Updated: Nov 1
What Is Grassroots Football & How Important Is It to the Game?
Although it might be the Premier League that is bar far the most lucrative asset to English football, there is no doubt that the grassroots system stands as the country’s jewel. With our wonderful sport more commonly known as ‘The World’s Game’, it is certainly grassroots football that is the lifeblood of many a community up and down the country.
Likewise, while Premier League clubs and their famed academies might host some of the best players from across the globe, England’s grassroots system has played a vital role in producing a string of international stars. We take an in-depth look at just how important grassroots football is and why it is regarded to be the backbone of our game.
What Is Grassroots Football?
With England’s top-four ties from the Premier League to League Two deemed as their professional ranks, grassroots football is a term that is used for any league or activity below that level. The main aim of the grassroots system is to develop football from the local level and offer anybody from across the country the chance to participate in an area close to their location.
Opportunities for All Age Groups
From football schools that are designed for toddlers and children all the way through to a local Sunday league team set up by a group of friends, it all falls under the umbrella of grassroots football. Widely regarded to be the jewel of English football, another key aspect of the grassroots system is to teach tolerance and bring different ethnic and backgrounds together.
Playing a vital role in communities across the land, it also offers the chance for all ages to interact among a variety of different positions from nurturing talent all the way through to sourcing local investment. While it might be the players that spring to mind when most people think of grassroots football, this isn’t the case.
Along with handing millions of people from up and down the country the chance to participate almost every day, it also has coaches and referees who are arguably the most important part of grassroots football. Allowing budding managers and officials the chance to ply their trade and pick up some real experience, the system also helps develop crucial social skills.
Investment & Economic Value of Grassroots Football
The investment in the system has been a big talking point across the board. Along with money each year pouring down from the Premier League via England’s footballing pyramid, there has been somewhat of a push from both the FA and UK government over recent years.
Although the Football Association announced last year that they were expecting to lose £300m due to the global health crisis, they did state that £180m worth of investment will be handed to grassroots football over the next four years. On a similar note, the British government also released a statement back in March stating that the grassroots system will be given a further £39million for 2022 in order to help 116 football facilities.
While the investment in grassroots football might be a conversation that has been frequently had over recent years, the economic value that it offers in return is invaluable. Along with handing communities from across the land the chance to participate across a variety of levels, the grassroots system also adds a staggering £10.16billion to society each year.
Likewise, grassroots football also hands a real service to the more deprived communities across England. Receiving a £1billion investment by the National Football Facilities Strategy last year, it was also announced that 10% of that investment will be handed to the most deprived areas in the country.
How Grassroots Football Positively Impacts Communities
Along with grassroots football handing people of all ages and backgrounds the chance to participate in England’s national sport on a regular basis, the positive effect that it has on communities up and down the country can not be undervalued. With the English FA releasing a 131-page report on the social and economic value of grassroots football last year, it only underlined how crucial the system is for a host of different reasons.
Physical & Mental Well-Being
The FA’s report announced that across the whole of England 13.5million people play football on a regular basis and the improvements in both physical and mental well-being are nothing short of staggering. Along with it being stated that there are 66,500 cases where participation in grassroots football has helped the reduction of depression and anxiety among children, this number only skyrockets for adults.
Only cementing why grassroots football is so crucial to both the national sport and the physical benefits that it offers, the FA’s report also announced that there are 203,300 cases among adults who have reported a reduction in mental and health disorders. With over 1.4million spending their hard-earned time volunteering in the system each week, it is extremely hard to argue that grassroots football is not the lifeblood of our historic game.
What Improvements Can Be Made?
Watching the likes of Bury and Chesterfield go bust over recent years and with hundreds of club employees losing their livelihood, there must be a constant demand to protect grassroots football. While the system might have received significant backing following the pandemic, there are always concerns that the overall funding will not be enough to keep facilities at a high standard.
With the grassroots web spread far and wide across the United Kingdom, there does still remain one key area of concern in the system that needs to be addressed. In a system that is largely built on mutual respect and tolerance, the growing altercations involving grassroots officials have become a major talking point.
Described as a “disease ruining our game” following a bombshell report by the BBC in December 2021, statistics showed that 90% of grassroots referees have experienced abuse. With England’s wonderful amateur set-up offering so many positives both to people’s mental well-being and local economies, the FA must make sure that this recent plague does not overshadow all their fantastic work.
What Premier League Players Have Come through Grassroots Football?
Although superstars such as Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah might tantalise Premier League fans every weekend, there are a host of other heavyweight names that have taken a longer route to join England’s elite. Not only have these top-flight stars managed to skyrocket their way up England’s footballing pyramid, but they have also seen their resilience earn them the chance to shine on the international stage.
Arguably the most notable Premier League star to forge their way in the grassroots system is Leicester City icon, Jamie Vardy. Spending time at both Halifax and Fleetwood Town before making the move to Leicester as a 25-year-old in 2012, Vardy has only cemented his spot as one of England’s most clinical number nines.
Spearheading the Foxes’ famous Premier League-winning campaign six years ago, the 35-year-old also earned 26 caps for the Three Lions. Likewise, West Ham United are another top-flight outfit who have a pair of attacking talismans that learned their skills thanks to the grassroots system. Along with new England international Jarrod Bowen starting his career at National League North side Hereford United, the Hammers’ all-time leading goalscorer, Michail Antonio, began his own journey with eighth-tier side Tooting & Mitcham in 2008.
So, Just How Important Is Grassroots Football?
Whether you’re looking at the mental benefits that grassroots football offers to communities across the country, or the economic value that it hands England each year, it is undeniable just how important the system is. Although the Premier League and all of their superstars might always stand as the poster boy of English football, the grassroots system is the backbone of our national sport.
Handing young budding players that chance to pursue their dreams or adults who are simply hoping to improve on their overall well-being, grassroots football should never be undervalued. A unique system that has helped a host of big-name stars represent their countries on the international stage, the tradition, and history of the grassroots game means that it deserves to be billed as the lifeblood of ‘The World’s Game’.
Check out collectivefootball.org who wrote the above article.