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Football needs to tend its grassroots

PROFESSIONAL footballers and top clubs should give more time and money to foster the game at youth and grassroots level, the Government's task force, headed by David Mellor, said this week.

Its report, Investing in the community, found "talk of the game being awash with money at the highest level while facilities in schools and at grassroots are in a poor state and clubs in lower divisions struggle to survive".

The public perceive that clubs are good at taking more from local communities than they give back. The lifestyle of millionaire players makes them more remote from their supporters, and clubs neglect community responsibilities in pursuit of business interests, it says.

The report, while acknowledging that English football has the most sophisticated and extensive community programmes in the world, says the game would be wrong not to heed warning signals.

Professional footballers provide powerful role models, but not all keep to their contract of carrying out three hours of community work a week.

The report's authors say that Football in the Community schemes, which began in 1986, should be extended to all clubs to promote close links with local people and introduce young people to the game as both players and spectators.

They also want:

* "midnight leagues" set up by clubs and aimed at teenagers out on streets late at night;

* more school study centres;

* the Premier League to invest in grassroots facilities, as many school and park playing fields had poor pitches and changing rooms;

* players guilty of misconduct on the field to be given community work (following the example of Eric Cantona) in addition to fines as a means of reducing suspensions.

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