Hark back to those bleak childhood mornings when you were full of energy, vigour and passion, anticipating a tough wintery weekend fixture clash. You remember the boggy pitches, the blinding rain and the muddy goalmouths. The overgrown grass and the netless goalposts form curiously indifferent memories. After Gateshead council’s proposed budget cuts to football pitch maintenance, these typical grassroots level problems could soon become inescapable.
As part of a budget which seeks to reduce a deficit black hole, Gateshead council’s proposed 2019/2020 budget will no longer provide maintenance for football pitches at 27 local locations. The proposed cut will save an estimated £246,000, approximately what the Manchester United hitman Romelu Lukaku bags in a week.
All this comes after the council’s leader, Councillor Gannon, controversially spent over £5,000 of taxpayers’ money on food bills during a recent three year period. In comparison, the Durham council leader claimed zero food expenses in that time and, lo and behold, Durham council, as of yet, haven’t announced a single slash to their sport budget.
In real terms, therefore, this could genuinely see local parks and football pitches grow into a state of abandonment. Unlike the Champions League’s state-of-the-art 3G pitches, the park grass may likely become overgrown and neglected; the goal posts rusty and crooked with any intrinsic repairs enacted slowly or given a temporary DIY fix. All in all, the state of the game which the youth grow up playing would only become increasingly distant to the game which we so love to watch on TV.
On the plus side, there are other ways of staying involved with football. One of these is volunteering, and it’s thanks to so many generous volunteers that various grassroots level football teams are able to survive. Sport England say that approximately six million adults give up at least an hour a week to help grassroots-level sport survive in this country. These proposed cuts could give rise to a new crop of volunteers, willing to serve their local community. If volunteers can’t save the pitches, then children’s physical, mental and social well-being could all suffer.
Whilst the proposed cut is indeed a shame for the local area, it raises a wider question regarding the poor state of England’s grassroots football. Our Three Lions starlets begun their careers at places like the hallowed turfs of Fletcher Moss and Bracken Moor; top professionals aren’t decanted behind the scenes at Old Trafford or Anfield. How do we know the next Harry Kane isn’t amongst the affected youngsters playing regularly in Kibblesworth or Shibdon Bank?
Nonetheless, the blustery pitches of Whickham Rectory are a far cry from the high end’s notorious and much sought after glitz and glamour. Categorically, the thrills of the game are the same: we’ve all been there and needed that injury-time winner, the relegation-avoiding three points, or the underdog in a cup run. We’ve all suffered from unjust decisions, injuries and team fallouts. The elite have all been in the grassroots position, and this could explain our sometimes mysteriously cult-like love for the sport. This is partially why the grassroots game is so important.
As much as the peak of the sporting pyramid brings the reputation and success, funding must occur at all levels of the pyramid in order to maintain England’s top international and domestic record. It’s perhaps a sad reflection of football’s current state that what a Premier League footballer earns in a handful of days could pay for the annual upkeep of 27 parks of grassroots pitches.