The Price to Play report, commissioned by Utilita Energy in association with former Aston Villa goalkeeper David James MBE, has revealed the impact that the pandemic and cost of living crisis have had on grassroots football.
BirminghamWorld visited at Goals Soccer Centre in Star City to find out what these findings may mean for the future of football - and the challenges that lie ahead.
As a former professional footballer, David James MBE, who played for Villa during 1999 to 2001 and capped by England 53 times, is all too familiar with the barriers that can prevent children from taking up the sport. James was in Goals Soccer centre to share the findings of the Price to Play report – a study of 1,000 footballing families which found that the cost of living is having a negative impact on children’s ability to play the game.
Alarmingly, over a third of parents said the main barriers were affording subs and kit needing to play. The report also reveals that 7% of clubs have closed, with 16% of parents fearing their child’s club could be next.
For James, who came from a low-income background himself, the findings are particularly worrying. “I was fortunate, I found a way - I had a grass cutting job. I used to cut grass on the weekends and save up and pay for my boots and gloves. I got through,” he recalls.
“But the world is a different place now. And I think what we’re looking at now, especially when they’re - the frustration - is that there’s so many traps out there, you know, not having grassroots football, or the access to grassroots football families means that their kids are going to have negative impact on their physical health, if they’re not participating in sport, mental health. Also social wellbeing.”
The former England goalkeeper is now lending his support to the Utilita Football Rebooted campaign, which encourages people to donate their pre-loved football boots to local children in need. “What we’re looking to do is make sure that everyone’s given the opportunity to play football,” he explains.
Sam Smith, coach of Mapledene Girls Football Team in Erdington, echoed James’ sentiments, saying: “It’s sad, and it’s scary, because, actually, Football is a game that’s given me - personally - and lots of people I know so much over the years, and to feel that people are now -young people - have been priced out of that. It’s worrying because to me, it’s a game for all. Everyone should have the opportunity to play.”
With only six in 10 parents saying they can comfortably afford their child’s football subs, with many saying they would have to make sacrifices elsewhere to continue, the future may unfortunately see a deficit of talent in football, from those who missed out on their opportunity to hone their abilities.
For Smith, the biggest worry is the impact that this will have on the future of the game. “I don’t think anyone should be priced out of that and not have the opportunity to experience it and enjoy it,” she says. “So I guess that’s my overwhelming thought. It’s worrying for the future of our game I think.”
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