Grassroots Football: The Invisible Game

Written By: Amos Murphy

Football is a game of twos; two halves of forty-five minutes each; two teams each with eleven players and two sets of fans both fuelled by hunger, passion and desire for their team, but also two divides – the rich and the poor.

With the recent influx of billions and billions of pounds into football, but the English Premier League in particular, one would imagine the clubs at the top of the footballing pyramid, those with budgets of seemingly unlimited funds, would be doing everything they can to ensure the future of this countries youth development is secure and prosperous, right? Wrong.

It is unanimously agreed that football has become purely a business and arguably over the last twenty years the game which was once powered by the fans, due to huge sponsorships, colossal television deals and the growth of the game into a worldwide monopoly, has lost touch with core football supporters.

But the fans aren’t the only commodity which has now sank deep into the shadows of the multi-million pound transfers and multi-billion pound contracts which has become football, there’s a deeper issue, one where the future of the English game, once the pioneers of football itself, are desperately trying to avoid extinction.

A lot is said about the money now involved in football but most presume this is an external issue and one which is kept away from the everyday working society. Despite astronomical ticket prices, which has led to a situation where working families must choose between a season ticket or putting food on the table, the entire country feels the effect of a money induced footballing world.                        

A staggering £30 million is oozed out of the taxpayer and handed to The Football Association every year. Now, if this was poured directly into youth development and the continued production of world class talents from these shores then there’d be no qualms. Instead only a mere £18 million of the £30 million figure is invested into the grassroots set up – shocking.

It is ironic however, how the corporation which does the most for grassroots football in England isn’t The FA, but rather the kings of cardiac arrests: McDonalds. What does that say about the state of the English game, if the company with the objective of flooding the worlds arteries with saturated fats and cholesterol, is the leading figure in the youth development for English football players.

The recent construction of the ‘New Wembley Stadium’ is a further example of the clear fault line which lies between the top and bottom of the football pyramid. It was deemed necessary for a completely new stadium to be built as English football’s new home in 2007, despite another stadium being built for the 2012 Olympic Games five years later, which would then later be uninhabited.

The reason given for not waiting another five years and then moving into the Olympic Stadium – it wasn’t “fit for football”. Instead a total of £1,223 million was spent on stadiums in a space of eleven years. However, in the same time span the number of people participating at a grassroots level in not just football, but sport in general was at a record low. The entire purpose of these stadiums are therefore redundant as the quality on the pitches is inferior to the standard expected for our nation. 

However, this issue does have a glaringly obvious solution.

The number of English born players in the top clubs’ academies is at an alarming low. More and more foreign players are being imported in, at ages as young as seven and eight, to be nurtured and given the adequate resources to grow into world class assets. This is excellent for the individual clubs, but it leaves the English players, whom all have the potential to be unbelievable talents, left in the wilderness.

Now, am I suggesting that foreign players should not be given the opportunity to grow from an early age in English academies? Obviously not and everybody should be given an equal opportunity to make it to the top, but as long as The FA keep blindly reeling off ‘blueprints for success in youth development’, it is clear some sort of cap on foreign players needs to be put into place, or else there will come a time when seeing a top class English player in the premier league is a rarity.

It is undoubted that off the pitch on an international scale, football is a corrupt, corporate money making scheme, where the elite manipulate those with the least in a crude attempt to squeeze everything and anything they can out of those who make football turn over; England is following in this vain and the longer grassroots football is neglected, the faster it will continue to be the invisible game.

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