Grassroots football dying of poverty as Premier League rakes in billions
Amateur teams playing on sloped pitches with broken equipment just yards from Merseyside’s top flight giants.
An old shipping container for a storehouse, broken goalposts held together with gaffer tape – this is the shameful condition of grassroots football in England.
But their facilities are a million miles from the luxury enjoyed by neighbours like Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard and Everton’s Ross Barkley.
Stanley Park is a perfect example of the neglect blighting thousands of amateur football teams in which 1.8 million adults play across the country
And while football bosses have announced a record £5.14billion deal to televise live Premier League matches, funding to the grassroots game is actually being cut.
Worse, amateur teams face a massive rise in fees charged by councils for the use of pitches – in some cases up from £150 to £600 a season
Under these conditions, Stanley Park will struggle to produce another Michael Owenor Wayne Rooney. Both England stars played there as teenagers before Owen got his big break with Liverpool and Rooney with Everton.
The dedicated volunteers who run youth and Sunday league sides feel they should get more help from the game’s wealthy clubs. Nationally, the Premier League currently spends £168million on community programmes and facilities – a fraction of the billions they make from broadcasting rights.
Stephen O’Reilly, secretary of Liverpool junior summer league, believes the big clubs should do more. He said: “Bill Shankley used to come out of Anfield and watch the kids playing football here. Those days are gone. The Premier League should be looking after these leagues, where your Gerrards and Rooneys all started.”
Stephen added: “All our equipment is kept in the storage container. There are dogs running across the pitches. There are no toilet facilities, no hot water.
“Football is a religion here. But now it’s all about money, money, money.”
The Premier League originally promised to give five per cent of its broadcasting income to grassroots projects.
This has now fallen to below one per cent, with the league, the Government and the FA each cutting its contributions through the Football Foundation from £20million a year to £12million.
In most cases, the management of publicly owned pitches is controlled by town halls, which have had to slash leisure budgets in the face of Government austerity measures.
Kenny Saunders, founder of the Save Grassroots Football campaign, believes lack of long term investment is crippling clubs. He wants the Premier League to put 7.5 per cent of broadcasting income into the grassroots game. He said: “Everyone should pay something back for the next generation of kids.”
Mr Saunders added: “This isn’t just about Merseyside. It is happening across the country. Matches are called off week in, week out due to poor facilities.”
England has just 639 of the latest full size 3G public pitches, each costing £550,000, while Germany has 3,735.
A Save Grassroots Football online petition calls on the Government to ensure grassroots football gets long term support from the Premier League.
The Premier League said it “recognises its responsibilities” to grassroots football and redistributes more money across the sport than any European league.
Manchester United said: “All Premier League clubs have a charitable community foundation which do a considerable amount of work. Ours sponsors a youth league in Manchester and we are fully engaged in our local community.”