The importance of grassroots football for player development

With elite football becoming less affordable, it is crucial that funding is available to produce the next generation of amateur coaches, players, and spectators.

Elite football in the United Kingdom is thriving. Since the birth of the Premier League in 1993, the top tier of English football has grown to become the most-watched sports league in the world.  It is producing billions of pounds of revenue each season, but not enough supports grassroots football.


When we consider the essence of the ‘beautiful game’ itself, it can feel, at times, like we’ve lost the traditional notion of what a football club should mean to its local community, at least at the very highest level anyway.


Football clubs were first established in the 1870s for those in the local area who wished to play. The game gradually became popularised, as football fever swept the country. Thousands of spectators were willing to pay to watch their local team home and away.


The success and unity of the local football was an emblem of local pride and identity. It became a shared place of worship for those on the pitch and the loyal fanbase that followed them across the nation’s terraces. In its purest form, football clubs represent a community asset of shared interest.  These were often in industrial towns and cities where there is an absence of exterior investment to fulfil further identity needs.


It is therefore easy for many to feel somewhat alienated when we see the global super product that the Premier League has transitioned into today. VAR halts play as every micrometre of contact is hyper-analysed.  The smallest clubs have the financial capabilities to tempt players from some of Europe’s finest clubs.  Ticket prices have risen to such an extortionate extent that managers regularly question what demographic of supporters still has the means to purchase match tickets.


With the highest form of the game often sometimes a little lost, unaffordable, and lacking in genuine connection with its community, the funding and preservation of grassroots football is as important today as it ever has been.


Impact of Grassroots on the Premier League


For almost all of us, even those on the field in the games of the highest profile, grassroots football represents the first experience we have with the sport. It’s the first kick of a ball at your local team.  The fond childhood memories of muddy pitches in the rain, and the lifelong friends that were made along the way. Without the opportunity to learn the game through grassroots football, there is no Premier League.


While by the age of about 11, the best player on the team had often been pinched by the professional academy in the area, they’d be usually released a few years later. Then they re-enter the wilderness of grassroots football. Some, thanks to the quality of the football pyramid in the UK, managed to bounce back and forge a career in the professional game.  Charlie Austin, Jamie Vardy, and Michail Antonio are just three examples of players who played grassroots football through their teens and early 20s and still found a way into the Premier League.


Impact of Grassroots football on the local community


Not only does the next Jamie Vardy need enthusiastic amateur coaches, opportunities to play on decent facilities, and a place to develop bonds with teammates, but so does the rest of the footballing society. For many children, coaches can be positive role models to learn elements of team building, resilience, and determination. Adult men and women often need grassroots football for social connection, personal fitness, and an escape from the stressful nature of 21st century life.


Grassroots football should be an opportunity for belonging, community and learning for all its members. With elite football becoming more sanitised and less affordable for many, it is crucial that funding is available to produce the next generation of amateur coaches, players, and spectators.


The Premier League, as earlier alluded to, is a billion-pound industry with clubs capable of spending astronomical transfer fees on new signings every single summer.  Simultaneously non-league clubs fold due to financial constraints leaving gaps in local communities. Pitches aren’t available for children to play on at the weekend, and coaching courses aren’t as accessible as they are in some of our European counterparts.


The disparity of wealth between the Premier League and general grassroots football without doubt needs reconsidering.