EXCLUSIVE: FA chairman writes for The Star

Greg Dyke, Football Association chairman.
Greg Dyke, Football Association chairman.

Today, Greg Dyke, the FA chairman, is due to visit Sheffield as part of his FA chairman’s England Commission.

Alongside Coun Julie Dore, Sheffield Council leader, and Coun Isobel Bowler, council cabinet member for sport, he is due to announce a major grassroots football initiative in a new FA partnership with Sheffield Council and extending nationwide.

Mr Dyke says: “There is a great beauty to football that makes it stand out from many other sports. All you need is a ball, some mates and a place to play.

“Sadly, places to play in England are becoming fewer in modern society.

“Those pitches we used to play on; where have the goalposts gone, and when was the grass last cut, never mind the white lines being painted?

“And for two winters running many of the nation’s pitches have been under water.

“Despite this, big cities such as Sheffield have worked hard to maintain local pitches.

“More than 80 per cent of the football pitches in England are publicly owned and we all know local authorities are under real financial pressure.

“However, unlike in some European countries, in Britain providing sports facilities is discretionary spend for local authorities, which means football is suffering as a result.

“What this means is the quality and quantity of local football pitches across England are declining by the day and some are disappearing altogether.

“Something has to be done about this so today we are launching a pilot project in Sheffield, and shortly hopefully in Liverpool and Birmingham, to try to ensure a better future for football facilities in our great footballing cities.

“This project is at the centre of my FA chairman’s commission’s second report into how we can produce more and better young English players.

“Since our first report back in May, much has been said and written about our findings from all corners of the game.

“This alone has been a positive outcome given I wanted to start a nationwide debate where there wasn’t one.

“I wanted people thinking about the declining number of English players playing at the top level of our game, about the future of the national team, about the prospects for young English boys and girls in our game today.

“Some ideas we came up with have proved to be controversial, but you can’t have a partial debate.

“In recent months, the commission has been looking in particular at coaching and facilities.

“In our second report, published today, we are setting out radical new proposals for football facilities in our major cities with Sheffield in the vanguard.

“We are working with Sheffield Council to do two things.

“Firstly, we are mapping out all of the existing football facilities and working to ensure we know what the needs are for the city.

“Crucially, next, we then plan to work with the local authority, County FA, professional clubs, local league and clubs and other local partners to understand what investment is needed in facilities to ensure football in the city can thrive.

“Put simply, English cities like Sheffield need more 3G pitches – England currently has just 639 of them. Germany, the world champions, has more than 3,000.

“We want to increase the number of top quality places where our very best young players can not only hone their skills and become better players for an increasingly better England team but also where thousands and thousands of others – boys, girls and adults – will be able to enjoy themselves playing football.

“The national investment in each city will run into millions of pounds.

“However, if we are to find the next generation of Wayne Rooneys, Steph Houghtons or Gary Cahills then we must meet this challenge.

“The problem is real and something must be done.

“I am proud the FA will be working with Sheffield Council and other city partners to tackle it and we hope that, in partnership, there is a bright future for football in this city to match its wonderful history.”