Football is our national sport and is a big part of daily life. Whether it’s watching, playing or supporting our favourite teams, football is in our blood.
For many of us, a love of football begins when we’re young, so I’m very pleased that The Football Association, in its National Game Strategy launched today, is using the next four years to focus on strengthening and growing the grassroots game from the earliest ages – and in doing so aims to provide “a positive football experience for all”.
The FA’s strategy has five specific areas of focus: Raising Standards, Running the Game, Better Players, Workforce and Facilities. We need to ensure that all of those components are strong and in place, so that people of all ages and talents can find the appropriate facilities and the best coaching so they can develop to the best of their abilities.
I am particularly supportive of the drive to get more girls and women playing football. The launch of the FA Women’s Super League last year was a great success. The FA Tesco Skills Programme has almost a million young girls signed up and is a testament to the desire for girls to play football and the need to make sure their needs are met, from coaching and training, to Centres of Excellence Programmes.
I am also pleased that the Strategy recognises the importance of a continued focus on youth development including promoting smaller-sided games on smaller pitches. This can only help young people learn the more technical skills need to excel at the highest levels.
National media invariably focuses on the professional game and recent debate has centred on governance structures, but it would be a mistake not to take this moment to recognise the hard work that goes on in communities right across England. A network of coaches, volunteers, parents, referees, teachers and administrators work tirelessly to help deliver grassroots football. It is a fantastic example of sport’s ability to mobilise communities to deliver participation in a safe and inclusive environment. I welcome the FA’s 4-year National Strategy and pledge to work with them in any way we can to help support it.
I was also fortunate enough to spend a morning recently being shown around the fantastic facilities being built at St George’s Park – the new national football centre at Burton, my third visit to the site. The centre will be much more than just a training camp for the national side, it will be a facility that will inspire future generations of English football players, coaches, referees and administrators, whilst also providing a boost for grassroots football and community facilities across the whole country. I look forward to its completion next summer and the promise it holds for the future development of football in this country.
Photo courtesy of Sport England.