Vision of the future

The site of the �4m scheme, proudly pointed out by County FA chief executive James Hope-Gill.'       Picture: steve parkin
The site of the �4m scheme, proudly pointed out by County FA chief executive James Hope-Gill.' Picture: steve parkin
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It started in the modest surrounds of a two-up two down.

That was Sheffield and Hallamshire FA, c/o 5, Onslow Road, Hunter’s Bar, back in the day.

Now, a quarter of a century later, the organisation that looks after the interests of local football is spreading its wings.

To a £4m, state-of-the-art community sports hub, no less.

The vision more accurately reflects the status of an organisation which is involved in the lives of some 120,000 local people.

That’s everbody from the kid kicking a ball around, to the manager, referee and physio at 2,700 11-a-side teams and 1,500 five-a-side, all within 20 miles of Sheffield Cathedral.

These days there are 19 full-time staff at their soon-to-be sold Cornish Place base in Kelham Island. Their premises are bulging at the seams but the staff are hoping their future lies at a £3.7m sports hub in Westfield, as long as they receive the finances to go ahead.

If they do, it will signal a sea-change in how the city looks after the interests of its grassroots footballers.

Things are looking good in that respect, despite a wobble in the fund-raising. They are confident of getting most of the cash from grants - they will know for definite in March - but still have £700,000 to find. So why is it so important, in these austere times, that money is spent on a few football fields and a building or two?

“It is so much more than that,” says the driven man behind the bid, James Hope-Gill, Chief Executive of Sheffield & Hallamshire FA.

Like all modern football powerbrokers, he recognises the value of using sport to aid social inclusion; going into schools and the community generally, reaching out to youngsters from all backgrounds.

“This place will be there for everybody, whatever culture, every man, woman and child from cradle to the grave,” he says.

“We’ve asked local people what they’d like to see from this development (football apart.) We told them we weren’t just about booting a piece of leather around the grass.

“They told us about helping challenge behavioural problem of kids on the streets, reinforcing health and nutritional aspirations, raising educational standards and helping the disadvantaged.

“And we can do all that - through the power of football we can build a better future,” added Hope Gill.

“Last year alone our schools programme involved 12,000 youngsters.

“Some local kids and adults said they simply wanted a running track where they can go at night without feeling scared. We will provide that safe and fun environment.

“Others tell us about the need to put people off smoking - and we will have coaches and footballers who will tackle things like that too.”

Benefits to locals

A full range of community actitivites, not just football. It includes a jogging and cycling track, rugby, American football, and archery - they are all in the blueprint. There will be a gym with dance classes and creche facilities.

Football themed birthdays parties are envisaged too.

“Affordable” local authority prices for users.

Seven day a week access to a site currently only open at weekends.

Coaching sessions, midweek school events and foodlit evening training and game sessions.

Disability football development.

Locals will also get a say in how the site is managed.

GP referrals and healthy living programmes.

The organisers are a not-for-profit operation - surplus cash will be invested back into the programme.

Answering your questions on the project

Has planning permission been granted? Yes, last November.

How many pitches? Nine including a rugby pitch, a 4-G.

How many teams will play there? Thirty.

Who are they? Mostly new teams, but also present users, Mosoborough Miners Welfare.

Where is most of the investment coming from? The FA, local and national. But Sport England are big hitters too.

Who is to blame for the £700,000 shortfall in funding? The economic down-turn has clobbered the size of grant handouts.

How can Sheffield FA raise some more cash for the site? Sponsorship and naming rights. They are selling their current base in an attractive part of Sheffield.

How much of our hard earned council tax is going into this? Not one penny.

What are the key dates? March: funding will be known; October: Diggers move in (hopefully); Summer 2013: Opening.

Why does grassroots football need Sheffield FA? They provide safe and structured opportunities for everyone, irrespective of age, colour, gender and disability. Which seems like a good thing. They also sell discounted kit and try and make sure there is at least some degree of respect for the ref and linesmen.

Are there others throughout the country? 42 of them.

Why are we bothered, it’s not professional football? The vast majority of football played in South Yorkshire and the country in general is played at the grassroots, involving millions of people each week.