Thursday, 12 March 2015

Kicking Off

I love football.

Despite still being captain of the parliamentary football team, which turns out for occasional charity matches, my knees tell me that my playing days are nearly ended.

I haven’t refereed a match for some time, but I admire those who turn out for minimal reward and occasional abuse in the local leagues. I still mentally score the performance of referees, whether it be in junior matches or the premier league.

I have had a lifetime of following Sheffield Wednesday, home and away. It hasn’t always been fun! I have a seat on the Kop, located close to where I used to stand for many years, long before there was any roof above.

I try to watch amateur football. Last Sunday morning, taking a break from visiting constituents, I watched an under-13s local league match – an exciting 4-4 draw. I have enormous respect for the commitment shown by the coaches and volunteer administrators, without whose contributions none of this would happen.

I am the chair of the all-party football group in the House of Commons, enabling me to engage with key personnel in both the amateur and professional game. It also provides the opportunity to speak out on football-related issues which go to the heart of our society; a recent example would be about Ched Evans, rape and respect.

It’s in that context that I reflect on the recently announced new TV rights deal for the Premier League, worth £5.1bn over three seasons. These massive financial deals have seen substantial year-on-year increases in payment to the clubs – how else could they afford those mind-blowing wages?

Following the publication of the football taskforce report in 1999, the Premier League committed to giving 5% of TV rights to benefit the grassroots’ game. But the Premier League is failing to keep its promise.

5% of the new deal would mean £85m a year from 2016-17. Government support for councils for sport and leisure has been cut by £20bn (43%) since 2010.

That 5% could transform the prospects for local amateur football on which, after all, the professional game depends.