Cambridgeshire FA helps grassroots football family to gain a firm foundation for the future
An aspect that has gone under the radar during the pandemic has been the level of support provided to grassroots football clubs.
The discussion became centred on whether professional and semi-professional clubs would receive adequate funding from either the Premier League or the government to help them ride out the difficult times.
However, it meant that very little focus was placed on a lot of the good work being provided to the lifeblood of the game.
The Football Foundation is a driving force in this regard, and has been pivotal in the assistance that has been given to Cambridgeshire FA in helping clubs stay in existence and build for the future.
The county body has been allocated £1.7m this year for a range of different initiatives for the
long-term health of the game and to also help clubs weather the current climate.
In March 2019, Cambs FA embarked on a county-wide facilities consultation to help the FA and Football Foundation’s Local Football Facility Plans.
It identified priority projects for investment in Greater Cambridge, Fenland and East Cambridgeshire over a 10-year period, and this September, a detailed plan was set out to support investment priorities in each area.
Cambs FA have been working with partners to bring plans to life to support investment in facilities in 3G pitch provision, grass pitch improvements, pavilions and small-sided football.
The new 3G pitch at Melbourn Village College is part of those plans, and falls into the £1.7m invested.
That money comes through numerous different schemes, and also includes the Sport England Emergency Fund (£60,015), with Ely City and Cambridge City among some of the clubs to have benefited.
Other areas of significant funding made available to clubs through the Football Foundation were in the pitch and club preparation funds, the matchday support fund and the enhanced pitch maintenance fund.
“There has been fantastic support from all angles – from the FA, the Football Foundation, Sport England, and fundraising companies,” says Katie Critchley, Cambs FA football development manager.
“The support for clubs has been incredible, and the clubs themselves have been amazing.
“It has been a very challenging year for everybody, and the clubs have just gone with the guidance, understood it and asked questions when they did not.
“They have all attended club support evenings for us to help them navigate through the guidance and then implement it.”
It has been heartening to see the football world rally round each other, and their communities.
Soham Town Rangers were one such club that did that, providing free school meals to children during the holidays.
“They really are the heart of the community, and this year more than ever has really proven that,” says Critchley, pictured left.
“Football families are real and it has been the case for a long time but this year, specifically, everyone has really pulled together to make sure that football can be played safely and that everybody who wants to access it can access it. It has just been an incredible effort.”
The pitch maintenance grants from the Football Foundation were aimed at clubs with particularly problematic playing surfaces, but the spring lockdown did at least provide the grass a chance to recover.
It meant that they could be maintained without being played on, and allowed clubs to put in funding applications for equipment to assist their efforts.
The Football Foundation then released a club preparation fund of £500 for clubs or any facility to help them get Covid safe by providing hand sanitiser, PPE, signage, whatever was needed.
“The feedback has been that it is just an incredible amount of support from all the overarching organisations – the Football Foundation, the FA, Sport England,” says Critchley.
“They are an army of volunteers – they are not being paid to do this and they are not paying to be there.
“To be able to give back, I think it was gratefully received by the clubs.”
When the first lockdown was instigated in March, rather than rushing to get everything online as quickly as possible, Cambs FA took a step back to see where their help would be needed most.
“Our line in the pandemic was very much about supporting our clubs,” says Critchley.
“They are our priority, they have always been our priority and we needed to make sure that they survived the pandemic.
“Every single member of staff was driven, personally and professionally, to make sure everyone rode out the pandemic.
“We just want to be doing the best we can for football in Cambridgeshire. It’s all about helping other people, and I’m very proud to be part of that team as we just wanted to make sure the clubs were OK.
“Everyone sees the participation as the forefront of the game, but without the facilities that wouldn’t happen – it was making sure everybody could still access their facilities, they were being maintained, they weren’t going to lose leases by not being Covid safe.
“To have retained all clubs during the pandemic was the main aim.”
It meant that when playing was permitted again, everyone was ready to do so.
The volunteers, with the support of the Cambs FA, had got their clubs primed and ready to go.
Despite the subsequent lockdown in November, it has been a full schedule of fixtures in the county, colts, girls’, womens’, Sunday and veterans’ leagues – weather permitting.
Critchley added that Cambs FA are “super proud” of clubs across the county.
“Our club support evenings online were very well represented by a lot of clubs,” she adds, “that is just a testament to them really, their time and their commitment to making sure they were doing the right things for their communities and making sure that football was being played safely.”
All those efforts from everyone involved just enhances the appetite for the game in the county, and the Football Foundation’s Local Football Facility Plan has identified a list of priority potential investment in the next decade, in one of the four areas – 3G pitch provision, grass pitch improvements, pavilions and small-sided football.
Among the sites on the priority project list are Impington Sports Centre, St Matthew’s Primary School, Swavesey Village College, North Cambridge Academy, Abbey Leisure Centre, Milton Community Centre, Sawston Village College, Netherhall Sports Centre, Cambourne Sports & Fitness Centre, Bar Hill village green, Linton Village College and Shepreth, Waterbeach, Barton and Longstanton recreation grounds.