David James urges government to support grassroots football before they 'slip away'

David James and Welwyn Garden City FC youth players

David James and youth players from Welwyn Garden City at the campaign's launch in September. - Credit: TOM STOCKILL

David James says the government must act now to save hundreds of grassroots football clubs.

The Welwyn Garden City star is heading up a national campaign that began in September and has since produced a report on the "devastating effect" of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth and amateur teams.

The report, produced in conjunction with energy company Utilita and formulated on the back of the responses of 4,049 UK-based grassroots football community members and 91 grassroots football club secretaries in the first weeks of January 2021, reveals 12 per cent expect closures to be inevitable.

Almost all the clubs surveyed say they have seen a reduction in income with 66 per cent of clubs saying subsidisation of council-run training facilities is key to their survival.

David James at Welwyn Garden City FC

David James pictured at Herns Lane, home of Welwyn Garden City, at the launch of the campaign in September. - Credit: TOM STOCkill

David James, a former Sir Frederik Osborn pupil who went on to make 572 Premier League appearances as well as winning 53 caps for England, said: "The effect of the pandemic has been devastating on clubs, communities and the millions of youngsters and amateurs who rely on their clubs every week.

“This report shines a light on this but this is not about huge financial sums. A little can go a long way and protect the foundations on which our national game is built, because otherwise the knock-on effect could be felt for generations.”

The 50-year-old has now launched a petition calling for the government to subsidise or provide free access to Government or council-owned football training facilities and state-owned schools’ outdoor areas in anticipation of football resuming.

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He said: “Back in the autumn Boris Johnson said ‘sports clubs are the life and soul of our communities’, so why are his ministers allowing them to slip away?

"Grassroots clubs are the backbone of society, and by ignoring them the government will be responsible for blowing the final whistle on an industry that adds more than £10.8 billion to UK society.  

“By making a temporary subsidy to support clubs to continue, the government will have a positive impact on the lives of over 12m people who are part of a grassroots football community.

"Clubs closing will result in a deterioration of physical and mental health, not to mention the negative effect on communities.” 

The petition is at www.change.org/savegrassrootsfootball

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