How the hypocrisy of the Premier League is becoming detrimental to grassroots football.
Worldwide, bar the premature rise of Italian football in the 80s, the Premier League is viewed by football fanatics as the best, and most exciting league in the world. Meteoric influxes of cash, from TV deals and sponsors, have given teams like Wolves the ability to casually splash £30 million on Raúl Jiménez from Benfica, and in today’s valuations this signing seems a steal. It is easy to get caught up in the fantasia of top tier English football; the image it fabricates internationally is not representative through all the levels of our game.
Grassroots football, similarly to other council lead projects like youth clubs, is becoming hindered due to the austerity project, which was established by the Conservative Party in 2009/10. Detrimental cuts have been made to activities that are so important in igniting passions for the most marginalised; youth sport and music are essential to preventing teenage related crimes. The Independent reported: “Almost 40,000 offences involving knives or sharp weapons were recorded by police in the year ”; knife crime is heavily associated with a younger demographic because of youth led post code wars that happen in Britain’s major cities, especially London.
Football not only encourages discipline from a preliminary age, being a team sport, it provides a family environment that is desired by youths from broken homes, who tend to join gangs. 'Afewee' is a Brixton community sports organisation that specialises in football, which co-founder Steadman Scott created after a 6 year stint in prison.
He has been providing training for disadvantaged children for over a decade, and insists "success is not getting killed, success is not joining a gang", but not every community is lucky enough to have the generosity of Scott and Tony Goldring, the other founder of Afewee. Nathaniel Clyne nurtured his craft there, so who knows what the state of national football would be if more civic authorities gave communities the space to have a similar institution to this one in North London.
Despite four British teams featuring in European Finals this year, the first time in history, 710 local pitches have been sold since 2009, making playing the game unnecessarily difficult for future English starlets. In Germany, it is statuary law to maintain local sporting facilities, and the government must provide funding to achieve this.
Undeniably, English football is experiencing a period of glory, with a nation uniting World Cup run last year, and the successes of Premier League teams in european competitions. However, in the starting 11s of the four clubs that made the finals, only 8 players were English. In addition, England’s under 21 squad crashed out of the euros this year after a shock 4-2 defeat to Romania in the group stages. In contrary to what many may think about the posterity of football in our country, the future does not look as bright as the media often portrays.
Premier League investment abroad has surged in the last few years, making it incredibly hard for youngsters to break into their first team. Chelsea alone had Tammy Abraham, Jay Dasilva, Fikayo Tomori, Reece James and Mason Mount loaned out to Championship clubs last season, despite being the subject of a transfer ban.
An anomaly to the modern trend, Rashford made his Manchester United debut in 2016, at the tender age of 18. Without local pitches, the 22 year old definitively proclaims that he would never have had the foundations to become the player he is today. In an interview with Jermaine Jenas for GQ magazine, he reminisced on memories of being at his recreation ground “from when everyone wakes up” in the school holidays, adding: “they used to work with what they had” to improve on their ability and play the game.
Many would be quick to point fingers at the FA for not doing enough to develop the sport at grassroots level, but the reality is 83% of these pitches are controlled by civic authorities, and austerity has meant that councils are more focused on maintaining care homes and school facilities rather than local play schemes like the football colts.
Located in Wansted, a place in East London known for poverty and financial inequality, Senrab FC is one of the most famous Sunday League teams in England. They have produced 170 pro footballers, with 20 going on to play at international level, including: Jermaine Defoe, Ledley King, John Terry and Ray Wilkins. In 2011, they lost nearly all financial support from their local authority, and virtually slipped from existence; how such an integral part of our Capital’s footballing identity can be treated in such a way bewilders me.
The club get under £16,000 a year in funding, barely buying them all the necessary equipment for youngsters to train with. Man City received £38.5 million for winning the Premier League this season, an astronomical sum that will only inflate over the next few years; it also conceptualises the false opinion that there is 'too much money in the game', when rather there is just too much money in the Premier League.
For a sport that unites our country as much as football, it is difficult to contemplate that the government continually makes cuts to It's funding. Fundamentally, we wouldn't have a national team if recreational grounds couldn't home village colts and nurture talent from a young age. Football is a working class game, but grassroots teams are having to increase their signing on fees in response to the little money they receive from local authorities. If our national team wants to transcend on recent successes, then all powers controlling the sport need to do more for grassroots football.