Football Foundation - football's biggest supporter
Dan Pope, Club Website editor
The Football Foundation is grassroots football's biggest supporter. In just over eight years the Foundation has provided over £340 million worth of grants to football projects across in England to improve facilities, build communities and get more people playing grassroots football.
Club Website recently caught up with Paul Thorogood, Chief Executive of the Football Foundation, to find out more about the work or the UK's largest sports charity and how grassroots football clubs can benefit from their support.
The Foundation's work is about getting more people playing football again and ensuring that they have the right facilities at their disposal to do that.
“It is about fixing 30 years of neglect of our grassroots community sports facilities - that’s the playing fields, the local authority pitches” says Thorogood. “Due to years of underfunding at local level we have a pretty parlous inventory of grassroots community sports facilities.”
For decades sport in this country “fell to the bottom of the pile” when it came to prioritising public spending, says Thorogood. “For many years, sport wasn’t a high priority full stop so we ended up in a bit of a mess. This government recognised that as soon as they came into power.”
The Football Foundation was formed in 2000 to help address the issue. A unique partnership government and industry, the Foundation’s core funding comes from joint investment by the government, the Premier League and the Football Association, each of whom currently invest £15m a year.
This partnership, says Thorogood, is key. “It is the only one in the world where the central government and the leading sports industry have got together to try and fix the grassroots. We’re very proud of that.”
The core funding the Foundation receive is processed and distributed as grants to football clubs and community groups across England. The majority of funding goes towards the Foundations’ facilities programme, which is used to build new facilities or repair and improve existing ones to give people a place to play football.
Foundation funding helps to “remove the obstacles to a quality experience at grassroots level” says Thorogood. “We want everybody who wants to play football, no matter what standard, to have the opportunity to play.”
Alongside the community work, the Foundation also runs a community programme where, Thorogood admits they “unashamedly use the glamour of football and footballers to get people into a place where you can give people positive messages."
"There is no doubt that football is one of the most influential mediums for young people today, and we unashamedly use that.”
The Foundation’s community programmes tackle issues serious social issues such as education, obesity, crime and anti-social behaviour. They use the programmes “to get activity going, to get messages in about education and training.”
40 percent of the Foundation’s is directed to the top 20 percent most deprived areas in the country which, says Thorogood “is very important because people living in those areas have the highest obesity rates and the lowest education rates et cetera.”
Where possible, the Foundation tie their community work in with their facilities projects to ensure that the events can take place somewhere, but the key is making sure they happen and that using the “flypaper” of football, that they draw people in to attend them.
“Essentially, we use football to build safer and more harmonious communities. That’s what it’s all about” says Thorogood.
The results of the Football Foundations investment are quite startling in both economic and social terms. When placed alongside the money applicants raise themselves and the partnership investment the Foundation helps to attract, the £340m provided in grants by the Foundation has contributed to projects worth a total of £750m – that’s three quarters of a billion pounds in only eight years!
The financial investment is only the beginning however, the means by which the Foundation can achieve their real aim – to get more people playing grassroots sport. The figures in this area are no less remarkable.
“Out of all the facilities we put out there,” says Thorogood, “there has been a 21% increase in grassroots football participation and a 14% increase across all sports.” [See red inset for further details.]
The figures are undoubtedly impressive, so much so that there is a possibility that some clubs may be deterred from applying for a grant, assuming that Foundation Funding is only for the million dollar projects.
Making a difference
Increased participation at facilities receiving Football Foundation investment:
- Overall (multi-sport): 14% increase
- Overall (football): 21% increase
- Under 16s: 20% increase
- Adults: 24% increase
- Females: 21% increase
- People with disabilities: 137% increase
- Coaches: 26% increase
- Volunteers: 180% increase
Thorogood accepts the point, but then points out that grants are available for clubs who need just a small amount of support.
The Foundation’s small grant scheme sets aside £1.5m each year for “any grassroots clubs that want to increase activity that’s already there, or create new activity. It’s the first point of contact with football and covers anything from transport fees to payment of facility hire - anything that is required to get football activity going.”
The small grant scheme covers up to a maximum 90% of a project cost, with the total project ceiling set at £10,000. The Foundation is a shortfall funder so their advice is to investigate all possible funding options elsewhere – e.g. sponsorship, fundraising etc – and, if the project costs are not met, contact the Football Foundation.
Other schemes that may be of interest to Club Website clubs are the junior kit scheme, which has provided over 230,000 free new football kits and training gear to under 18 teams and disabled teams, and the goalpost safety scheme, which clubs can apply to for up to 50% funding for the replacement of damaged or dangerous goalposts, up to a maximum of £3,000.
Football Foundation schemes
- Facilities scheme
- Community scheme
- Small grants scheme
- Goalpost safety scheme
- Junior kit scheme
- Reading the game
- Respect barriers
- and more!
See www.footballfoundation.org.uk for more details.
The message to clubs is to do what they can to raise money for their project but, if they fall short, to contact the Football Foundation.
“We are trying to remove the obstacles to a quality experience at grassroots level,” says Thorogood. “We want everybody who wants to play football, no matter what standard, to have the opportunity to play.”
Applying for a grant “couldn’t be simpler” says the Chief Executive. “The whole thing is on the Football Foundation website – www.footballfoundation.org.uk.
You simply go online and fill out a form. If for some reason there is a problem, there are contact details on the website to help you speak to right person at the Foundation.”
Having completed a thorough audit of the facilities out there – the Register of England Football Facilities - the Foundation know where the pitches are and have now, when you include their partner organisation, the Football Stadia Improvement Fund, delivered over one billion pounds worth of investment into football in this country.
However, this is well short of what’s needed, says Thorogood. “The estimates range from about £5-9 billion. £5billion to get back to the standard we had say 30 years ago, but if you want to replicate what’s on the continent it’s going to cost you about £9billion.”
This shortfall when compared to our European neighbours presents a strange dichotomy to how the Football Foundation is run. The day after Club Website’s interview, the French Sports Minister - and former national rugby coach - Bernard Laporte was due into the same office to learn from the Foundation’s way of working.
The Foundation has also received visits from the Australian Rules Football League, the US Soccer Foundation and the Bundesliga, amongst others, all seeking to learn lessons from the Foundation's best practice
“We have got an incredibly effective internal performance management system” says Thorogood. “We have just been audited by the government and have come out with flying colours – a very good result on an independent deep view of our processes. We’ve come out of it as the best in practice, the best out there.”
So how can we, as a country, not provide such a well-run organisation as the Football Foundation with the funding they require to get us back up to speed with the rest of Europe? Foreign politicians and sports organisations are coming to us for advice yet we’re still miles behind them in terms of investment - it just doesn’t make sense.
The Foundation, for their part, are doing all they can. “There is only so much money to go around” says Thorogood. “We have a rigorous assessment process to make sure the money is doing what is should be doing.
"We are faster now than ever before, we are committing more money than ever, but the problem is that there is only so much money. £45m [core funding] is a lot of money but it is nowhere enough to do what needs to be done.”
The Foundation’s Chief Executive is “grateful on behalf of grassroots football for what is being invested” by the government, the FA and the Premier League and he would never wish to criticise any of the organisations for a lack of investment – after all, there was none at all eight years ago.
However, you can sense that, with a superbly run organisation underneath him, Thorogood feels frustrated that the Foundation are held back simply by a lack of resource. Whilst £15m a year is a lot of money, the sort of figures that the government and the Premier League trade in make this seem like small beer.
“They [our funding partners] understand that how quickly the Foundation can deliver what it is supposed to deliver, the only obstacle now is money” says Thorogood. “We are as fast as we can be; projects are being delivered as fast as possible. The only way we are going to increase our own pace is to receive more money.”
The Foundation’s current funding is guaranteed until May 2010, with negotiations “generally triggered by the FA and Premier League TV rights deals” says Thorogood. So, with the new Premier League rights likely to go to market next year, the Foundation will be keeping its fingers crossed for some good news over the next 12 months.
For those of us involved in the grassroots football community, let’s hope that football’s biggest supporter gets the support it deserves.