Association Football or ‘Footy’ to his mates will be remembered fondly for his camaraderie. The gaggle of friends on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning that met up, shared jokes and anecdotes from the week before. A group therapy session of mucky jokes and innuendo. Resplendent in freshly washed kit juxtaposed by the shoddy and ramshackle changing rooms (if you were lucky). The art form of balancing on one leg leaning against a car whilst you slipped on your shin-ads and socks with your arse hanging out your shorts. This is jogo bonito. This is the beautiful game.
In the golden age, Footy was played and adored by the many, not the few. Without the pressures of extended families, mounting costs, pitch access, quality facilities and regular working weeks a man could enjoy his leisure time without a gym membership or hideous lycra. Unfortunately, when Footy needed support his relatives stood idly by. Obsessed with the minorities, the disabled, the women’s game, the referees. Assuming that Footy would go on forever, this neglect got the better of him in the end.
His good friend; F.A. said that many preferred the flexibility of small sided games and pointed to the ease and painless use of sanitised Goals and Power League Centres. Completely missing the point that they had the power and finances to save Our National Sport. The 11-a-side game is rite of passage for many. The eclectic mix in the changing room cannot be found anywhere else. A band of brothers who form a love/hate bond and share memories that will last a life time. Sieges that take place on the wind swept side of a hill in the last ten minutes of a game cannot be replicated on the rubber crumb of a floodlit Goals Centre.
In modern times, Footy was deemed almost inconsequential. Training in the week and playing a game on the weekend is now hard to commit to for the modern man compared to the cheaper gym membership, moisturiser and selfies for instaface or twatchat. For the past ten years Footy had been declining rapidly but nobody has understood or helped. Only now, the F.A. have admitted that their focus was off. Their assumption completely off kilter.
Their plan? an expensive Midweek 11-a-side league. Again, this isn’t going to help the teams or players that want to see a resurgence in the weekend game. Reduce the costs, spend money on facilities, not just in the inner cities but in the countryside where the deprived are hidden behind a newly built house (on a former football pitch). A football hub in the city will do to football what centralisation did to the NHS. The F.A. believe football is still being played and the dwindling teams are down to increased squad sizes. The Sport England figures show a drop from over 2m playing in October 2006 to just over 1.8m in September 2015 and that’s in all forms of football despite the tiny increase in small sided games.
Club secretaries (and referees) now do the admin work for the local F.A.’s. This has come with the introduction of the Whole Game System. Fees for insurance have recently increased and since the F.A. needs clubs to affiliate directly with them (as opposed to the old way where leagues did it) the costs have risen exponentially. There is so much money floating around the game that the F.A. should reward the clubs who have bothered to stay around this long. Stop hunting new clubs who will take the grant money and run but invest in the older ones. The ones that prop up the pyramid. Modernise the system so rebates can be issued to established clubs.
To host one football match, clubs are forking out up to £150 per game. The facilities are the same, if not worse than twenty years ago despite the costs increasing three fold. If a player has to pay £5 to play and £3 to train per week it’s no surprise that there are so many Pure Gym’s sprouting up on every corner offering membership for £15-£20 per month. The modern man, is uncommitted, preened and coiffured within an inch of his life. Give him a reason to help Footy and to help himself back into the game.
In the Netherlands, there are an abundance of superb multi-use 4G turf facilities in modest sized towns. If the F.A. are serious about tackling the decline then it has to be swift. A season of free football to all would be better use of funds rather than the multimillion pound contract to the millionaire manager of the men’s national team. If the F.A. continue to pander to the minorities instead of looking after the muck and nettles of adult mens football there won’t be any amateur football left to save.