THE BLOG
11/09/2015 13:32 BST | Updated 11/09/2016 06:12 BST

Football Belongs to Us, Not to the Premier League - Let's Secure Its Future

The money in British football is concentrated at the top. Sky and BT Sport have now paid a record £5.136billion for live Premier League TV rights for three seasons from 2016-17. They will bring in as much as £2billion on top of this in international broadcasting rights. It's time for a new settlement to revitalise grassroots football and the Premier League need to be a part of that.

Football is thriving in Britain. Millions watch the Premier League every week; stadiums full of supporters, families gathered around TVs, pages full of coverage in the newspapers, our national sport continues to play a major role in our lives.

Away from the bright lights is the other side of football. The next generation of players, children enjoying the game in their spare time. On wet and windy weekends they gather to play their favourite sport, getting good exercise, learning how to work as part of a team, making new friends and having fun.

Behind all that is an army of dedicated volunteers. I met a married couple in Bolton who do a fantastic job running a league and a team of their own. Those people are the absolute salt of the earth, because without them the game would flounder and die. They are not unusual in being expected to pay for their own training courses, and they frequently put their own money into the sport because they know in their hearts how much good they do. There are people like them all over the country providing opportunities for children to play.

However, there is a clear disconnect between these two worlds. While the Premier League is thriving and players are making millions, football at the grassroots level is beginning to fall apart. I want to see the relationship between the two repaired because our children and grandchildren deserve better.

In 1999 the Premier League committed to give 5% of the money that it receives from television broadcasting rights to grassroots facilities and projects. They have repeatedly failed to do this and, with the growing popularity of the League overseas, they also claim that overseas rights should not be included in this figure. From this perspective the League has been short-changing grassroots football for a long time.

Of course the world has changed a lot since 1999 and what is really hitting grassroots football hard is the cuts that have been implemented by the Conservatives since 2010. Local Councils play a big role in the provision and maintenance of sports facilities but cuts to their budget have led to investment drying up. I've heard stories from around the country about ordinary families unable to pay rising subs, poor quality pitches and an absence of decent changing facilities.

Participation is falling and the sport is gradually being closed off. What was once a working-class game is steadily becoming a game for children that can only be afforded by those with better-off parents. It's difficult enough to drag our kids off the couch away from the XBox and into the car in order to play proper football in the open air as it is, but if you are a child with poor parents who can't afford the fees, let alone the kit and the boots, then the prospect looks even bleaker and in many cases they will be denied the opportunity to play.

I think that it would be unreasonable to demand that councils put more money into football at a time when such difficult decisions are being made, but I still think that this is important for our country so we must look for alternative revenue.

The money in British football is concentrated at the top. Sky and BT Sport have now paid a record £5.136billion for live Premier League TV rights for three seasons from 2016-17. They will bring in as much as £2billion on top of this in international broadcasting rights. It's time for a new settlement to revitalise grassroots football and the Premier League need to be a part of that.

This is why I founded the Save Grassroots Football Campaign. More money must be made available to the volunteers who run the game, more money must be invested into good quality pitches with decent changing facilities, and more money is needed to keep the cost of participation low. The place to take the money from is the lucrative professional game.

Committing 7.5% of the £7billion from television rights would deliver £525million over three years. That would not break the Premier League, and I do not envisage any starving players either, but it could put grassroots football back on a solid foundation.

Every child deserves the chance to play organised football in a safe and friendly environment, but we need the collective will to make that a reality. We need to get the Government, the FA and the Premier League round the table to make a deal.

If you agree that this is the solution then please engage with the campaign. Follow @savegrassroots on twitter, check davidcrausby.co.uk for updates, lobby your MP to back this idea and start having this conversation with the people around you.

Football belongs to us, not to the Premier League, let's secure its future.

David Crausby is the Labour MP for Bolton North East