Over half of councils containing a Premier League football club do not have ANY free-to-use football pitches, an investigation by Connor Benns, Rory Drake and Dom Walker can reveal.
A series of Freedom of Information requests (FOIs) were lodged to every council containing a Premier League team to find the number of free-to-use pitches available in that specified area.
Responses were received from 17 of the 19 councils and found that 10 of those 17 had no free-to-use football pitches.
The councils containing the grounds of Bournemouth, Brighton, Burnley, Cardiff, Chelsea, Fulham, Huddersfield, Watford, West Ham and Wolverhampton did not have any pitches available intended for free use.
All the council areas have pitches, but in 10 of the 17 the only pitches available need to be booked and cost a fee, a couple of councils did say that in theory these could be used without doing so, but that they were not intended to be free.
In three council areas, Bournemouth Borough, Watford Borough and Brighton & Hove City, not only do you have to pay to use pitches, but there are now less places available with all seeing a reduction in the number of pitches since 2012.
Haringey, where Spurs were based before moving to Wembley while their ground was rebuilt, has the most free-to-use pitches within the London area with 26.
Trafford council, which contains Manchester United, represented the largest share of free-to-use pitches with 211 available for “informal play”, followed by Newcastle City Council with 146.
Councillor Judith Lloyd, Trafford Council’s Executive Member for Health and Wellbeing was “proud” of the number of pitches available in her area.
“Trafford council is proud to provide so many free-to-use football pitches for our communities,” she said.
“Our commitment to encourage residents’ health and wellbeing through sport and football facilities are very important to us.
“We are delighted to have played a role in bringing on the next football superstars. It seems we’re top of the league.”
The Premier League is one of the most watched leagues in the world, with thousands of children supporting clubs in England’s top flight, yet in the areas around many of these grounds there is nowhere for them to play football themselves without having to pay.
Paul Kirton, Director of Grassroots Football UK, described the situation as “endemic” and called for called for increased funding.
“Am I surprised? Absolutely not. It’s endemic around the country with council budget cuts and the privatisation of football really,” said Kirton.
“We have the councils that are looking at football, not as an exercise, or a recreational activity, but an expense that they don’t want to continue to pay.”
Mr Kirton was also sceptical about the unsuccessful sale of Wembley to Fulham owner Shahid Khan, saying there was “no substance” to the narrative of money going into grassroots football:
“Nobody knew where that money was going to trickle to. The headline was we were going to utilise it to support grassroots football, but behind the headline there wasn’t any substance,” said Mr Kirton.
“They never said that we’re going to take over the maintenance of council pitches or we’re going to subsidise people like Gateshead council to help maintain pitches.
“If currently there’s nothing, then all of a sudden there’s £600 million pounds, it’s got to be better than not having it, but in practice that said nothing about where that money was going to go.”
The situation of Gateshead Council that Kirton is referring to relates to a recent proposal to “cease the maintenance service of all bowling greens and football pitches in the borough” by the council.
Although these measures have yet to take place, they highlight the cost-saving measures introduced by numerous councils around the UK.
However, councils aren’t all to blame for this crisis.
The outgoing Chief Executive of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, was handed a £5 million leaving present by top-tier clubs in November, causing outrage from supporters who have already been subjected to increases in TV subscriptions and ticket prices.
Campaigners have argued that the controversial idea be reconsidered, and funds instead be put into the grassroots side of the game.
Sport England, whose vision is that “everyone in England feels able to take part in sport or activity, regardless of age, background or ability.” and who pledged to invest £88 million into grassroots sports including football, declined to comment on the statistics.
It is possible that the council areas where Manchester City, Everton and Liverpool play also do not have any free-to-use pitches, but these figures are unknown as they did not respond to our FOI requests or follow up requests. The Premier League and the Football Association were also asked for comment but declined.