More than 5,000 grassroots football clubs will cease to exist as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report has warned.
The study, entitled The Final Whistle For Grassroots Football, found that 96% of clubs in the UK have seen a reduction in income in the last year.
There are 43,000 active clubs in the UK and, according to the research, 12% say closure is inevitable.
Former England goalkeeper David James told Sky News: “This isn’t just about kids playing football, this is about the community.
“Without grassroots football, everybody loses.”
The former Liverpool and Aston Villa star, who made a record 572 Premier League appearances as a goalkeeper, is fronting the campaign to save local clubs.
He began playing the sport with Panshanger FC in Welwyn Garden City aged eight.
“It is a fundamental part of the development process for any football career, so it is important we maintain it and don’t lose any more clubs,” he said.
“We will be losing a tremendous amount of future Harry Kanes, Raheem Sterlings, maybe even David Jameses. Who knows?”
Badsey Rangers FC was founded in 1890 by market gardeners in the Worcestershire village. But the current climate means its proud history brings no guarantee of the club’s future.
“It will be a struggle,” manager Wayne Neale told Sky News.
“The hardest part for us will be finding sponsorship. Companies don’t want to part with money at the moment. What they’ve got is pretty much what they need to survive themselves.”
The team’s red and black striped shirt that Mr Neale’s son Kai wears, as he dribbles through cones on the sodden village green, sports the name of the local pub – Round of Gras – reflecting a community where people rely on one another.
“Obviously pubs and hospitality trading has been closed, so it’s not really a question you want to ask,” he said.
The club’s finances are not Mr Neale’s only concern. His shouts of encouragement at Kai, through the pouring rain, betray anxiety about his son’s wellbeing.
“As soon as some players hit the pitches they become a totally different person – it’s great to see. You see the liveliness of them. The more they don’t see each other, the more their mental and physical health will become affected. It’s not a good sign at all,” he said.
More than 12 million people play at grassroots level in the UK. According to the Football Association, its value in England alone is £10.8bn – £8.7bn in improved physical and mental wellbeing and £2bn in economic value.
David James, who represented England at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, said the government should do more to help.
The former Manchester City stopper has launched a petition calling for subsided or free access to state-owned and council-run training facilities.
James said: “If I was to talk to a government official right now, I would say the mental health issues, physical health issues, social wellbeing are just three areas where grassroots football helps the government. Grassroots football is fundamentally important.”
Sport England said it has awarded over £10.8m of funding to 1,575 grassroots football clubs and organisations across England since last March.
— to news.sky.com