Thousands of football clubs could be on the verge of collapse if they do not get the help they need.
As a report reveals 10% of grassroots clubs are on the brink, former England goalie David James has called on the Government to take action.
He warned that close-downs could have a big impact on communities and large numbers of youngsters.
Vital cash from subscriptions is drying up due to the pandemic and a second wave could push clubs over the edge.
David, who helped launch the report, said: “They are in a drastic state. It’s not just football. There’s lots of grassroots sports that are going to be hit.
“I started at Welwyn Pegasus. I did quite well in the first season – only let in something like 160 goals. Then I moved on, playing for my local team Panshanger FC – and the club was vital for me. It was a vital part of the social structure.
“It was back in the 1980s. My friend and his dad would take me to the club and watch me play in wind, rain, snow, and even the occasional bit of sun, and I’d pay my 50p a week ‘subs’ for the privilege – giving the football club a small, but vital, revenue stream.
“The idea there is going to be a second wave is just going to compound the problems for grassroots clubs.”
David, 50, who played for Liverpool, Manchester City, Aston Villa, Watford, West Ham and Portsmouth, added: “It’s wider than sport. A lot of clubs have community spaces, so it hits things for example, like knitting clubs who might want to use them.
“That means the groups have nowhere to go and the club misses out on revenue. It’s a vicious circle.”
The report comes after the Mirror launched the Save Our Sports campaign to put pressure on the Government to go to the aid of grassroots sport.
We want assurances no club should go under because of Covid. We are pushing for action such as Lottery cash going to clubs that need it the most.
The report, commissioned by Utilita as part of its Switch to Pitch campaign, spells out the importance of clubs to kids and communities. The vast majority of parents said their children benefit from the physical and mental health elements of grassroots football.
As well as warning 10% of the estimated 40,000 grassroots clubs are in danger of folding, the report says kids become part of their local club for five years on average and 40% of parents volunteer during this time. David, who played at the 2010 World Cup, only fully realised the significance of the clubs when he retired in 2014 and started using the facilities at Welwyn Garden City FC in Hertfordshire.
David, who is from the area, said: “I wasn’t blind to it but when I made the grade as a professional I was never involved beyond presenting a prize.
“Since I retired it’s opened my eyes more about how important these places are and how we can take them for granted. I started watching Stevenage, then Welwyn Garden City.
“I went down there to play with my mates and that’s when I got into doing Welwyn Garden City stuff.
“We would go down, have a drink and watch a game on TV. That’s when you realise how important these places are to the life of an area. There are people that go in the bar who are not interested in the football. It’s their place to socialise… It’s things like the fireworks display, which is a massive deal in the community.”
The report also shows that many parents who say their local club is a vital resource are in areas where families face financial hardship.
Almost 25% of parents said the community would really struggle without their club.
David, who competed on Strictly Come Dancing last year alongside Nadiya Bychkova, added: “This is not just about the teams that play on a Sunday, or trying to find the next Harry Kane. My friend up North – he’s a goalkeeper in his 50s and every year he relishes pre-season. He loves it. It’s the social side of it. And he just wants to go out and play.”
He added: “It is hard for the Government because everyone wants money. Everyone’s been hit by the pandemic.
“Grassroots football is not going to be at the top of the Government’s list.
“That’s not to say there isn’t a need – there’s a tremendous need. Grassroots clubs pay VAT on revenue. If the Government could relax that, or give clubs a holiday it would really help.
“It wouldn’t be a massive amount but might mean the difference between going out of business or coming back to something near normal.”