A new state-of-the-art football facility has opened in Sheffield as part of an FA project to develop local talent and support amateur teams in the city.
The hub - which is called St George's Park Sheffield Graves - opened its doors to the public on Monday at Graves Leisure Centre in Norton.
The site will allow local teams to play on state-of-the-art 3G artificial grass pitches - combating the inevitable disruption caused by frozen and waterlogged surfaces during the harsh winter months.
A second Sheffield centre - St George’s Park Sheffield Thorncliffe in High Green - is due to open later this month.
The facilities have been built as part of the Football Association's plan to revitalise grassroots football across England.
The Parklife Football Hub Programme pilot is funded by The FA, Sheffield City Council and the Department for Culture Media and Sport in partnership with Sport England.
Local clubs and schools are the immediate beneficiaries and teams that will host home games from Graves have been allowed to use the site for pre-season training.
Martin Glenn, FA chief executive, said: "Make no mistake, these hubs are the start of something big.
"The Sheffield centres mark the beginning of the end of a story all-too-familiar to the grassroots footballer of poor pitches, woefully inadequate changing facilities and a battle against the elements to get fixtures completed each winter.
“The FA alongside the DCMS, the Premier League and local partners will be investing £200m to replicate this model across the country with momentum already starting to grow.”
A further FA hub is planned in the city at the former site of Westfield School in Mosborough.
Typically, a well-maintained natural grass pitch can offer six to eight playing hours of football a week. But the artificial surfaces can support accommodate double that volume on a daily basis – massively increasing the number of playing opportunities and offering football at flexible times in-keeping with the demands of the modern footballer.
Once fully operational, the centres will be open to the wider public and be self-sustaining via a charitable ownership model that sees the sites leased to the newly-formed Sheffield Football Trust.
Leisure facilities operator Pulse will be responsible for day-to-day operation of the facilities.
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said: “Better football facilities are crucial to help strengthen the sport at the grassroots and that is exactly why the government is backing this project with funding.
“This state-of-the-art facility will be a big boost to community football in Sheffield, with the all-weather pitches perfect for year-round use as well as for developing talent and coaching young people in the city.
“I want to get more people involved in sport for the positive impact it has on people’s lives and partnerships such as this one, bringing together The FA, local authority and government, can help achieve that.”
Councillor Mary Lea, Sheffield City Council cabinet member for Culture, Parks and Leisure added: “Sport is naturally very popular in the city, and now with the opening of this hub, and the others that will follow, we can offer quality facilities to everyone who wants to play.
“With better homes for local teams, quality coaching and many more hours of available playing time, our young players can develop their skills and confidence and ignite a lasting passion for sport and exercise."