At BRFCs we want to expand our writing pool to include people who can write about wider football issue, with that in mind we are delighted to welcome Stuart Grimshaw to our writing team, he will be focusing on Grassroots Football.
Even before the gentlemen of Sheffield FC laid down the rules of soccer that we know today, there has been grassroots football. Whether it was Shrovetide football, kids in the street with jumpers for goalposts or one of the larger local clubs with a team or two for each age group, a committee and hundreds of volunteers. People have always gathered to kick, carry or throw a ball at a goal, and even though the opportunities to play are becoming fewer, it remains the most popular activity in many countries.
"Football is for everyone and can be played anywhere and everywhere. Football is a school of life that is also fun. Let the kids be kids." No, not a Guardiola, Mourinho or even Allardyce quote, this irony-free statement comes from the fine, upstanding citizens of FIFA.
Considering they say it can be played anywhere, their videos of techniques being demonstrated are all filmed on finely manicured grass, by kids in kits that don't have holes in and with footballs that haven't been chewed by that dog that invaded the pitch that time.
Grassroots football has always been the poor relation to professional football, it's never basked in the warm glow of sponsorship, sugar daddies and TV money like its older brother Premier League which has more money than it knows what to do with (Don't believe me? What about Andy Carroll to Liverpool for £35m ... Robinho to Man City for €42.5m?) it feels worse than ever. The closest a grass roots club gets to a sugar daddy is when one of the players dad's stumps up £300 from his building firm to buy a new kit.
Austerity has councils under huge pressure to slash budgets; Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council's budget for Leisure, Culture & Young People was cut by £2m from 2015/16 to 16/7. They don't have funds to maintain pitches, even basic maintenance such as cutting the grass as often as is needed, or marking out the lines; never mind proper maintenance like renewing the grass over the summer or improving drainage so the pitches can be used more during the winter. It's not unusual to turn up to play with one of the crossbars, much like Rovers’ back four under Owen Coyle, hideously bent out of shape.
Schools have long since sold off their pitches to cover short term gaps in funding, and those that are lucky to have a new 4G pitch as part of their redevelopment are hugely overpriced or hugely oversubscribed, sometimes both. There's no money to buy new land for pitches, there's no money to buy new equipment for the pitches, there's no money to pay for improvements to pitches.
What little funding is available is so sparse that very often only 1 or 2 teams actually benefit. How many times have you seen your nephew's posting on Facebook or Twitter asking you to vote for their club to win part of some company's community fund? Like greasy Lords of the Manor handing out alms to the poor as if it absolves them of any blame for the fact poor people exist at all.
I haven't even touched on the fact that kids don't (can’t...won’t?) play in the street any more, and any patch of grass worthy of the name, will have a "No Ball Games" sign planted in the middle.
What are we to do when one end of the football spectrum has never had it so good and the other hand has never had it so bad?
First we need to understand what grassroots football is and what it's for. It's not for finding the next £10m player, it's not Darwen FC or Padiham FC, non-league football is as far from grassroots as it is from the Premier League.
Grassroots football is 15 kids kicking a ball in their local park, the game ends when the kid who owns the ball has to go home. It's clubs like Blackburn Eagles, Clitheroe Wolves, Lammack Juniors & Wilpshire Wanderers, Saturday and Sunday morning football for kids under 16. It's weekend football for your local pub team (if they even have one any more) or local village side. It's booking a 7-a-side pitch after work every week and playing against your friends. Each one of these different types of football faces its own pressure, but they all boil down to money and not enough of it making its way down the football ladder.
The answer is clear. Professional football needs to support grassroots football. It's not a government problem, FIFA quite rightly says that football associations should be apolitical. Professional clubs need to do more than send an injured player, shuffling at the front of the class with his hands in his pockets like a naughty child and say that they contribute to their community.
The community football they run often costs a fortune, their academies and development squads are often treated like profit centres charging a small fortune for players to go and get coaching, all the time softly cooing to parents about how their child might make it.
Look at any British player in any team around the world, but especially playing for British clubs and they will have started out age 8 or 9 for a grassroots club, none of them went straight into an academy. I would say it's in their interests to support grass roots because that's where they get their players from.
There's currently a petition urging the government to put pressure on the Premier League to honour its commitment to spend £1 billion of the 2016-19 TV revenues deal on grassroots facilities. Most of the money goes on "solidarity" payments to the lower leagues though.
If little Jonny or Gemma plays any kind of grassroots sport, I urge you to sign the petition. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/200094
In my next article, I’ll run you through the life of a grass roots football coach.
We are delighted to introduce BRFCS brand new columnist Red Rose Rover who will be doing regular blogs and opinion pieces.
Community in the Football
Over recent years, the concept of a football club participating actively in its local community has become routine. It is no longer a differentiator of a big club; it is quite simply an expected function. Clubs are affiliated to their community trusts, who in turn use the power innate in the partnership to organise initiatives and events that mutually benefit the local causes. Even the Charity Shield was renamed to the Community Shield reflecting the prevailing mood.
However, it is the community spirit that can be found amongst football supporters within football grounds that never ceases to amaze me. At various times over recent years when I have questioned my sanity in returning to Ewood Park every season, my motivation for attending has slowly, surreptitiously yet significantly changed. On the field diminished, in the stands highlighted. As the results worsened, the social interaction became the main reason for returning; an overwhelming sense of not wanting to let anyone down.
Season ticket holders, who occupy the same seat, season after season, typically find themselves surrounded by familiar faces. Pre-match, half-time and post-match conversations lead to shared opinions, discussions, debates and fortnightly updates on events ranging from international geo-political turmoil, dropping all the way down to family news such as christenings and weddings.
Some of those stadium neighbours transition from being merely fortnightly acquaintances to firm friends. Like any neighbourhood, you don’t get on with everyone, but some personalities resonate more strongly than others. Some make you laugh. Some challenge your established world view. Some just have the happy knack of making you feel better for the encounter.
At the beginning of every season you look around and see who has renewed. There are little nods, smiles and waves of acknowledgement. The gang is reassembling. Just occasionally, a seat is unfilled and remains so for a couple of games. You hope it’s just a late, poorly timed holiday, but then eventually word filters through of a recent funeral and everyone in the vicinity shares the loss.
A good few years ago now, it was those people around my chosen seat that helped to keep me going whilst I was undergoing a course of treatment for a serious illness. I missed a batch of home games and when I returned, the polite enquiries as to my health were every bit as genuine as those I received from close family. In fact I joked on more than one occasion that the poor chap who sat next to me knew more about my life than my own mother.
But then Venky’s arrived and after the divisive and poisonous Steve Kean reign, my little group started to fragment; one or two at first drifting away but eventually resulting in that community withering on the vine. I missed the rituals. Arrive in the seat at 2:30pm to allow plenty of time to catch up.
“Did you see the game on Wednesday ?”
“Have you heard about who we’re trying to sign ?’
“Did I tell you my nephew’s just been signed up by the Rovers Academy ?”
“Here’s a quiz question for you…who was the last….”
Come 5pm; “See you in a fortnight…”
I wonder whether some of those long absent neighbours are still with us and please God they are, whether they miss it or not after so long away.
However, I see a few signs of the spirit that I have missed for seven or eight years slowly starting to return. Performances on the field make a big difference. Watching a winning side is naturally a lot easier.
But in my experience, it may also be in part due to the increased power and reach of social media. Over the last two or three years, thanks largely to Twitter, I have enjoyed sharing the experiences of a cluster of Rovers fans internationally and in turn having my whimsy indulged by them. It fostered a virtual community that has in some instances led to the creation of a real-life community.
I have been cajoled in to attending away matches again. I meet up with interesting, enthusiastic people who all seem to be doing interesting and in some instances, extraordinary things with their lives; tremendous physical challenges raising astonishing sums of money for great causes. I’ve moved on, but membership of this virtual community has helped to make watching football an enjoyable experience again.
Football does a great deal of positive work in the community, but the community spirit engendered within a football ground by football supporters can in my experience be a powerful change agent for good, in us all.
RED ROSE ROVER
Rovers manager Tony Mowbray was delighted with the positive impact the substitutes made as his team came from a goal down to win 2-1 to make it three wins on the bounce. At his aftermatch press conference Mowbray said “It was one of those games where there was an expectation, it felt a bit like the AFC Wimbledon game (1-0 defeat) after the two wins at Rochdale and Scunthorpe and we fell flat. “But we got there in the end and hopefully that shows that the team is developing and getting stronger and hopefully we can find a way to win at Ewood. “I think we have to accept that the games at home are going to be a difficult proposition for us. “For 20 minutes we were very dominant and they grew in to the game and were a threat on the counter-attack and grew in confidence. “As we do sometimes away from home they played inside the shape and broke away but we decided in the second half to have less of the ball, go that bit more direct and keep our shape behind the ball. “Ultimately it paid dividends. We made the changes and I thought Danny (Graham) was fantastic the way he used his body and it was about finding a way to win.”
Rovers are back in action on Tuesday as they travel to Bloomfield to take on Blackpool who are managed by former Rovers boss Gary Bowyer.
After seeing his side win 4-2 against Oxford United Rovers boss Tony Mowbray was praised the players and fans at his after match press conference
“It’s about getting the points. We had a tough game away from home at the weekend and it was important to start fast and not be one of those teams that has a good day and a bad day. “It was important to put a marker down early and do that. “We got our rewards from some dead balls and our pressing. It was a positive start which was important because I knew they were a good team with the ball. “We dropped a bit off the intensity as the half wore on and you could see they started to pop it through the lines. “We knew how tough the game was going to be, we started bright, got the goals and managed to control it up to the end.”
Mowbray urged his team to build on the 2 consecutive away wins “We need to keep going, looking at the next hurdle infront of us which is Bristol Rovers and then we have another tough one at Blackpool so it’s none stop. “We have to make sure the intensity stays there and utilise everyone and they will all have a part to play. “We have to create a pressure on ourselves to get results and with the greatest of respect to Oxford and Bury we have to believe that we are going there to win those games and the players have to believe it."
The Rovers boss also had special praise for the travelling fans “The fans were amazing and I’m glad we’ve given them something to cheer about tonight. "I know how much they’ve suffered over the last few years. Away day victories are fantastic, they’ve paid hard-earned money and given up time to be here. "They’ll get home late tonight, so huge thanks to them."
Rovers are back in action on Saturday as they welcome Bristol Rovers to Ewood Park.
The always brilliant and entertaining Blackburn Roverseas is back after international week, previewing the upcoming away game at Bury:
Bury Match Preview
Remember you get to see these videos first through BRFCS, but if you enjoy them make sure you subscribe and like on Roverseas YouTube channel.