SHEFFIELD will pioneer a new £240 million nationwide initiative to transform grassroots football and improve the performance of the England team.
A series of state-of-the-art artificial football pitches will be laid across the city in a partnership between the Football Association (FA) and Sheffield City Council.
FA chairman Greg Dyke was in the city today to announce the scheme which he hopes will be replicated in 30 towns and cities across England that will grow the number of artificial grass pitches to more than 1,000 by 2020.
The announcement was made as the latest report from his commission looking into the future of English football was published .
The commission said English grassroots football was hampered by reliance on grass pitches which become unusable in bad weather and are usually owned by councils who are having to reduce maintenance or sell off land because of budget cuts.
Mr Dyke said: “We have been talking to two or three cities and Sheffield were the most responsive, the fastest so we said ‘let’s go to Sheffield’.
“The truth is in this country is that anyone who has lived here for the last two winters and seen what happened to facilities knows the future is artificial grass pitches.”
Mr Dyke said he hoped the investment would help produce more English players capable of playing in the national side but also encourage more people to take part in the game at all levels.
The FA will provide some of the money alongside councils with the remainder expected to come from professional football clubs, charitable foundations and the private sector.
Today’s is the second report from Mr Dyke’s commission which earlier this year recommended a radical restructuring of the game to help meet a target he has set to increase the number of English players playing regularly in the Premier League to 90 by 2022.
Former Leeds United and England footballer Danny Mills, a member of Mr Dyke’s commission, said: “I’ve had several kids go through the grassroots system, I’ve seen the decline over the last few years of pitches. I think my kids played once between the end of November and February.
“This is long term, this is not going to work for next year and the year after, this is a 10, 20 year plan.”
Up to six artificial grass pitches will be laid in Sheffield with the first two locations expected to be announced within weeks and ready for use by September next year.
The total costs for the Sheffield pitches and accompanying changing facilities is likely to be around £10 million with the city council contributing £1 million.
The council faced widespread criticism for its decision to close and demolish the Don Valley Stadium to save money.
But council leader Julie Dore said today’s announcement, and the recent unveiling of a £50 million facility for the Don Valley site, underlined the authority’s commitment to sport.
“I can understand people’s disappointment and frustration when we took that extremely difficult but necessary decision around Don Valley. There was no way the council could continue with a £750,000 subsidy for a stadium that wasn’t being used.
“I am absolutely passionate about children and young people having excellent facilities and the opportunities to succeed in everything they do and I think sport and leisure play a big part in that, not just in health and wellbeing but also confidence building and the social aspects, teamwork and discipline they take into their lives and work.”