Are grassroots football’s problems deeper than we think?

With the whole sport changing, we’re asking whether amateur football is still the draw that it used to be.

We’re not just talking about playing numbers, although that is still cause for concern for the FA despite what their press releases may have you believe. Recent statistics show a slight surge in playing numbers, but we still have 6% fewer participants than we did in 2005.

But as is the case with any sport, participation numbers themselves don’t tell the full story. In order to gain a full understanding of the current state of amateur football, we have to look at the whys as well as the whats.

As specialists in football club insurance, our focus is on the non-playing side of the sport.

If you focus solely on the playing side of football, you’re running down a dead end. Much has been said about the state of the facilities and how there aren’t enough coaches and referees prepared to give up their time, but can we honestly say that pitches are any worse than they were 20 years ago, or there are fewer referees?

It may be anecdotal, but I know for a fact that when I played as a junior, you were relieved to see a referee turn up 5 minutes before kick-off. And pitches akin to swimming pools, lopsided goalposts and dog mess on the pitch were just hazards of the job.

I suppose the counter to that argument has been the incredible surge in the number of people playing smaller-sided games on artificial pitches. But I wonder whether the perfect playing surface is actually the big draw.

Maybe it’s actually the lifestyle.

I wonder whether traditional Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning grassroots football just doesn’t fit into a modern lifestyle anymore. The notable thing about smaller-sided games is that they tend to run leagues every day of the week. And most games last less than an hour.

You can pick and choose when you play and you can be out of the house and back in under a couple of hours.

Now compare that to Saturday or Sunday league football, where matches have to be played on an exact time on an exact day, matches can be 30+ miles away and the whole experience including travel, warm up and changing can take 4-5 hours.

The modern lifestyle surely requires more flexibility than that.

But it’s not just people moving from 11 a side to 5/6/7 a side games. More and more people are also choosing to stop playing in general in favour of watching a game from the comfort of their own home. With SKY, BT Sport and Premier Sports showing more and more live football, more consumers have a genuine choice about which they’d prefer to do.

So today, we’re asking whether you as traditional football clubs or players, have a genuine fear about the future of the grassroots game and the money it puts behind the bar. Or are you excited about the possibilities? How are you adapting to the change?

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Sam Humphrey

Sam Humphrey