Green light for biggest ever investment in grassroots football

Work is to get underway this summer on the biggest ever investment in grassroots football in Liverpool worth almost £17 million as part of The FA’s Parklife Programme.

A report approved at the council’s Cabinet today accepted an external funding package worth £12.9 million for the Liverpool Parklife Project, supplemented by a £4.4 million investment from the city council, and will see four all-weather sports hubs created in Liverpool.

The external funding is coming from the Football Foundation (£11.9 million on behalf of The FA, DCMS and The Premier League), Sport England (£0.8million) and the RFU (Rugby Football Union) – £272k.

It will initially see four all-weather sports hubs created in Liverpool in the following locations:

• Jeffrey Humble Playing Field (Fazakerley)
• Heron Eccles Playing Field (Allerton)
• Jericho Lane Playing Field (Otterspool)
• Simpson Road (Woolton)

Each will have three floodlit artificial grass pitches together with grass pitches, changing facilities and extensive car parking. There will also be health and fitness facilities at Jeffrey Humble and Jericho Lane.

The investment follows discussions in 2015 between Mayor Joe Anderson and the FA about a brand new approach to the sport designed to meet the changing needs of participants, drive up the standard of facilities and reduce reliance on subsidies from the city council by ensuring income generated from the sites is reinvested back into the game locally.

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said: “This is a huge investment in grassroots football and will be pivotal in improving the facilities in Liverpool. 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.

“Unlike many other councils, we have chosen to keep the use of pitches free. But we have far less money than we used to and we can’t invest as much as we would like to improve the pitches and associated facilities. That is why we have worked together with our partners 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.”

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.

Under the initiative, a varied development programme with be introduced to ensure the new facilities are accessible to all sections of the community through the week and matches and other activities at the weekend as part of the drive to ensure both football development and social outcomes are delivered.

Martin Glenn, FA CEO, said: “After the success of our inaugural site in Sheffield last year, this is another positive step in helping football communities across the country.

“Liverpool is a real hotbed for the game at youth level. Crucially, this development means poor pitches, inadequate changing facilities and a battle against the elements to get fixtures completed each winter will be a thing of the past for everyone who uses it which underlines our commitment to providing football for all.”

David Woods, Chair of the Liverpool Grassroots Steering Group, said: “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.”

An external operator will be sought to run the pitches, which will remain in council ownership. The council’s contribution will be funded using borrowing and initially repaid via a licence fee received from the operator. Once this borrowing has been serviced, all income received by the council will be donated to the council’s charitable trust.

Three of the sites are currently subject to the lease arrangements with Merseyside Youth Association (MYA) and as part of the new arrangements the leases at Heron Eccles and Simpson Ground will not be renewed. A new lease will be granted to the MYA for the Jeffrey Humble site which will be leased back to the council with the MYA receiving £15k a year rental income. All MYA staff will transfer to the new operator.

Planning permission has already been secured for the sites and work is expected to get underway this June with the new sites opening in April 2018.

Liverpool Waterfront