Why we invest in football

Investing in the grassroots game is crucial to building an active nation

22 June 2018

Football has a vital role to play in building an active nation

As the world is spending a month celebrating the beautiful game, we thought it would be a good opportunity to look at how we support the sport across England.

In the last 10 years we have awarded almost 1,130 grants to football specific projects up and down the country.

Those grants have totalled a massive £240,252,533. And it’s not just football-specific grants that have seen the sport benefit, with countless other multi-sport projects also including football-related activities.

From The Football Association right down to the changing rooms at your local park, we’ve supported them all.

1,130 football-specific grants made in the last decade

Of the 1,130 grants, almost 1,000 of them have been made with National Lottery funds, while the remainder have come direct from the Exchequer.

Here are updates from a select few of those projects that have received an award in the past two years.

Whether it be walking football, the launch of a new women’s team at Accrington Stanley FC, powerchair football with the Villa Rockets or how the Somali Integration and Development Association have used the sport to help their cause – we’ll cover them all.

We’ve already shown how our investment in the MAN v FAT leagues have helped men shed more than 100,000lbs in just 29 months.

And how a £2million-a-year investment in The Football Association has helped BAME, female and disabled coaches along the development pathway to get their UEFA B coaching licenses.

Stay tuned to our channels over the few weeks to find out how our investment is helping football to build an active nation.

Women's and girls' football in Accrington

“We identified a gap in provision for female sport in Accrington,” says Martin Fearon, the chief executive officer at Accrington Stanley Community Trust.

“We were keen to get more women and girls involved in grassroots football and the grants from Sport England allowed us to get our community programme up and running.”

In total, we awarded two grants totalling £15,000 to the project that has since seen more than 1,200 women and girls take part in the club’s community sessions. 

“We wanted a female section that would include a ladies’ team, but also a development team and a junior team,” explained Martin. “We’ve been running community sessions since last March.

“The grant was a big help with set up costs and vital in getting the team going. The investment enabled us to set up our community sessions and without it our ladies team would be a standalone team without a grassroots team behind them.

“The Sport England investment allowed us to get these teams up and running but now they are fully sustainable, and we have a really strong base to build on.”

The club were able to use our funds to take their sessions into schools and allow the programme to develop while it built up numbers.

“We had great success by going into and getting schools involved with our community sessions,” Martin added.

“There is a huge drop off in schools between the ages of 14 and 15, but you can’t underestimate the power of the badge and the Accrington branding. It can entice them back into football but also sport in general.

“The club offers opportunity for people who may not play at a very high standard but enjoy it and is all about increasing participation.”

Martin says it has also been very rewarding for the club to see the impact the sessions have had on young people.

“We’ve had quite a few success stories,” he concluded. “One girl who attended a Sport England-funded project came down for one session and enjoyed it so much that she ended up doing a scholarship and studied around her football activities.

“She is doing her level one and has done about 50 hours’ volunteering across projects and goes into schools as part of our volunteer programme.

“She is giving something back to the community and we aim to upskill her as she works through her coaching badges.”

Rio Ferdinand Foundation - Kick Stars

Rio Ferdinand Foundation - Kick Stars

“Seeing them from A to B is the goal but if they do fall down and they end up at C or D, that’s fine – it’s making sure that where they make mistakes, they correct them and learn from them,” says the Rio Ferdinand Foundation’s London programme manager Earl McNeish.

We support the Kick Stars programme in Lewisham that provides football training sessions, mentoring, accredited qualifications and a work placement coaching multi-sports.

In July 2017 we awarded £9,390 to the programme that aims to empower females aged 13-19, with the goal being for them to run their own projects that will then train future generations of female leaders.

“There have been peaks and troughs,” added Earl. “Most of the girls that come are within school ages, 14-18.

“Maintaining their school levels is a task and having this engagement with them helps keep them in school.

“One of our girls wanted to do midwifery so we helped her to find courses that worked for her and she got a place in a nursery so that she could then look at official training as a nurse.

“It is rewarding, most definitely – it’s more than just people brokerage.

“Another bonus is to see people to move on from just coming to us to focus on their health or their social group, to looking at the wider world and our wraparound approach getting them a job or into college.

“Having that network of support is really helpful to them.”

The London arm of Kick Stars is based at Bellingham Leisure Centre and is partnered with Millwall FC, although they also have links to both Arsenal and Leyton Orient.

And while Earl admits the journey is not easy, it is definitely worth it.

“The funding from Sport England is great, and the centre we’re based at is also a Sport England-funded facility, so it shows how much they help,” he concluded.

“Every week it’s revisiting things with the girls. The main coach working with us is in partnership with Millwall and he’s a brilliant coach.

“He does have a firm but fair way of coaching which is really old school and the girls really do buy into it.

“When he’s disappointed that you come in at half past the hour you’re supposed to be there, they’re looking very sheepish.

“We try to get them in a uniform manner and to develop a team atmosphere so that it would be nice if everyone arrives at the same time.

“But if some people have issues, there can be all sorts of things that affect the girls to mean they don’t turn up at a regimented time.

“It’s a repeated and revisited process. But they’ve got it to a point now that when someone does rock up late, they’re telling each other off – that’s quite cool.

“They want it to work.”

Powerchair football in the West Midlands

“The younger kids get to try it out and have a go and there is no commitment,” says Clive Morley.

“We had a 12-year-old lad come down to the club. He was so shy and hardly spoke to anyone but after a few weeks his parents came over and hugged us because of the difference it had made to him.

“It had given him so much social confidence.”

In May 2017 we awarded Villa Rockets Powerchair Football Club £7,648 to buy a new powerchair and enable the club to grow.

With the club having to turn potential players away due to a lack of chairs, Clive – coach of Villa Rockets – began fundraising and also applied to several other outlets for assistance in bringing their chairs back up to scratch.

“Parents are not going to spend £8,000 on something that their child might decide to give up after two weeks,” he added.

“We were forced to ration our communal chairs and we were really restricted in terms of what we could do with the equipment we had.

“We started fundraising for four to five new chairs, which obviously cost a lot of money.

“It is a very expensive sport.”

Clive was successful in his applications to several funding sources, including Sport England, and the club are now flourishing.

“We got it a lot quicker than I thought we would. I thought it was going to be a long, drawn-out process but the application process was pretty simple,” said Clive.

“We now have 12 club chairs available and we’ve been able to start running an extra set of sessions. Each chair is used by so many players during the week and it is giving so many people the opportunity to take part in the sport.

“We are even talking about getting a fourth side out so in terms of growing the game it has been brilliant.

“So many disabled children love football but have negative experiences of it as they are left out due to their disability.

“Playing sport can open doors to so many other things in life. We are going to play in Dublin for a long weekend and this will help them develop their personality and give them confidence in all areas of their life.

“There is nothing better when you hear someone answer you back while you are coaching as you see they have the confidence to stand up and challenge you.

“The effect of the investment has been amazing, it has made such a difference to the West Midlands community.”

Walking football in south London

“People laugh when I tell them about walking football,” says Lee Evans.

“But I say to them that if it is that easy they should give it a go and I will give them a tenner if they are not out of breath at the end.

“I haven’t had to pay anyone yet.”

Lee, who is an official at Athenlay Football Club in south London, hoped to set up walking football sessions to get over 50s back into football.

Thanks to our grant of £9,026 that dream became a reality, and today attendance is booming.

“This was something that I’ve wanted to do for quite a while,” he explained. “I thought it was important to do something that would allow older people to get involved in football again.

“We didn’t have many people turn up for the first few weeks but people began to hear about it through word of mouth as members of the football club shared it with friends and relatives who are over 50.

“The sessions are really popular now and there is a good camaraderie in the group. It isn’t taken too seriously, and everyone has a good time – it’s great. A lot of these guys haven’t played football in years but by offering these sessions we are giving them a way to get active again.”

Our investment allowed the club to cover the cost of the sessions, which gave new members the chance to play without having to pay.

“Without the Sport England grant we wouldn’t have been able to do it,” added Lee. “There are definitely people who come every week now who wouldn’t have tried it in the first place if there had been a cost involved.

“It gave us the chance to establish what we were doing without the need to be driven by revenue. By building our numbers up we are getting to the point where we can be self-sufficient.”