Grassroots Football in the UK – Why Is It In Decline?

By the time 2017’s transfer deadline day was over, the Premier League had spent a record-breaking £210 million in an effort to fill their display cabinets with trophies. However, not all clubs have such well-filled wallets.

Grassroots football is suffering and many experts are concerned that a lack of investment in it will mean that some talented players won’t make it to the top flight in future. So why is the grassroots game in decline and how serious is the situation? 

The Grassroots Game – A Tale of Funding Promises

In the run-up to the 2017 FA Cup Final, Jeremy Corbyn announced that, should Labour get into power, they would ensure that five percent of the TV rights money generated from broadcasting matches within the UK would be diverted to the nation’s grassroots game. According to the Mirror, the Labour leader stated that the “the grassroots game has been shamefully starved of funding over recent years.”

Such criticism is hardly new, however. In 2014, Greg Dyke, then chairman of the FA, claimed that the grassroots game was in a critical state. While promising that the FA would invest £250 million into facilities and coaching, he told the BBC that “if you go to Germany or Holland we are miles behind in terms of facilities and the number of coaches”. So why are we still having the same discussions three years on?

Funding Grassroots Football – How Has Austerity Affected the Game?

The targets included in Greg Dyke’s 2014 proposals weren’t due to be met until 2020, so progress was never likely to be fast. However, the UK’s ongoing austerity programme has hit grassroots clubs hard, with many finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

Dyke originally told the BBC that he hoped that the government and local authorities would also make financial contributions to help the FA to reach their targets, and that, ideally, the funding from the Premier League would increase. However, as recently as July 2017, the Independent reported that a lack of affordable and well-maintained facilities was still hampering development of the game.

Investment and Innovations – Is It Only Money at the Root of the Problem?

The Premier League maintains that it already invests more than five percent of its annual turnover into grassroots projects, however. In a statement sent to the Independent in May, it said that it provided many types of support, including “solidarity payments, youth development grants, and community funding for all EFL (Football League) and National League clubs.”

The FA also runs funding programmes, coaching courses and tournaments – complete with glittering football trophies – for amateur clubs. It even operates a Community Awards scheme which recognises the contributions of volunteers within grassroots football. Yet, underfunding is still a major issue.

It’s possible that other factors are also contributing to the grassroots game’s decline too, however. Some critics of the current system, for example, have highlighted the pressure that clubs are under to prove they can produce players capable of securing coveted academy places. They often need to satisfy the demands of ambitious youngsters and pushy parents to survive.

Whatever the causes of the grassroots game’s decline, however, more needs to be done to improve its prospects. If it isn’t, England’s professional clubs could struggle to find elite homegrown players in future and the sport could become inaccessible to those with limited funds.

Are you involved in grassroots football? Do you think it’s in decline? Tell us in the comments section, on Facebook or on Twitter.