FA pledges £200m to grow grass roots

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The Independent Online

Anyone who has ever changed in the rain by the side of a pitch, who has experienced the abuse of players and parents towards referees and children, or who has groaned at the inadequacies of the English footballer, should welcome the Football Association's forthcoming investment of £220m in developing the game's grass roots, announced yesterday.

The cash, to be ploughed in over the next five years, is £11m a year more than the previous level of investment, but equally important is that, for the first time in years, it will be directed towards a coherent strategy.

Lord Triesman, the FA's new chairman, who already looks a sure hand on the tiller, said the focus was on four areas: to halt and reverse the decline in participation; enhance facilities; develop better players; and improve the game's grassroots' administration.

He said: "It represents the biggest investment ever made in grass-roots football. It's a huge and valuable effort. Having played a lot of amateur football myself, been a referee and coached, what I've seen shows the investment is demonstrably needed."

The FA chief executive, Brian Barwick, added: "It's a very important day in the everyday life of English football."

The FA's initiative is long-overdue. Professional football may still be riding a boom which began at Italia '90 and was given impetus by the Taylor Report and the emergence of Sky TV, but the amateur game is in decline. Seven million people still play the sport, four million of them adults, but participation levels are in decline. Competition is one reason, be it from a Nintendo Wii or the growing pressures of work and family. The FA can do little about that, but abysmal facilities, increasing violence from players and spectators, and the related lack of referees are within its remit. Almost a third of games are played without referees.

To most people the FA equals the FA Cup and the England team rather than parks football. The development of young players is the area where these parts of the Venn diagram meet. There may be four English clubs in the last four of the Champions League but only 10 of the 88 players in the starting XIs are English.

"I would like to have more English players involved but they must be in their team on merit," said Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development. "My challenge is to try and increase the quality so there are more English players in Europe on a regular basis."

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