I caught up with BBC’s Dan Walker on Monday following his visit to the Football Foundation funded 3G pitch at Wisewood Sports Centre. A joint operation between the Government, FA and Premier League whose crucial funding provides these facilities up and down the country, it was clearly a pleasure for Dan to view first hand the work being done in his local area. I had the chance to discuss the project itself, youth development and all things football with the Football Focus helmsman.
After many months in the making, was it good to finally see the hard work paying off?
“I was here back in December last year, and I was standing in this spot wearing a hilariously ill-fitting hard hat sitting on a digger. So less than a year on it is great to see a bit of 3G magic in prospect and kids from local school Wisewood Primary playing on it and enjoying it. We don’t normally get to talk about these things do we on Football Focus?”
Did you get the chance to put the youngsters through their paces then?
“I’ve got to say some impressive touches and some who need a bit of work. I remember doing PE and football on a pitch covered in mud and raining, doing things like skills and technique was always difficult.”
“It’s a fantastic facility, not all these kids will play football regularly or be professionals but it gives them the opportunity.”
Is this something you like to get involved with a lot, or are you new to it?
“I do quite a bit in schools, but for the Football Foundation I have been an ambassador for a about a year and this is the first project I have been to see as I live around 5 miles away. We don’t get the opportunity to shout about it often but in Sheffield alone they have put £9m into projects like these since the turn of the millennia. Also over £400m has been invested into the UK in general, which is an awful amount of money from the Premier League, FA and Government. A lot of hard work, and yes we complain about chopping down pitches and building supermarkets but it is good to shout about the stuff that is being done.”
I suppose this ties in very well with Greg Dykes comments from last week. Are these sorts of grassroots projects the solution or is it much more complex than that?
“It is a huge one. I did a radio show two weeks ago with Chris Waddle talking about the importance of young kids working on their techniques from an early age. I think we get carried away and think that the kids in Germany, Spain and Italy are miles ahead of those in England; I don’t think it’s the case.”
“I do think in this country we have cultural issues to address as to how we develop our football that range from parents on the touchline to our coaching standards, that’s where we need to improve and facilities like this enable us to do this.”
What are your thoughts, on the Premier League so far? Is it the most competitive title race for many years?
“I think it is. When it all came back in the middle of August there was genuine excitement with both Manchester clubs having new managers, the return of Mourinho as well as a host of other clubs making changes. Even outside of the top four there is interest on all levels, the on-going sagas of Rooney, Suarez and Bale as well as people like Mesut Ozil and Marouane Fellaini moving on deadline day.”
“It just seems so tight and I think it will be one of the most open. I think Chelsea will have a good season and I quite fancied Manchester City before the season started, although they don’t seem to know their best team or the style of football they want to play. I think it is a wide-open Premier League, brilliant for me especially not being the fan of a top division club.”
Moyes vs Mourinho; the battle of the bores?
“If its great we moan about only a few sides competing, and if it’s wide open we say the managers are boring. There is so much to celebrate, maybe there are better leagues in terms of quality but for me that isn’t a problem. Yes we got cancel out football of the highest order between Moyes/Mourinho but that isn’t the Premier League norm and certainly not the way all this games this season will be played. Mourinho will sometimes strangle the life out of a game and David Moyes will play football his way at Manchester United, but I still think there will be enough to keep the football as attractive as ever.”
“We are not going to get to February and March with people thinking do you know what I can’t be bothered to watch Football Focus or go to the game. I think that interest will be more than kept and come the middle of May we will still be undecided on who will win the league and who is going to be relegated.”
What do you make of the unprecedented offerings of European football to viewers at home?
“We were discussing this before one of my shows on BBC 5 Live and it used to be the case that people knew the Premier League inside out and maybe the lower leagues but nothing much else. You can now sit in a pub or restaurant with mates and discuss how the back four at Athletic Bilbao are doing or how good a signing like Diego Lugano is for West Brom. We have a far better coverage now of La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga and we are aware of how players and teams are doing. Many used to be unaware of who was even top of the French League, now whether its magazines, TV or Radio football fans have a much greater awareness of football across the continent and around the world.”
Funded by the Premier League, The FA, and the Government (via Sport England), the Football Foundation is the country’s largest sports charity. Since it was launched in 2000, the Foundation has awarded around 9,500 grants worth more than £410m towards community football projects, which it has used to attract a further £560m of partnership funding into the grassroots game. For more information visit www.footballfoundation.org.uk.