Northampton Sunday league football boss calls for 'revolutionary and ambitious football hub' to be built on derelict site
Two experienced figures in the county's football scene have had their say on where they believe money should be spent following the announcement of new government funding
A Northampton Sunday league boss is calling for new grassroots football funding to be spent on a 'revolutionary, ambitious and imaginative football hub' in the town.
Matt Hurst, a senior figurehead for the Nene Sunday League, has called on West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) and Northamptonshire Football Association (NFA) to think about building a football hub at Kings Heath.
The council-owned Kings Heath astro turf pitch has stood derelict since it was targeted by vandals in 2010, and Matt believes there is enough space there to build two 3G pitches, five grass pitches, a car park and a club house.
Matt's calls have come after the government has committed £25million of new funding to support the growth of grassroots football in its spring Budget, the first part of a £550million commitment over a ten-year period.
West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) announced last week that it has joined forces with the Northamptonshire FA and the Football Foundation to improve the quality and accessibility of grassroots football facilities in the area.
The partnership has been established to support the Football Foundation’s ten-year Local Football Facility Plan, which maps out the football facilities needed across every local authority area in England.
To view the Football Foundation's Northampton plan, click here.
Speaking about where he would like money spent, Matt said: "WNC and NFA need to talk to people who understand what needs to happen. They need to talk to people who run the leagues and run the clubs and then decide what should be done with the money. There are so many clubs crying out for investment.
"What's happening with Kings Heath? The old sand astro turf is sat derelict. That's already a blueprint for a football centre in Northampton. I'd just ask, what's happening with that site? There could be a couple of 3G pitches there, five full size grass pitches, a club house. It could be a proper facility, properly managed as a football hub in Northampton."
Matt went on to say that the difference between Northamptonshire and other counties, in terms of football, is 'absolutely extraordinary'.
He said: "The bottom line is, if there is a pot of money available, the NFA and WNC should get people round the table and have a discussion and talk about the best way to spend this money. There's been a lack of communication and consultation before.
"We need to be talking about ambitious projects that could revolutionise football in Northampton.
"Three seasons ago there were 37 teams in the Sunday league, we now have more than 100. The appetite for football is there, where's the investment?"
Standens Barn manager, Bob Townsend, who has 30 years experience at grassroots level in the county, was also asked where he thinks money should be spent.
He said: "The big thing for me is changing rooms. You've got the changing rooms at The Racecourse but they are just permanently shut. I really don't get it.
"I don't think going out and spending money on 3G pitches is the answer. It's got to be spent at our level.
"We have moved to a private pitch now at Milton FC, it's the best move we have ever made. The pitch is always cut, lines marked, there are changing rooms, showers. We couldn't ask for anymore, and it's only a couple quid more than you'd pay for a council pitch.
"All the council keeps doing is putting the prices up but the services are not getting better. Since this new leisure company has taken over, they haven't provided the services for the money spent.
"There are plenty of pitches in this town, just maintain them better."
Stuart Smith, the leagues and clubs support officer for the NFA, responded to Matt's comments.
He said: "We are delighted that WNC have publicly committed to improving the facilities for grassroots football in West Northants.
"The announcement simply confirms WNC’s commitment to work towards improving the facilities in West Northants. A route to do that could be through an application to the Football Foundation, when match funding is secured.
"We will consult with the key partners involved in grassroots football in Northants at the appropriate time, including the Nene Sunday League and Northampton & District Youth Alliance League. As part of any funding application to the Football Foundation the applicant will need to demonstrate they have consulted with key partners too.
"We are very aware of the council’s abandoned astro turf pitch at Kings Heath and are disappointed by its current condition. We have requested further information from WNC on their current plans for the site and the nearby Northampton Kings Heath SUE.
"We commit to working collaboratively to deliver facility improvements that will benefit all of grassroots football in the county."
West Northamptonshire Council responded to Bob's concerns.
Cllr Adam Brown, from WNC, said: “Working with partners at Northants FA and the Football Foundation we will look to address our football facilities offer across the board.
“As mentioned in our recent announcement, this will include grass pitches and changing facilities, not just 3G pitches, so we meet a range of needs for the people who live in our many communities.”
"They [pitches] are cut on a schedule but the combination of heavy rain and sunny weather we had recently caused rapid growth, which has affected many areas. Activity during the summer is concentrated on playing surfaces that are booked for use. Pitches are only marked out during the football season."
Cllr Brown added that changing rooms at Far Cotton, Acre Lane, and The Racecourse are not 'sitting empty', and can be booked for use through Trilogy Leisure.