Our market manager in the UK, Oli Perkins, took a tour around the UK to meet the local county FA’s. A tour that turned out to be both educational and inspiring—and changed the perception of the county FAs for good. This is Oli’s diary.
Most of us playing football in the UK will only have encountered County FA’s for one reason and one reason only.
Fines for yellow cards, red cards, playing with ineligible players, pitches too short, grass too long, no corden around the pitch and hundreds of other reasons for the iron fist of grassroots footballing law to take more money from debt laden clubs around the country.
This was indeed, my personal perception before I embarked on a months tour of selected CFAs around the UK and this naive, unfounded notion of our regional governing bodies was immediately put to rest.
Clear air and positive atmosphere
The first CFA I visited was the Cornwall FA, a 12 hour round trip involving a sleeper service and a 30 minute hike to and from St. Blazey FC. The backdrop for the game was the picturesque Cornish countryside in the shadow of the world famous Eden Project where Cornwall FA’s U18’s representative team and a Plymouth Argyle development squad played out an exciting, fast paced spectacle.
I was highly impressed by the organisation, structure and spirit of the game, but what most impressed me was the coaching staff on both sides. No aggravation, no berating of wingers to track their runners, just encouragement, teaching and learning. I asked John Fabby, a Director at Cornwall FA, how they were able to cultivate such a professional and friendly atmosphere in what is a highly competitive environment. He explained that although “winning” is great and their teams always play for that, the most important aspect of Youth and grassroots football in Cornwall is player development. This was an attitude and a concept I knew of, but was not familiar with. I had grown up playing at School, Sunday League, Semi-Professionally and at University where in every team there was a “win at all costs” directive.
Fine facilities and friendly folks at the FA’s
I then travelled to Norfolk FA and watched a trial for their formidable and highly successful representative team. The infrastructure at their flagship Football Development Center was magnificent as was the welcome and honest discussion I had with their Head of Communications and Marketing, Rebecca Burton. She explained a number of new initiatives they were running notably their recent introduction of “County Fives”, a fantastic and affordable way to enjoy social football at their three Football Development centers. Drastically outpricing five-a-side centres like such Powerleague and Goals.
The Middlesex FA was equally as impressive with a state of the art facility having recently been opened with two artificial grass pitches open for use by pretty much everyone involved in football. Disabled, Youth, Walking, Adult Women’s, Adult Men’s and UCFB were among the tenants at Rectory Park. George Wells, their Commercial Director, explained to me that—well, yes—they do fine people and clubs for not adhering to standards and-all, but all the money from those fines will go straight back in developing football within the County and facilities to improve player experience.
The picturesque Surrey FA HQ, complete with academy run by Dorking Wanderers, was a pleasure to be around. James Chadwick, Head of Marketing, alongside the acting CEO Andrew Dickinson shared a passion for coaching and have big plans in the near future for grassroots football in Surrey. This includes improving the state of Futsal in the county which will no doubt bring about even further increase in already sky high participation levels in Surrey.
The Independent Schools FA is a little different, but by no means less important. Having developed the likes of Tyrone Mings, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Hudson Odoi, the infrastructure they provide young talented players is fantastic. The opportunities they have for sport scholarships both at home and abroad is vast as is their network of scouts and pro clubs who sit up and take notice of the players developed in this high performance environment looked after by U18’s Manager, Jono Santry.
Hangovers and big dreams
So—to put it candidly—keep playing football under County FA jurisdiction, keep paying your subs and keep paying your fines! The money that we all put back into grassroots football is only going to reward long term. Who knows, if we win the Euros next year, that £10 you paid for dissent 5 years ago on a hungover Sunday morning could have helped pay for a pitch played on by England’s winning penalty taker at Wembley.
One can only dream.
UK Market Manager