Schools score with pound;50m soccer bonanza;Exclusive

24th September 1999 at 01:00
England's leading soccer clubs are set to invest pound;50 million in schools football to nurture home-grown talent in a game increasingly dominated by foreign stars.

Under government pressure, the FA Premiership has agreed, in principle, to put 5 per cent of the revenue from next big TV advertising deal into grassroots football - with schools as a priority.

It is part of a three-pronged approach to boosting school sports planned by ministers and the football authorities.

Next month the Football Association will launch a new award scheme - the Charter Standard -to identify schools which provide high quality coaching and good facilities for their pupils.

Meanwhile, ministers are working on a blueprint for British sport with schools at its heart. It is expected to be published in January. They want to restore school sports to the "golden age" they believe existed before the teachers' industrial action of the 1980s.

Kate Hoey, sports minister and a former PE teacher, is known to see schools as the key to producing the next generation of stars and improving the performance of the country's international teams.

The planned donation of TV revenue follows the Premier League's victory in a court case against the Office of Fair Trading which allowed them to continue to negotiate TV rights collectively. A commitment to invest in community football was a key part of the clubs' case and they now need to show they are doing more for children than producing two new strips a season.

It is four years since the last TV contract - worth pound;750 million - was agreed. With the increased competition to Sky from digital and cable companies, the next deal is expected to top pound;1 billion.

Chris Smith, the Culture Media and Sport Secretary, met football bosses last week to discuss the plan. Only schools which guarantee equal access for girls and make new facilities available to the community will receive funding.

The windfall will be distributed by the football authorities and targeted at areas where schools' facilities are poor. The cash could be used to build floodlit Astroturf pitches, mini-soccer centres for primary schools and to improve basic facilities. Study centres at football grounds could also benefit.

Football bosses hope that in tandem with the new FA charter standard it will increase participation and improve school football among girls and boys. Women's football is one of the fastest growing sports in the world.

In plans developed with the Office for Standards in Education, the 4,000 schools expected to win the Charter Standard this year will get in-service training organised and paid for by the FA. To qualify, schools will have to have at least one teacher with a coaching certificate, give football a prominent place in the timetable and organise out-of-school activities.

The prospect of soccer-mad kids choosing a school for footballing reasons may worry schools. But the FA hopes it will spur others on to improve their own facilities.

Both primary and secondary schools are eligible for the scheme which will be launched next month by England and Liverpool striker, Michael Owen.

Kevin Keegan, the England coach, is also a fan. "Children are the future of our sport and we at the FA will do everything we can to help schools to meet these targets," he said.

Ministers are keen to get action from clubs to show they are not allowing football's fat cats to skim off all the cream.

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