outlet because the local structure has not yet been started.

    The only answer is self help. Try to start something ourselves. So I am going to write my twopenneth to the FA setting out some hopeful suggestions as to how interested individuals might be guided by an FA initiative for advice on how a small local football involvement can be kick-started from the ground. Link these together in a network and your starting to build from the ground up. From little acorns etc.
    And that’s just a start.




  • Comment number 94.

    I always consider that their are a lack of opportunities to play football after school. one of the guys i used to play with is now playing regularly in league one but the rest of our team from the youth days slowly dropped out, and it wasn't that only the most skilled make it, but just other things, usually socializing get in the way. kids need to be encouraged to make it more, at that age you want to have fun so clubs do need to consider a balance for their youth until it becomes an actual realistic career.

  • Comment number 95.

    I see a lot of 'used to' on this blog, but are the footballers of today of any lower a standard than in the past. We won the WC in 1966 on home soil, but other than that have not even reached another final of a major tournament. However, our junior teams seem to be in better health than at any time I can remember.

    As pointed out on a few posts already, we need to be looking at our football culture and who's engraining it. It's no good having great intentions if you've got dinosaurs teaching kids. It's the chicken and the egg.

    The PL thought they could apply the same logic as they applied to their league, i.e top down buy, but actually for the national game, it's roots up, and not necessarily buy. STB and GS have got the right idea, but they've got to overcome 150 years of football culture.

  • Comment number 96.

    I love football, and i'd love to be part of a team. But the bottom line is it's £5 a go if you want to just play 40 minutes of five a side at a local sports hall, more if you want to join a league.
    Secondly, my friend asked me to join his local team next season as lots of people are dropping out, i was all up for it until he said it'll cost £90+ to play. Not including travel costs.
    These prices might not seem much to most people but at 19 years old, earning barely anything and with other things to pay for, i'm afraid football takes a back seat until it becomes cheaper.

  • Comment number 97.

    There are 4 main reasons that local football is struggling (in no particular order)

    1. Too much admin. I know players must be registered but the admin for most local FA's is ridiculous and they love to fine poeple for the tiniest errors and you get no second chances.

    2. Cost. Even though kits and equipment are much cheaper than 20 yrs ago, pitch fees are high in comparison. Factor in refs fees (see below) and travel and it can start to get expensive.

    3. Lack of refs and respect for those that are brave enough. You only need to listen to the language at almost any park game to see why refs are in short supply. If you dont get an official ref it is even worse as there always seem to be some accusation of bias. If the FA really want RESPECT to work. It must start at the top and it must start with removing swearing from the game. It is embarrassing taking my boy to the park to hear an F word ever couple of minutes.

    4. Facilities. Most of our parks have lost dedicated park keepers and many pitches and changing rooms are suffering. My local pitches are given minimum attention post season and as such just get worse as each year goes by. It is not just football but other sports that suffer.

    It would take many many millions of investment to correct these issues and I cant ever see this happening. I fear for what my son will have left in 10/20 years time.

  • Comment number 98.

    There are 4 main reasons that local football is struggling (in no particular order)

    1. Too much admin. I know players must be registered but the admin for most local FA's is ridiculous and they love to fine poeple for the tiniest errors and you get no second chances.

    2. Cost. Even though kits and equipment are much cheaper than 20 yrs ago, pitch fees are high in comparison. Factor in refs fees (see below) and travel and it can start to get expensive.

    3. Lack of refs and respect for those that are brave enough. You only need to listen to the language at almost any park game to see why refs are in short supply. If you dont get an official ref it is even worse as there always seem to be some accusation of bias. If the FA really want RESPECT to work. It must start at the top and it must start with removing swearing from the game. It is embarrassing taking my boy to the park to hear an F word ever couple of minutes.

    4. Facilities. Most of our parks have lost dedicated park keepers and many pitches and changing rooms are suffering. My local pitches are given minimum attention post season and as such just get worse as each year goes by. It is not just football but other sports that suffer.

    It would take many many millions of investment to correct these issues and I cant ever see this happening. I fear for what my son will have left in 10/20 years time.

  • Comment number 99.

    Part of the solution is greater committment and involvement from parents. Too many consider Sport clubs and trainers as babysitters, somewhere to leave the children while they do something else. Football clubs don't happen on their own parental involvement and support makes a difference. That involvement means more than paying the subs and dropping Johnny off for training and matches. On another point, football is still one of the cheapest sports to participate in, go compare it to other outdoor team field sports.

  • Comment number 100.

    One thing that I have found is that it's often difficult to get into football if you start late, or if you're just not that good. I didn't start playing football seriously until I was about 14, by which time everybody was miles ahead of me, not necessarily in terms of talent but in knowing how the game worked and what it was like to play 11-a-side etc. I just wanted to experience a 'proper' game and for the past 3 seasons i've been lucky enough to do just that, but i've had to leave the team this sumemr as their ambition is miles ahead of mine and they're bringing in players whose ability I just can't compete with. The problem is now that with all the clubs becoming upwardly mobile, there's no place for a player who's decent but not that great. A lot of kids get disillusioned with losing frequently and just quit football, so there are very few teams out there that are a bit more relaxed about their football and that weaker players can get into. By the time you get to u14s or u15s level it's virtually impossible to find a team that isn't made up of school team, ex-academy and county standard players.

 

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