All for the love of grass.

The trials and tribulations of Local Authority playing field provision

Quality playing fields do exist, but rarely in the public sector.

Showing corner of a goal post and a measuring wheel

Sport England advise that the ideal budget to maintain a pitch is £12,000 a year.  With the minimum being £6,000. In reality, local authorities are lucky if they are able to allocate £2,000 – £3,000 to the task.

Old Ernest measuring up at Steel City Sports Ground

Old Ernest measuring up at Steel City Sports Ground, Sheffield

In Sheffield, on the rare occasion money is available to provide a good pitch, word soon spreads and the lovely grass gets hammered with over use – everybody and their granny wants to play. Sports I never new existed find their way for training and informal matches. If this isn’t enough, the pitches are wide open to abuse from cars, motor cycles, dog mess, and Civil War.

Alan, the Civil War Enactment Society want to set up camp on your new pitch.

Huh! are you winding me up?

No, they want to camp around the perimeter and, for safety, keep the gun powder in the middle.  And, in this area – points to map – they want to keep the horses.

Leaving out the swearing which followed, this resulted in old Ernest and myself camping out on site to repel the Cavaliers and Round Heads.

Apart for a man with a large death dog, or the development of an automatic  lazer  deterrent, the only way to protect pitches is a big fence. But 4m high  perimeter fencing is costly, and there is strong public opposition to contend with.

Is there a solution? No. At least not one that maintains the system we’ve had for over 100 years.  In the background of austerity and massive public service cuts the simple answer is to stop: no maintenance, no grass cutting and no pitch allocation service. Did you know, allocating and organising fixtures requires a fill time officer.

The alternative, which we are currently doing in Sheffield as a pilot with the FA, is to build a network of 3g (rubber crumb) hubs and move the majority of play to these. The next step, which we haven’t got near to yet, is to provide a number of  secure complexes, similar to Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate in York, and move all play to these.

Job description with pictures of development taking place and the new facilities

Advert for a Grounds Manager at Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate York

The only obvious source of funding to build these complexes is to sell parts off traditional playing fields for housing. With revenue to sustain coming from a combination of commercial ventures and users having to pay more to play. It will take be a brave authority and leadership to follow this path. Until then we are in the mud.

I’ll get my lazer. Are you coming Ernest?

Lazer beams over a playing field. Dark green background with bright green beams.