19/11/2014

My Proposal For Free Football For All Kids In The UK

I've just finished reading "Goodfella", written by Craig Bellamy and Oliver Holt, which is an excellent book that I would highly recommend to those who enjoy football autobiographies.

During the earlier chapters, Bellamy emphasised the impact football can have on adolescents and children by speaking about his own experiences. He reflects on his mates sniffing Glade air fresheners down alley-ways, and his realisation that because he had football he did not need nor want to go down that route.

Bellamy raised the point that for many kids, particularly in less affluent areas of Great Britain, football can mean absolutely everything. It got me thinking about whether we as a country do enough to encourage the game to youngsters, and offer them the opportunity to genuinely develop and / or use the game as an effective outlet for their day to day issues.

By this, I mean to ask, do we make a conscious, countrywide effort to offer football to all children across the country for a variety of reasons. It is the national sport, and widely referred to as "the beautiful game", and I believe that football should be accessible to every child in the UK. By accessible, I don't just mean taking a football and having a kick about in the park with your mates, I mean offering every child the opportunity to be coached in the sport, and gain skills such as teamwork, dedication and commitment. 

I appreciate that coaching children football costs money, therefore realise that to offer coached football across the country to every child would be extremely ambitious, but I can't ignore the potential benefits that it could bring. I will get on to the financial costs later.

For example, the teamwork that children learn through football is invaluable life experience. As they progress through school, being part of a team will be something they encounter frequently, and if they have already experienced teamwork then this progression will be easier and therefore allow them to develop more quickly at school. After they finish school, teamwork is likely to be something required from them in almost all paths of life. 

Football also teaches commitment, and the necessity to work hard. It also provides children with ways to see the benefits of their hard work when they win matches or develop as players. 

It's not just about the characteristics and traits that football helps to develop though. There is also a current health and fitness problem in the United Kingdom, where we are seeing fewer children, particularly girls, taking part in sports. This could be down to a range of reasons, inaccessibility could be one of them. Equally a lack of encouragement from parents may also be one. For example, if a child's parents are struggling to make ends meet on a weekly basis, it may not be feasible for those parents to pay for children to play football or join a club.

This means that these children suffer inequality of opportunity, in that they simply aren't given the opportunity to play the game, develop their fitness, understand the importance of health, or even just be able to go out for a couple of hours a week to train and simply enjoy themselves. I feel that as a country which promotes the importance of state welfare, we are responsible for ensuring that all children, no matter what their background, no matter what their parents annual income is, have an equal opportunity to be fit and healthy, to develop themselves as people and players, and to enjoy themselves through sport.

I am aware that this does sound like a  slightly naive, utopian, "fluffy rainbow" idea, as I really do appreciate the costs that would be needed to fund this branch of football accessibility, however I really think the importance of it could be being overlooked.

Not only would this provide kids across the country with a more equal start in life, but it could also provide benefits to the football industry itself. For example, recently the industry has not been quite as beautiful as we would all like it to be - racism, sexism, and homophobia still all cloud the game. As much as we like to deny these problems, they are real. By giving every child an equal opportunity to engage with the sport, we are helping to diversify football from the bottom. We will be coaching kids of all ethnicities, of both genders, kids from poor and rich backgrounds, kids of all religions - we will be making sure that the football door is wide open to every single child.

By doing this, we can start to build a more diverse stone which provides the bottom of the football pyramid. By diversifying the bottom, we aim to provide children with the stepping stones to progress to the higher levels of football, which in turn should create a more diverse Football League, and eventually Premier League. When the top flights of English football are more diverse there is far more potential for eradicating discrimination than if we do not diversify.

Secondly, I believe that by providing every child with the chance to play football in the UK, we will be able to pool far more English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish talent for all the national teams in the United Kingdom. Every huge tournament we see England struggling to compete as a giant team, we see England being slated on a daily basis during tournaments - and I believe that some of this boils down to the fact that clubs recruit so many foreign players in the Premier League and Football League instead of using homegrown players.

If we seek to coach every child in the UK then we surely help to produce more developed national talent which we could see seep into the Football League, and then onto the radar of managers of national teams.

I also appreciate that some children may not enjoy football - and that is fine. I'm not saying that football should be mandatory for all children. It should not be compulsory - but it should be accessible and offered to every child. 

This would be a long term investment too - given the health crisis in the UK, it's important to consider the amount of money that the NHS spends each year on treating obesity and smoking and alcohol related illnesses. It's a colossal amount of money. Proposing free football to every child in the country also would cost a colossal amount of money - but we would be promoting a fitter and healthier lifestyle to all of these children, which in the long term could lead to reduced NHS costs on the previously mentioned problems. 

In the UK you are considered as a child until the age of 18, but I am proposing free football up until the age of 16. This is because I believe that after the age of 16, many teenagers choose to get a part time job and therefore may be able to fund their training subs themselves. However, for those children that do not have part time jobs at this age, I would propose that the project could also teach them fundraising skills so that if they are still in a position where they are unable to find training subs, then they could learn about viable ways to fundraise cash to do so. This would also ensure that children do not become entirely dependant on the state, and learn the value of working for money to pay for what they love.

So how are we going to fund this? Of course this kind of national scheme would require huge amounts of funding in order to subsidise training costs for children (I.e making football free), training more coaches and referees, funding required to improve leagues, funding required for kits, pitches, travel costs - it would cost a hell of a lot. However, the football industry is a lucrative business - and it makes a hell of a lot.

I believe that offering free and accessible football to every child in the country is mutually beneficial for the child and the football industry, therefore in my idealistic head, I envision Premier League and Football League clubs funding their local teams, I envision Sky, BT Sport, ITV and the BBC who earn millions from their TV rights offering funding across the country, I envision the FA doing more to set up these national schemes by offering more people the opportunity to earn their coaching and refereeing badges for free. I also envision the national government helping to fund this project, given the impact it could have on future NHS spending.

I understand that while this is all possible, it is not necessarily what the aforementioned will do. There are other avenues to explore though, could local councils provide more funding towards local clubs, and could schools offer free football coaching within their school budget, could more children's charities help to spread the cost? I believe that there are many ways of raising money to accommodate this idea.

This is also not something that will happen over night, it is a plan that will need to be structured and introduced gradually. It is a plan that will require a lot of hard work, and a lot of hard cash - but it is also a plan that could be so beneficial to the United Kingdom in a multitude of ways.

@annalouiseadams



5 comments:

  1. This is so cute

    ReplyDelete
  2. Seems like you see this as a solution for everything. Looking forward to Cancer cure.

    Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not a solution for everything, a mutually beneficial idea for society and children in the country.

      Delete
    2. Ignorance and sarcasm achieve nothing.

      Delete
  3. Completely agree with the sentiment. The proposal would help health, education and promote football all in one. In truth, the PFA, the professional football leagues and the FA should apportion some funds to schemes like this as part of a charter agreement. The government should be involved in promotion as well as offering incentives from the projected funds saved as a result of the alleviation of stress on the NHS in the mid to long term. Whilst footballing institutions committ to this funding, it may also encourage them to be more financially responsible.

    Great piece and great idea!

    ReplyDelete