'Grassroots football in the UK is criminally underfunded'. That’s the view of Football Trade Directory’s commercial director John Booth following on from David Conn’s excellent article in today’s Guardian.
Booth has witnessed at first hand the difficulties clubs can face at grassroots level and believes that a lack of decent facilities and equipment is detrimental to the future of the national game.
On a week when England captain John Terry made a cash donation to save his former youth team Senrab Boys Club from extinction, grassroots football has moved sharply in to focus. Senrab is one of the success stories of grassroots football, with several full England internationals in its alumni, but questions have to be asked when the best grassroots club in the land is struggling to survive.
"Running a Sunday league team is a pretty expensive business these days," Booth said.
"It’s no longer a case of just paying your subs and turning up for your 90 minute blow-out. You have all sorts of outgoings, kits, pitch-hire, training facilities, changing rooms, referees, coaching courses, CRB checks, the list seems endless and is often prohibitive to anyone wanting to get involved in the game.
"At Football Trade Directory we work tirelessly putting these clubs into contact with the business and services which can help them out in that regard but these grassroots teams are crying out for funding.
"The Premier League is committed to making 5% of its income available to grassroots projects and facilities, the Government is supposed to match that spend in order that together they can reach a ‘basic minimum standard’ for all of football.
"So far the Football Foundation along with the government has spent in the region of £700m in ten years on improving football facilities. But that’s small change in terms of the real investment needed, I’m guessing 90 per cent of clubs at grassroots level have yet to benefit from any of this funding and I’ve read that to get all clubs up that ‘minimum standard’ you would have to spend a further £6bn."
So who to blame? The Premier League is now paying almost half as much to the Football Foundation as they were ten years ago with government contributions also decreasing in the same period.
Whilst the Premier League’s contribution to the Football Foundation has been cut from £20m to £12m they also make significant contributions to their own social intervention projects.
Booth believes that the government must do more to introduce their own sanctions to ensure that the monies reach those clubs right at the bottom of the ladder.
"It’s a widely accepted view that participation in sports at grassroots level is very much a part of the fabric or society. Parliament is currently discussing how grassroots sports is funded and there’s currently a suggestion via the Sports and Recreation Alliance that up to 30% of the net revenue of TV broadcast rights is directed to grassroots sports.
"I think we are all in agreement. The more people who participate in grassroots sports certainly enhances the value of live sports and that in turn should increase the funds which are then diverted back to grassroots."