What is the FA Doing for Grassroots Football?

Not enough, says local team manager, Eric Allison.

The club I run is desperately short of funds, but the FA only ever contacts us to send bills. I have followed football with a passion since I was in short pants. I grew up in Gorton, east Manchester and Roger Byrne, captain of Manchester United and an England regular, lived in the next street but one to us.

Sadly Byrne died in the Munich air crash but United is in my DNA.

A couple of years back, while walking my dogs around west Gorton, I came across a bunch of young lads playing football on a patch of waste ground. We got chatting and I remarked that some of them looked useful and asked why they didn’t form a team?

“We need somebody to organise us” one said “what about you?”.

Initially, I turned them down; I work and the issues I write about encroach into my spare time and I have children, grandchildren and two dogs. But they were persistent and eventually wore me down. I started making enquiries and, in time for the 2008/09 season, West Gorton FC was born.

Funding was a problem. Most of my lads are at college or unemployed and their families have limited means. Manchester City Council came to our aid and supported us through the first two seasons. This season, they have had to turn us down. Not surprising, given the cuts being forced on them. A Gorton based, ‘Inspiring communities inititive’, backed by the council, has come to our aid and given us enough money to get us through at least part the season.

Our team, who play in the Tameside Sunday League, is made up of around a score of 17-20 year olds. None of them do drugs, or are problem drinkers, and only one of them has had a skirmish with the law. (A one-off, I am sure. The lad is now set to join the army; just about the only career choice open to kids around here.) Running the club costs £4K a year; a modest price to pay for helping to keep these lads out of trouble in an area where trouble is just around every corner. Compare that sum with the minimum cost of keeping a young person in custody – £100,000 per annum, rising to a quarter of a million each year in some establishments.

The lads are football daft. At the end of last season we were playing four games a week.

Where are thethe Premier League and the FA in this? The FA say its national game strategy is committed to spending £200m during 2008-10 and is currently contributing nearly £1m a week to grassroots football. The Premier League is, of course, only responsible for staging the competition involving the top 20 clubs in England. Nonetheless, it says that, over the last ten years, it has given over £50m to the Football Foundation, whose remit is to build grassroots football facilities in the UK.

I am sure both organisations are telling the truth but the only connection between the Premier League and our club, is that the team cannot afford to attend games.
As for the FA, the only correspondence I have with them is when we have to pay our fees, or receive literature relating to its coaching and referees courses, which we have to pay for of course.

As for the two Manchester teams, I have approached City for help. I was unashamed in pointing to the historical link between us and them: it started off in west Gorton, in 1880, as St Marks FC. It has yet to decide. And United? My view is that it has, for so long, been so confident of its huge fan base that it has forgotten the community from whence it came.
Since our club was formed, younger local kids have asked me to start junior teams. But I don’t have the time or the money.

This coalition government talks of the “big society” and asks for ideas. Here’s one: get onto estates like mine and harness the passion that exists for our national game among these disadvantaged youngsters.

• Eric Allison is the Guardian’s prisons correspondent