January 1, 2000

As much as I enjoy watching football, and you would have to drag me away from a Rovers game no matter who, where or how we are playing, I recall my playing days in local Bath and Somerset football with immense pleasure.

I suspect that all of us who played the game, at whatever level, feel the same way. When we were at Bitton in pre-season to open the new clubhouse there, Nick Higgs told us that he remembered playing there with a visiting team shall I say a number of years ago; happy days.

I thought I would take a look at the official Football Association Website, http://thefa.com/ Just like the revamped Football League site, I found the FA equivalent to be much more user friendly and readable albeit with a wider appeal; not just fans but players, coaches, referees et al.Thinking of earlier days I was drawn to a feature under the ‘Get into Football’ section. The article is titled ‘Nation Urged to Just Play and I thought if only; much better to stick with my walking and gym work these days. The feature is supported by a sub titled heading ‘A new survey shows over 50% of men no longer play football”and is backed by Chelsea striker and ‘Just Play’ ambassador Danny Sturridge.

Being an avid reader of the ‘Non League’ paper every week, in which I find the results and league table coverage to be second to none, I could be forgiven for thinking that the number of registered footballers in England was at an all time high but not so according to TheFA.corn. It is fair to assume that the research findings would be reflected in the other home football nations as well.

On average, men feel compelled to hang up their boots due to a wide range of reasons including work commitments (37%), friends dropping out the game (20%) and the arrival of children (19%). One in ten men also admitted that pressure from their partner has led to them retiring before their time. Hang on a minute, how about the rise or fall in the ladies game. Are women footballers packing it in early because of partner pressure too? Fair guestion, in order to keep a balance, I suggest.

The partnership between Mars and The FA is striving to get 150,000 new participants playing the game for at least 30 minutes a week by September 2013, and deliver a total of 3.9rn hours of extra football played each year throughout England.

The programme is designed to inspire adults to play regular, accessible football in any form no matter what their level of experience and ability is. The FA and Mars are aiming to create over 100 FA Mars ‘Just Play’ centres across the country, delivering casual football sessions that can benefit up to 50 participants at any one time.

Supporting the findings, Sport England has identified that one of the biggest groups hanging up their boots are young men aged 16-19 years old, who should be enjoying some of the best years of their grassroots football careers. I have a bit of a theory behind this one. In my view |unior and youth football is not easily transposed into senior football. A lot of 19’s and 20’s find it difficult to get a game. I am an advocate of U-21 or even U-23 organised football. It is a point that I am going to put to the powers that be when I next have the opportunity.

Encouraging football lovers to get active and play on, Danny Sturridge said:

“It seems such a shame that people appear to be giving up on playing football so young. I loved playing football with my friends when I was younger and would probably still be doing that now even if I wasn’t playing professionally. That’s why I’m supporting the Just Play programme. It doesn’t matter what level you are or experience you have, it’s all about having fun and playing the game you love, whilst fitting it round the every-day commitments that seem to stop people playing. The FA and Mars are really encouraging the nation to not retire before their time.”

The research also found that despite the many reasons why adults are playing less football, 89% of men and 69% of women actually felt less stressed in general when they committed some of their free time to exercise. I can only agree with that. In my experience, post football, of lifelong running and general exercise down the gym, regular exercise has certainly helped me cope with my guite responsible and stressful career down the years.

The Just Play programme is part of The FA’s National Game Strategy, a £200m investment into grassroots football which has so far arrested the decline in 11 a side organised football. The stabilisation of our national game has been achieved by The FA recognising adults need for a range of flexible formats of the game alongside the traditional Saturday and Sunday organised leagues.

To get involved in a kick-about near you and to find your nearest Just Play centre, click on https://justplay.thefa.com/ 


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