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Football GMB dismayed as figures show council pitches are being closed at an alarming rate

BRITISH football’s recent success is in danger, according to union GMB, after figures showed that more than 700 council pitches have been lost to Tory austerity.

In a week where four English teams competed for European club football’s biggest prizes, and Scotland and England are set to face each other in the Women’s World Cup, the news that the next generation are losing areas to hone their talent is devastating.

With the government slashing council spending by 49 per cent since 2010, kids’ playing spaces have been one of the hardest hit areas.

Countless games across Britain are having to be called off across Britain during the winter months due to poor pitches and with more and more closing, GMB general secretary Tim Roache believes “opportunities for the next generation of players are being trashed.”

He said: “Losing more than 700 council footy pitches shows what the government’s slash-and-burn approach to local government means in reality. 

“Councils have had their funding cut in half since 2010 — they’re struggling to fund the basics and keep the show on the road.

“We’ve just had two English teams in the Champions League final — while the England men and women’s national teams are about to head into international tournaments. 

“Just contrast that with this sorry state of affairs at the grassroots, where opportunities for the next generation of players are being trashed.”

North-west England has been the worst hit region since 2010, losing a whopping 164 pitches during that period and the numbers show that in total, there were 710 fewer local authority-owned or operated football pitches in the 2017/18 financial year than there were in 2009/10 — before the Conservatives’ austerity project began.

Former West Ham, Fulham and QPR striker Leroy Rosenior, who is attending GMB’s congress in Brighton, has said that the selling of pitches not only affects kids’ developing football skills but also denies them the opportunity to tackle racism and discrimination at a crucial early age.

He said: “It’s a national tragedy that fewer and fewer kids will have a place to play as a result of short-sighted cuts, putting efforts to open football up to more youngsters and develop diverse, welcoming and healthy sporting communities in jeopardy.

“Grassroots football is the breeding ground for the next generation of England stars, but it’s also a crucial arena for tackling racism and discrimination at an early age. 

“Selling off pitches reduces the number of open and inclusive arenas where young footballers can grow and develop.”

The need for more football pitches is most evident in Scotland, where the number of girls playing the game has doubled since 2014.

Figures released on Saturday by the Scottish Football Association revealed that the number of women and girls registered with the SFA has jumped from 7,126 in 2014/15 to 14,071 in 2018/19.

Days after a record crowd of 18,555 turned out to watch Shelley Kerr’s side beat Jamaica at Hampden Park, the news that participation levels are on the rise at a time when the space to do so is dwindling is of major concern.

But SNP MSP Gail Ross still believes the women’s game has a bright future in Scotland.

“The women’s game in Scotland is flourishing both at a professional level and at the grassroots — with the number of girls playing for a local football team doubling in the past five years. 

“Shelley Kerr has done a fantastic job to take a Scotland team to a World Cup, and this generation of players have breathed real excitement into the sport. 

“The country is buzzing to cheer on our national team at the Women’s World Cup in France next month with the belief we can go far in the tournament. 

“And with more and more women and girls taking part in football, there’s a bright future for our national team and our women’s game.”

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