Grassroots football: First of new 'Parklife' centres opens in £200m scheme

Hackney Marshes pitches
On Monday, the FA announced a new overseas broadcast rights deal for the FA Cup reportedly worth £820m

The Football Association is helping to invest £200m as part of a scheme to improve grassroots football in England.

The 'Parklife' project will build new all-purpose facilities in 30 towns and cities by 2020, in a partnership between the FA, the Department for Culture Media and Sport, the Premier League and Sport England.

One project, the SGP Sheffield Graves centre, opened on Wednesday.

"We will benefit for decades," said interim England manager Gareth Southgate.

"When talking about player development, you're always thinking about short, medium and long-term strategies. It can't always be about what's right for the next 12 months.

"But the investment isn't always about producing that elite player. It's for kids and communities too.

"I know grassroots clubs give kids somewhere to go where they feel safe, where they get a strong positive influence around them and there's a huge amount of social responsibility."

On Monday, the FA announced a new overseas broadcast rights deal for the FA Cup - reportedly worth £820m - for six seasons from 2018-19.

The value of the overseas deal was undisclosed but chief executive Martin Glenn has said it will allow more investment in pitches, facilities and participation programmes.

"We want people have the opportunity to play on great-quality pitches with top-class dressing rooms and classrooms where coaches can learn," he told BBC Radio 5 live.

Maidstone's Gallagher Stadium
Semi-professional side Maidstone United play on an artificial pitch

"If you compare our country to others on the same latitude, they have a lot more artificial pitches.

"Muddy pitches favour the strong children not necessarily the skilful child and we want to improve that situation.

"Too many kids go to matches getting changed in their car because the changing rooms are not of standard. That factor has restricted the take-up of the women's game."

Asked if this investment was coming too late for English football to catch up with its rivals, Glenn said: "We start where we start from, don't we?

"Football is felt about so strongly in England with millions of people playing.

"We've got money in the game to invest in these things so it's never too late.

"This is an acceleration of a good start but I think there's still a long way to go."

Former England full-back Danny Mills, who was part of the FA Commission that reported on how to strengthen the national game in 2014, said the new facilities are just one of the changes that need to be made.

"You have to start somewhere," he said. "Back in 2014, we had just under 700 full-size 3G pitches. In contrast, Germany had nearly 4,000.

"These hubs will be the focal point. It is not perfect, we are far behind. But it is a start.

"I am a massive advocate of switching to a summer league for kids when the weather is warmer and the pitches are in better condition.

Southampton EFL Trophy side
Southampton's under-23 side prepare to meet Charlton in the EFL Trophy

"In the commission report, we talked about capping wages for players to keep them from earning too much too soon, and clubs are starting to take that on themselves.

"We talked about clubs playing younger players in lower league and cup competitions and that is starting to happen."

Premier League academy sides are part of the EFL Trophy this season, while Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton are among the clubs to have limited how much they pay their young prospects.

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