English Football: Back to the Roots

June 28, 2010

The day after the nightmare before – in footballing terms that is. If you care about English football, there is much whingeing to do, but in truth, it’s hard graft and investment that’s needed.

As the Guardian reported at the start of June, while England has 2,769 football coaches graded at UEFA’s “B, A and Pro badges,” Spain has trained 23,995 and Germany, with its gaggle of energetic young attackers, has 34,790.

In Spain, there are 17 players for every qualified coach. In England, there are 812. And, given current rates, it will be 123 years before England obtains the number of “pro” grade coaches that Spain enjoys today.

That tells you much about where English football is going wrong.

But there is a broader problem. Figures released last year showed that funding for grassroots sport in England had gone down from £525 million in 1997, to £411 million in 2008, a fall that has been attributed to the financial burden of staging the 2012 Olympic games.

Non-league football clubs – which have produced England players as varied as Stuart Pearce, Les Ferdinand and Ian Wright – receive no help from government to run their youth programmes, a fact that premiership players Jack Collison, Dave Kitson and Curtis Davies have been trying (in vain) to highlight.

Meanwhile, at the very lowest level of the game, playing fields continue to be lost as they are sold off by schools or councils. Maybe 4 in 10 such green spaces were lost between 1992 and 2005, according to the National Playing Fields Association. Under pressure from campaigners, some gains have been made in holding back the developers, but the task is surely to restore our lost sporting facilities.

Sport, and football in particular, is governed by a hideous elitist clique, which bows to supposed market logic which rewards successful clubs with massive prize money bounties (while still spiralling into debt) and leaves others with nothing.

So the debacle in South Africa should be seen as a political problem, produced less by the over-tired (and, sure, overpaid) players, than by the incompetence of the game’s administrators and their political bosses in Parliament.

But training those coaches, saving those fields (and those struggling lower league or non-league clubs) is going to be a hard task. Still, it’s got to be done if you want to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s habitual embarassment.

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