Why English football has lost touch with its roots

When the summer transfer window closed at the end of August, with Premier League clubs spending in excess of £1 billion pounds on players’ fees, it signified that English football truly had lost touch with its grassroots foundation.

The Premier League is undoubtedly one of the most popular sporting competitions in the world with an estimated global audience of three billion people tuning in from across 225 countries and territories. It is a product that enthuses and excites with over 232,000 hours of coverage being provided to supporters from across Europe, America, Asia, and Africa. Leading clubs such as Manchester United are no longer just football institutions, they are global brands that are equally, if not more, as popular in Hong Kong as they are in Salford.

 

It is little surprise then that the Premier League readily cashes in on its popularity and prestige. This summer saw the top table of English football negotiate broadcasting deals worth in excess of £10 billion pounds for the next three years. Domestically, Sky and BT Sport are paying an estimated £5.136 billion pounds for exclusive rights to air live fixtures which, for Sky, equates at roughly £10.8 million pound for each game that they show. In addition to this, there is a further £5.1 billion pounds of income which is due via international broadcasting deals that will see Premier League stars grace the television screens of supporters across the globe.

The unprecedented wealth that now flows in the Premier League has allowed the top twenty English football clubs to invest astonishing amounts of money on player transfer fees during the summer window. Fourteen of the twenty Premier League clubs broke their transfer record during the summer, spending roughly £1.1 billion pounds in the process. The figures being quoted are incomprehensible to the generic working man that watches his local team on a Saturday afternoon. Manchester City spent over £150 million pounds during the window. Manchester United paid a world-record fee, that could rise up to £100 million pounds, on Paul Pogba alone. The spending bug has even transmitted itself to clubs in the Championship with Newcastle United and Aston Villa, fresh from relegation and desperate to jump aboard the runaway gravy train once more, spending almost £100 million pounds between them over the summer.

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But surely this wealth must be passed onto the supporters and be reflected in ticket prices?

Despite many Premier League clubs either reducing (such as West Ham) or freezing (Stoke City) their season ticket prices, many supporters are still left to pay extortionate amounts to watch their team. A step was taken in the right direction when it was announced that away tickets would be capped at £30.00 per supporter for the forthcoming season, but much more could, and should, be done by clubs, but is not. Just ask those Arsenal fans that have to pay up to £1000 for a season ticket at the Emirates Stadium if the wealth of the Premier League is being passed onto them.

Well the Premier League invests money in grassroots football don’t they?

The Premier League does invest some money into junior and grassroots football, but the amount is pitiful when compared to the sheer amounts being spent in the top flight. Reports suggest that up to £100 million pounds per year is being earmarked for investment in coaching, equipment and facilities at the very foundations of English Football over the next three years, which is less than 1% of the broadcasting revenue that the Premier League is receiving. To put that figure into context, one national media outlet suggested that this would equate to each junior team receiving the equivalent of just £58. Tracey Crouch, the recently appointed Minister for Sport, was quoted as being “genuinely appalled” by the contribution made by the Premier League.

 

Grassroots football is currently in crisis, something that Football Association Chairman Greg Dyke openly admitted eighteen months ago. Pitch fees have increased by 1000% over the last two decades, the number of qualified Level 3 (UEFA ‘B’) and 4 (UEFA ‘A’) coaches remains substantially lower than other European countries, and the participation rates in adult amateur football continue to tumble. Many teams are currently using old, outdated facilities but lack the external supporting or availability of funding to do anything about it.

One grassroots football official based in Cheshire described the “stark contrast” that now exists between elite clubs at the top of English football and the lower echelons of the game. The coach, who has over twenty years of experience working in junior football explained “the difference between the Premier League and grassroots football now is astonishing. You see the money at the top of the game and you question why none of it filters down”.

“I don’t think that anyone is demanding to have premier league standard facilities in junior football, but it would be nice to have a pitch that was affordable, wasn’t a mud heap, and had a changing room so that the kids don’t have to get changed in the back of a car”.

“The FA seem to think that grassroots football goes down to academy players and stops there. There is no noticeable investment in the junior game. I don’t think that there is a recognition that it is on some park on a cold, wet Sunday morning that coaches are trying to put young kids on the path to be England stars”.

So whilst Premier League clubs are flashing vast amounts of cash at the pinnacle of the English games, supporters continue to spend extortionate amounts of money on attending game and those operating at the grassroots level remain under-funded and under-resourced as they look to put young players on the bottom rung of the participation ladder.

So when you watch your clubs new star signings this weekend, just ask yourself if all that money is truly being spent in the right part of the English game.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by brmbGrassRootsFootballShow

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