Sunday 16 September 2012

Lost causes: Football charities

Flash forward ten years and amateur football is entirely removed from its working class routes – watched and played exclusively by middle class, privileged players and its use as a salvation from lives of boredom, low self-worth and violent crime is shredded. This is a very real threat to the game. 
The drastic reduction of cash from Government outside the very top of the game is strangling the life from all we can boast about it to its doubters. 
The third sector is feeling the strain after the huge deficit created by the global economic downturn triggered drastic action from Government. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations estimates that by 2015-16 the voluntary sector will lose £911m in public funding.
The UK sporting charity sector is remarkably fragmented with the likes of The Football Foundation and Football Aid representing the larger players in a wonky pyramid featuring professional club’s charitable arms, corporate philanthropic projects, small-scale grassroots organisations and long-standing local government initiatives. 
This diverse area of the game stretches from the Liverpool Homeless League’s work to improve the lives and health of local youth hostel inhabitants to Woking Minders FC’s help with mental health issues and substance abuse. Moreover, cash is needed to create pitches, erect goals and build changing facilities for young players. 
On the surface, funding options are plentiful. Cash from The Big Lottery Fund, The Premier League, The FA, local councils and multinational charities is all available to football charities but, in reality, the funds are drying up quickly as sports minister Hugh Robertson, who is reportedly directing all his time and resources towards this summer’s London Olympics, chops finance to all areas of community football initiatives. 
The Football Foundation, which funds of over 1,500 community schemes from a pot of £40m a year and has received over 7,500 grants worth £420m in its 11-year history, benefits from matched-funding from The FA and the Premier League for every pound it spends and is having its finances dragged down as a result of the cuts.
London Tigers, a 25-year-old charity that provides health and educational support primarily to the Bangladeshi community in the capital and boasts mayor Boris Johnson as its patron, is facing extinction. 
The organisation received £762,370 of funding last financial year but has seen that plummet and forced founder Mesba Ahmed to slash his 40-strong full- and part-time staff to the point where he is forced to run the charity alone. “I do not know what the government think they are doing, do they just think they are going to blink and community issues will disappear?” says Ahmed. “Some of the people that we work with are the most disadvantaged from low income families and deprived local neighbourhoods.
“We could have David Beckham come down here and take lots of nice photos with him; that’s all great but to run a community football club you need money.”
Ahmed’s story is a familiar one. Cuts website reports that Aston FC, the East Hampshire Sports Council and Macclesfield Town’s community initiative were among many to have funding slashed to zero last year. The Federation of Stadium Communities, a body based in the Midlands that uses well-attended events and matchday marches to raise issues over crime rates, unemployment and disability, recorded a £27,598 deficit between income and expenditure in its last financial year. Chief executive Judy Crabb believes planning for the future is almost impossible at a time of great uncertainty. 
National Children’s Football Alliance director believes Ernie Brennan believes the cuts could actually benefit a sector misdirecting its efforts in competing too hard for a small pot of cash. “The most frustrating aspect of cutbacks is that the empire charities continue to ignore the fantastic work that the smaller charities do. We live in a third sector of divide and rule and this proves very effective in terms of culling the frontline in the current economic climate,” says Brennan who lambasted “immature” national organizations who “stack their boundary walls high” to prevent drip-down funding.
Of course, the public purse is not the only strained coffer. The general public are struggling to find the extra cash to give to charity while the number philanthropic donations from private corporations has deteriorated as the City feels the heat. 
Charities are having to be savvy – pushing resources online and studying consumer psychology carefully to latch on to social media trends. 
The effects of reduced resources are widespread. Poor health, increasing crime rates, rising unemployment, a further kicking for any sense of community spirit and ultimately skills on the pitch are all likely consequences for the country’s most deprived, not least the 13 million of the population who live in poverty and for whom even buying a kit is a stretch. Options appear scarce and, for some, the crunch point of closure may come all too soon.

Article originally appeared in Issue 302 of When Saturday Comes

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