Council football pitches abhorrent, says FA

Goalposts on a pitch near homes Image copyright Getty Images

Council-run football pitches used by thousands of amateur teams each week are in an "abhorrent state", the Football Association has told the BBC.

The future of the game is under threat unless there is a move from grass to artificial pitches, the FA told Radio 5 live's Victoria Derbyshire programme.

Pitches are not only waterlogged after heavy rain but are also suffering from overuse in many cases, the FA says.

The Local Government Association suggested the FA could pay for pitches.

"The football industry is booming and by contrast local government is trying to protect vital services like caring for the elderly, fixing the roads and waste collection following a 40% cut in government funding over this Parliament," it said.

A spokesman added: "If the FA suggests that Astroturf pitches should be available for local use then councils would gratefully accept assistance from the huge profits made from football each year."

About 80% of amateur football is played on council-run grass pitches.

Sport England says about 1.8 million people play football each week.

Many pitches were once heavily subsidised, but a squeeze on local government budgets has meant the cost of hiring them has often gone up - in some cases by as much as 300%.

But the increased fees have not always led to improved facilities, with some pitches poorly maintained and suffering from use for multiple games.

"The state of local authority pitches is abhorrent," said Pete Ackerley, the FA's senior national game development manager.

"There has to be a move to sustainable artificial pitches. The average grass pitch can hold two to three games a week - artificial pitches can host up to 60 teams training and matches.

"Football has had a huge subsidy for so long - now local authorities have tough decisions to make."

Synthetic pitches are also much more likely to be floodlit, for play on winter nights, said Mr Ackerley.

'Falling behind'

In January, campaign group Save Grassroots Football urged clubs across the country to refuse to play their matches in protest about the rising costs of hiring poor-quality pitches.

Many games were abandoned anyway because of rain.

Campaign organiser Kenny Saunders, who runs Woolton FC in Merseyside, told the Victoria Derbyshire programme: "We've had nine games called off in a row on pitches that are overpriced and not suitable for football anyway.

"If a child missed nine weeks of school, they'd fall behind. It's no wonder we're falling behind in football."

One club that says it has been affected by poor facilities is Rockleaze Rangers FC in Bristol, which claims a lack of good-quality facilities means local youngsters are being turned away.

An under-14 at the club said he was jealous of Spanish youngsters, who rarely play on grass, enabling them to "learn from a young age to play well".

The club said it had regularly had funding applications for an all-weather surface rejected, and was currently playing on pitches with an uncertain future.

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