Grassroots disgrace needs to be addressed

The sad news announced this week that Senrab, the youth club which started the young careers of John Terry, Sol Campbell, Ledley King, Jermain Defoe and Paul Konchesky, amongst others, are now imploring their former graduates to help find the £12,000 annual running costs to prevent the club from going out of business comes as no surprise. The increasing cost of training equipment and facility hire, and the reduction in financial support from the council, is threatening one of English football’s most respected institutions’ very existence.

Senrab has been training young, enthusiastic footballers for fifty years, but it’s conductor, Tony Carroll, has admitted, “We can’t afford to hire training facilities. Tower Hamlets sport and leisure is run by private companies, it is not run by the council, and we get no concessions at all. What we’re doing now is every team trains once a week, on a Saturday in local parks because we don’t have to pay for that.” Senrab are perhaps one of the highest profile youth clubs in England, but they are suffering the same adversity that most grassroots football clubs are facing in every corner of the country.

Whilst processed, canned and fast food becomes cheaper and more accessible, at the same time councils are throwing money at speed cameras, width restrictions and Christmas lights that are designed not to offend anyone, we are still instructed to eat healthily and participate in sport. Well this situation has gotten out of hand, and did so long before Carroll announced his club’s dire situation. It is criminal that the two most prominent outlets for playing football, Goals and Power League, are able to not only charge mindboggling prices to use a small area of land for up to 60 minutes at a time but are also not restricted from increasing what they charge customers at any time they please.

There are 44 Power League centres across the UK with the average price of using a 5-a-sie pitch being £45, and a 7-a-side pitch £63 for an hour. What’s more disgusting is that each of Goals’ 40 centres charge their customers a confusingly high and obscure £61.50 for an hour of 5-a-side, and a staggering £80 for a 7-a-side pitch. If you’re visiting one of their centres, don’t forget to bring a ball otherwise you will be asked bluntly to leave a deposit because clearly, £80 is a completely reasonable fee to pay to use a rectangle of fake grass, what you do with it is up to you.

Having grown up during a more reasonable time, when I was encouraged to play and enjoy football anywhere at anytime with anyone, I find it extremely difficult to trust any of the vague reassurances councils, the FA and the Premier League constantly express, because in reality this country’s grassroots football is a shambles, children are finding fewer reasons to want to get involved and nothing is being done to actively alter this situation because, as with Senrab, their fate is controlled by private companies.

Senrab’s local council, Tower Hamlets, responded to Carroll’s concerns by saying: “We value the commitment of local sports clubs and organisations.” In practice, the council has cut the club’s biennial funding from £2,500 to £800 and the price of renting training pitches has increased by up to 300%. We are breeding a generation of intellectually challenged, obese children who will be wondering why England still hasn’t won the World Cup thirty years from now. They will still assume the impediment to success lies with the manager at the time who, depending on whether he is English or foreign, be replaced with one who is the opposite.

Pep Segura, former Technical Director at La Masia, Barcelona’s famed youth academy, and now working wonders as Academy Technical Director at Liverpool observes that, “I have seen in my short time here in this country working at Liverpool, that there is just as much talent, just as many players with the same hunger, will, and desire to learn as in every other country. All that is missing are the means to enable the players and coaches to develop. That’s not down to the players. It’s down to the Academy heads, and those with a vested interest in youth football.”

Unfortunately, it would seem the only ones interested in youth football are the ones without the means to participate or establish and maintain an institution which encourages involvement. Despite what councils or the Premier League say, it is quite obvious that youth development features very low on their list of priorities. Due to the fact that they have developed such a large number of successful players, Senrab’s possible destitution should signal to the authorities that something drastic and remarkably different needs to be implemented quickly to avoid a further deterioration of English football.

5-a-side centres must be subsidised heavily to make it affordable for children to play at least twice a week, especially during the summer months. I would find it far easier to appreciate the work of councils in spending extortionate amounts of public money in trying to prevent local crime and racial offence, if they realised that by providing affordable facilities for youngsters to participate in sport, this would not only reduce crime levels by giving them something to do but increase the fitness, health and sense of community amongst England’s younger generation. While John Terry has come to the rescue on this occasion, I for one hope Senrab are able to continue to generate the money they need to survive and prosper for many years to come, but the FA and Premier League have to start adhering to their empty promises to fund grassroots football because nobody, under any circumstances, should ever be prevented from playing football for financial reasons.

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