Steve Bull MBE, former England and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC striker, opening the new all-weather pitch in Walsall alongside junior footballers.
Steve Bull MBE, former England and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC striker, opened a state-of-the-art third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch (AGP) in Walsall today (Tuesday 13 June 2017).
The brand new floodlit 3G AGP will provide a home for Walsall Wood Saints JFC, who previously played and trained at four different venues across the county. The club, formerly known as Shire Oak Saints JFC, has teams ranging from Under-6 to Under-18 level and recently merged with Walsall Wood FC. This merger, coupled with the opening of the all-weather pitch, has seen overall team numbers grow to 28.
The new pitch is already hosting competitive matches for Walsall College, the Staffordshire Veterans League and Rushall Olympic of the Junior Premier League. Several other grassroots clubs are also using the new pitch including: Brownhills Colts; Pelsall Villa Colts and ASP Victoria. From September 2017, the Walsall Junior Youth League will be using the pitch as a centre for their 5v5 and 7v7 matches.
The project has already forged links with the Albion Foundation, the charitable arm of Premier League side West Bromwich Albion, who are delivering their Baggies Soccer Centre on Saturday mornings. This initiative provides local youngsters with a pathway into Walsall Wood Saints JFC’s Under-6 and Under-7 teams.
Additionally, Walsall Council delivers weekly Walking Football sessions at the new facility, for men aged over the age of 50. These sessions encourage participants to enjoy the social aspects of the game, whilst also experiencing the benefits of weekly exercise. Walsall Council has also teamed up with Walsall Housing Group and local Police Community Support Officers to deliver free weekly sessions to local young people on Friday evenings.
Walsall Council worked in partnership with the Staffordshire FA to secure a £250,000 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund. The grant has enabled Walsall Council to open the new grassroots sport facility, which is expected to raise overall sports participation in the area by 126%.
Alongside the Staffordshire FA and Football Foundation, Walsall Council have compiled a five-year Football Development Plan, which is a vision of how sport will be played on-site with an emphasis on increasing participation.
The plan predicts an increase in football participation for the 14-25 age group of 493%, and projects a 416% rise in the total number of players. Walsall Woods Saints JFC hope to grow the female section of their club, which would also benefit the female participation for Walsall Wood FC. It is expected that the opening of this new facility will result in a 124% increase in overall female sport participation for the area.
Since 2000, the Football Foundation Funding Partners’ investment has provided 251 grants worth £17.8m towards grassroots sports projects worth over £34.1m across the whole of Staffordshire.
Founded in 2000, the Football Foundation is the largest sports charity in the UK funded by the Premier League, The FA and Government, via Sport England. It develops new and refurbished grassroots sports facilities in order to improve the quality and experience of playing sport at the grassroots level. Since it was launched in 2000, the Foundation has awarded around 15,000 grants worth more than £580m towards improving grassroots sport, which it has used to attract additional partnership funding of over £800m – £1.4bn of investment into the grassroots game.
By providing more high-quality facilities, coupled with coaching at the appropriate age group, the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund aims to improve the experience for regular players as well as attracting new players to the game. Many of the new state-of-the-art facilities will serve to strengthen the connection between professional football clubs and their local communities, particularly in the most deprived areas of the country, through the professional clubs’ community trusts’ outreach work.
Steve Bull MBE, who scored 306 goals for Wolves during his 13 years with the club, and represented England at the 1990 World Cup, said: “This is a brilliant new facility that will benefit the local area as a whole. I know how important grassroots football is and the money from the Premier League, The FA and the Government, delivered by the Football Foundation, is vital to the sport.
“Sites like this 3G AGP help all members of a community to experience the benefits of sport, and I can see that this one will be getting a lot of use! I’m especially glad to hear about how the pitch is going to help local teams, such as Walsall Wood Saints JFC, to deliver top-quality training sessions.
“Without the funding from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, this stunning all-weather pitch would not have been possible. Well done to Walsall Council, who worked alongside the Staffordshire FA, for their hard work in securing this grant.”
Councillor Ian Shires, Walsall Council Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Community, Leisure & Culture, said: “This fantastic £12m facility is already having a real impact on improving Walsall residents’ activity levels and encouraging grassroots sport. Since the doors first opened in August 2016, there have already been more than 400,000 visits.
“We are proud to clearly demonstrate how Walsall is looking forward and investing in the borough’s future. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Council’s funding partners including Sport England, the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund and England Squash.”
Paul Thorogood, Chief Executive of the Football Foundation, said: “I am delighted that a grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund has enabled Walsall Council to open a floodlit 3G AGP. This development will provide a real boost to sport in the local area. A special thanks goes to Steve Bull MBE, for officially opening the new facility.
“Since 2000, the Football Foundation has supported grassroots projects worth more than £1.4bn, investing into areas where the need is greatest and where it will have the biggest impact in terms of getting more people playing football and a wide range of other sports.
“With this funding, provided by the Premier League, The FA and the Government, through Sport England, we are helping to improve community sports facilities across the country and thereby the playing experience of those who take part. This latest project in Walsall is the latest addition to the inventory of modern community sports sites we are developing that cater for the needs of local people who want to play sport purely for the love of it and to stay healthy.”