21 April ~ Just about everywhere you look right now there is somebody saying there are "tough choices to be made". The FA would probably say much the same to explain the decision to defer £4 million of its contribution to the Football Foundation (FF). In its ten year life, the FF has distributed around £890m in grants to clubs, schools and community groups for football related projects and equipment. It doesn't take many fingers to count the number of successful collaborations between the FA, Premier League and the government, but the three have worked together to fund the FF, with each committed to provide £15m per year.
The FA's finances, already grounded under a plume of debt erupting from Wembley Stadium, had a hole punched in them when Setanta folded last year, taking with it a £150m TV rights contract. Although the FA has refinanced the loans taken out to fund the £757m cost of the stadium and sold the FA Cup rights on to ESPN, it still faces a stadium bill of around £20m a year for the next four years. The TV rights deal will bring in around half of what was expected from Setanta. Former chief executive Ian Watmore told the Guardian last December that a plan to reduce expenditure by ten per cent was "basically done". He was satisfied that the plan protected the FA's staff, but a part of it was to defer the payment to the FF.
Earlier this year the FA gave the go ahead to the National Football Centre, but, other than staffing, it has offered no details of what else has been protected or cut. If the FF's income falls the risk is clear. Its various schemes help clubs to improve facilities (pitches, changing rooms), provide kits for junior teams and replace "unsafe goalposts" – the real grass roots. It supports projects aimed at helping "difficult to reach" kids understand issues around diet and sexual health, while others aim to reduce reoffending rates for young offenders. The FF invests at least 40 per cent of its grants in the 20 per cent most deprived wards in the country.
Next month sees the start of another funding period for the FF and in its 2009 annual report it set out an aim to negotiate "with the funders to try and establish a more formal arrangement to give more certainty to core funding beyond 2011". At the moment, it is difficult to see how the FA can be any better placed next year to meet either the deferred payment or to return to its full level of contribution. The current government has given no sign that it will reduce its funding, but with an election pending and every chance of spending cuts, who knows. The third funder, the Premier League, runs its own range of community schemes under the banner "Creating Chances" and there is speculation that it will match the FA's reduced contribution by redirecting funding into its own schemes.
The one thing not in doubt is that the work done by the FF is likely to be vital in the future. The Football League, (through the Football Trust), the PFA and the Premier League all invest in community programmes, but a virtue of the FF is its independence. In an industry that generates the biggest part of £3 billion in TV rights it seems absurd that this success story should be facing a funding reduction. Brian Simpson