Liverpool is to benefit from the biggest ever investment in grassroots football in the city – designed to secure the long term future of the game.
It follows discussions between Mayor Joe Anderson and FA Chairman Greg Dyke about a brand new approach to the sport designed to reverse a decline in participation, drive up the standard of facilities and reduce reliance on subsidies from the city council.
It would initially see the creation of four football ‘hubs’ across the city funded by Liverpool City Council, the FA, Sport England and the Premier League with the latest artificial grass (3G) pitches and new changing facilities.
A total of £12.6 million of funding will be coming from partner organisations, with the city council contributing £4.4 million.
The sites that would be part of the first phase of the programme are:
• Jeffrey Humble Playing Field (Fazakerley)
• Heron Eccles Playing Field (Allerton)
• Jericho Lane Playing Field (Otterspool)
• Simpson Road (Woolton)
A report to the council’s Cabinet on Friday 4 March is recommending management of the facilities be transferred to a new city-wide Football Trust, which would reinvest its income into improvements in local facilities.
Football is the city’s major participation sport with over 1,200 teams – of which more than 60 percent are junior/youth teams – and it is estimated that half a million people participate in the game every year.
Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, said: “Grassroots football is still hugely popular in Liverpool and, unlike many other councils, we have kept the use of pitches free. But the fact of the matter is that we have far less money than we used to and we can’t invest to improve the pitches and associated facilities.
“Far too often during the winter, matches have to be called off because the grass is waterlogged or frozen, causing disappointment for thousands of people.
“That is why I am delighted that, following my discussions with FA Chairman Greg Dyke, we have worked together to come up with an innovative new approach that will deliver major investment in great new facilities and get more people involved in the game.
“It is a real coup that the FA have chosen Liverpool to pilot it and is a clear demonstration of their confidence in us to deliver.”
A programme of development for both boys and girls would be introduced to enable them to progress to the professional game, and football matches through the week would be introduced to make sure that the facilities are not just being used at weekends. It is expected that Liverpool FC and Everton FC would also use them.
FA Chief Executive, Martin Glenn, said: “We are delighted that planning is at such an advanced stage in Liverpool. I commend the city’s commitment to a project that will lead to a step-change in the provision of grassroots football in England.
“Over the next four years, we have laid out the ambitious target of football hubs across 30 cities to support the delivery of FA and County FA youth development and coach education programmes and to improve the quality of grassroots provision for clubs and teams.”
At least two of the sites would offer health and fitness classes to complement the city’s existing physical activity and sports programmes.
David Woods, Chair of the Liverpool Grassroots Steering Group, said: “Today’s announcement is an extremely exciting one for the future of grassroots football in Liverpool. The addition of new state-of-the-art 3G pitches, pavilions and car parking will provide new facilities for everyone, allowing people to access football all year round across the city.
“Once construction has concluded, these four hub sites will provide high-quality facilities for grassroots clubs and leagues, who will be able to play football in a safe environment. Not only will these facilities be available for clubs during the week for training; at weekends they will allow for mini-soccer to be played in the morning, with youth and adult football able to be played in the afternoon.”
Dave Pugh, Chief Executive of the Liverpool County FA, said: “We have been working hard with the Liverpool Grassroots Steering Group, Liverpool City Council and The FA to develop this project, which will not only see a huge investment in the city for grassroots football, but will also provide opportunities to support grassroots football leagues, both junior and adult, by providing high-quality facilities for them to access for match days, and clubs for training during the week.
“The new facilities will also improve the access and quality of our coach education programmes, improve skill development of young players, allow more people to access football opportunities and ultimately change the way we support and deliver football in the city for the better.
“There are still some hurdles to overcome but this announcement is the first step in a journey we are delighted to be part of for the development of grassroots football in Liverpool. Liverpool County FA will be leading on some consultation with leagues in the coming weeks around setting interim plans and future usage.”
Positive discussions are ongoing with Merseyside Youth Association (MYA), who run three of the four sites, to restructure their leases.
Gill Bainbridge, Chief Executive of Merseyside Youth Association, said: “Merseyside Youth Association has managed Heron Eccles, Simpson and Jeffrey Humble Playing Fields for nearly 100 years. This would not have been possible without excellent support from partners especially Liverpool City Council, The FA, Football Foundation and Sport England.
“I am very excited for what the potential plans could mean for people involved in grassroots football. Parklife addresses the sustainability of playing fields in a very well planned and detailed manner. Completing the plans will be challenging and will involve many more steps for the partners. MYA will support the development and ongoing consultation in any way possible.”
Consultation will get underway over the next few weeks over the proposals with planning applications expected to be submitted in the near future.