England Manager Gareth Southgate surprised a lucky group of Oulton Primary School children at West Riding County FA’s (WRCFA) new all-weather pitch in Leeds recently (Tuesday 25 July). The pitch was built thanks to a grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which is delivered by the Football Foundation. The England boss was on hand to deliver an exclusive FA Lidl Skills session, part of which was aimed at five to 11-year-olds. The programme is designed to help children get active, learn football skills and have fun. 

West Riding County FA’s new third generation artificial grass pitch (AGP) proved the perfect venue for the training session. The new state-of-the-art facility has been upgraded from a grass pitch, which was rarely able to be used previously. The upgraded facility now comprises a full-size floodlit all-weather surface, which will be open to the whole football family 9am-10pm, seven days a week.

WRCFA worked to secure a £481,338 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, delivered by the Football Foundation, to make the project possible. They also worked with the Football Foundation to compile 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 upgraded facility will be used by partner clubs including: Rothwell JFC; Rothwell Town FC and Methley United FC. It will also be a central venue for the County FA Under-21, Veterans and Flexi-Leagues.

It is expected that the 3G AGP will help all partner clubs to increase their number of teams, with an expected growth of 16 brand new sides. This will include the introduction of nine female sides that will cater for all ages. As a result, a 1,900% increase in overall female sport participation at the site is predicted. Football participation for those over the age of 26 at the site is expected to rise by 1,289%, and there are already plans to establish Walking Football at the pitch. It is expected that the pitch will become a venue for bespoke disability training, and the Ability Counts League. It will also serve as a delivery centre for a range of FA coaching qualifications.

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. Since 2000, the Football Foundation Funding Partners’ investment has provided 566 grants worth £21.1m towards grassroots sports projects worth over £43.2m across the whole of West Riding.

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. Gareth Southgate, England Manager, said: “This is a top-quality facility – a great example of what the grassroots game needs in order to progress. Having state-of-the-art pitches to train on will help to drive up participation across all levels of the game.“I’ve been a Football Foundation Ambassador for many years now and know that we are a nation of footballers – fans, players and coaches alike. Facilities like this help us to discover, or rediscover, our love of the game. These projects help a huge number of people find a way to keep active, have fun and just enjoy football. I’m excited to see more of them in the future.”

Hannah Simpson, Chief Executive of the West Riding FA, said: “It was my great pleasure to welcome the children of Oulton Primary School, The FA Skills team, Lidl and the England Manager, Gareth Southgate, to our state-of-the-art facility. The event was an opportunity for us to thank all those who helped to make the development a reality and reinforce our commitment towards ensuring that the facilities become a real home for community football. “Our community now have the facilities they deserve to enjoy the game of football 24/7, following an investment of £700,000, together with our partners in the Football Foundation. “Our mission is to create enjoyable and lasting memories of football and thanks to the support and investment received from the Football Foundation, and the commitment of the Board of Directors here at West Riding FA, we are well positioned to deliver an affordable, first-class experience to the entire football family.” 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 the West Riding County FA to replace their original facility with a brand new all-weather pitch. This development will provide a real boost to sport in the local area. I’d also like to thank Gareth Southgate, a long-time supporter of our work, for taking the time to open our 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 Leeds 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.”