POOR pitches, crumbling facilities and rising prices have pushed grassroots football in Chester towards crisis, a league boss said.
Last week the FA, the guardians of the game, were embarrassed when Sport England removed £1.6million in funding for grassroots football from their control, saying their efforts were not up to scratch.
This, says, Paul Graham, honorary secretary of Chester and District Football League, is apparent in Chester with many pitches in a poor state of repair. Poor drainage, tree roots growing through the pitches and a lack of investment in the past 30 years are some of the reasons behind this.
Paul Graham, honorary secretary of the Chester and District Football League, spelled out the problems. He said: “What Sport England have done is taken the funding away from the FA because they have not done a good enough job for grass roots football.
“The FA introduce lots of initiatives but they do not follow things through. They just have an aim and then cross it off when it is done. A box ticking exercise.
“The people who need the support are the volunteers and people who run the clubs. We can always get people to play football but they want a well run club.
“In Blacon we have no good pitches. They are unsuitable because of the poor drainage, another set of pitches has tree roots coming through it and this is the biggest housing estate in Chester!
“The pitches at Hoole Park are out of use because the changing rooms have been vandalised. Our league paid for some work to be done but we couldn’t afford the electrics so we are waiting for the council to do that.
“Those teams have all had to go and play in Westminster Park where the pitches are poor but the facilities are reasonable.
“I have even got Chester teams playing Farndon and Ellesmere Port.
“We are working with the council and Chester FC to look at new pitches on Bumpers Lane. It is the last throw of the dice really. If these don’t go through for whatever reason then I don’t know where our teams will turn to.
“The private providers can now charge £100 a game for a pitch because the council pitches are so poor. They are turning football into a sport for the privileged few. Grassroots is about participation and it is going against everything we stand for.”
The council say they are aware of the issues and are working closely with the leagues and county FA to try and tackle some of the problems. Council spokesman, Shirley Wingfield, said: “We have a Playing Pitch Strategy and Action Plan and we are working to improve football pitches.
“We work closely with the FA and the Chester and District Saturday and Sunday Leagues and Chester FC.
“We have been improving pitches by carrying out drainage, removing tree roots and damage to the pitches from vehicles has been repaired.
“There have been ongoing repairs to a vandalised changing facilities, working with the Chester and District Saturday and Sunday Leagues, and we have created new junior 9v9 football pitches.
“There is also a feasibility study at present, looking at the potential of new pitches at Bumpers Lane.”
These new pitches are being looked at in conjunction with Chester FC in the hope that around eight pitches can be laid down for community use with a further two for Chester FC’s training and youth sides.
However at the moment the league are concentrating on getting the Clifton Drive pitches back into community use.
A controversial plan for 142 homes to be built on the site was submitted last year by Bark Street Investments Limited and thrown out by the council but the teams evicted from the site have yet to return as a high court battle continues.
The plans have also been resubmitted by the developer with the public consultation ending on April 9.
Paul added: “At the moment only the university are playing on them. We are working closely with Sport England to pressurise the University and the developer to bring this back in use.
“When these pitches closed we lost three Premier Division sides - the Wagon and Horses, Highfield and Saughall. These were established sides but the players drifted away because of the lack facilities available nearby.
“It is a crime that it has been taken from the football community.”
A spokesman for the University of Chester said: “The terms of the University’s lease
state that the playing fields at Clifton Drive can only be used for University purposes and that the University must not share possession of the site. Community use may therefore not be permitted under the lease.”