THE chief executive of the Cheshire FA has outlined his plans to improve grassroots football in Chester.
After the Leader (March 31) spotlighted the state of the area’s 11-a-side game, Simon Gerrard has outlined his plans to make sure amateur football in the city has a future.
Last week the honourary chairman of the Chester and District Football League, Paul Graham, criticised the state of the pitches in the city, saying crumbling facilities were turning people away from the game.
In response Mr Gerrard said Cheshire FA is working hard behind the scenes to rectify the problems.
He said: “We have invested £30,000 into grassroots football clubs to support growth in the last three years. £1.5million has gone towards facility development in the last six years in the Chester area. That’s not enough. However, we are working with the council to look at the pitch situation.
“The council are aware what needs to be done to bring them up to scratch but we are also helping with their playing pitch strategy so we know where the good pitches are, where the bad pitches are and what facilities will be required for all the different formats of the game. We have never had that before and that is the start point for the investment into it.
“What you can’t do is come up with a bag of cash and just distribute it out there because we will be in exactly the same position in 20 years.
“We are trying to put things in place to make sure we are not in this position in 20 years time.
“We know things aren’t perfect but we are doing things behind the scenes. It is very difficult to give a ‘one size fits all’ for people because people want different things when they play football.
“There are problems but there are plans in place to try and sort the situation and to try and put some of the power for grassroots football back into their hands.”
Mr Gerrard identified a site on Bumpers Lane site – which Chester FC are currently exploring as a potential new training ground and community pitches – as a potential
“hub” site that would temporarily take some of the pressure off other pitches in the area which have too many games played on them at the moment and not enough investment.
But he warned football in the future may be very different with councils across the country looking to cut costs in recreation budgets and players looking to play football at different times.
He said: “About 80 per cent of football is played on council owned pitches across the country – football is heavily reliant on support from local authorities.
“The model for subsidy doesn’t currently work. Councils across the country are raising prices to try and make it work. Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) have been very good on that point, but that is not to say that will last.
“It may be clubs need to start looking at taking on their own facilities like cricket and rugby clubs do and part of our role will be to help them do that.
“Also moving forwards there is a shift. People want to play football in a different way. People want to play on a Tuesday night, they don’t necessarily want to play 11-a-side.
“3G [pitches] might help but not everyone wants to play on 3G. We need to understand what those needs are across the city so we can get the right kind of facilities in the right places. That won’t happen overnight and that is what pains me the most. What we can do is make sure we are going somewhere moving forwards.”
Mr Gerrard said there were other reasons adult players were walking away from the game, including Premier League matches kicking off at unusual times and pubs closing down.
But the picture isn’t entirely negative. At under-16 level participation in football has been increasing in the boys and girls game.
Upton Junior Club and Newton Athletic have become Charter Standard clubs – which recognises good practice – and the Cheshire FA is running numerous free coaching courses for children across the city.
Other areas are also growing with veteran, disability, women’s and walking football all increasing their numbers in Chester.
Mr Gerrard the Cheshire FA is committed to making volunteers lives as easy as possible, pointing to a new electronic system which went live last week for clubs to work online to reduce a paper trail and make organising a side more easy.
Mr Gerrard added: “I wish we could move faster but we can’t. Getting the plans and money in place takes time. What we have to make sure we do is all work together to achieve the right outcomes for the future.”