Stars get together at Grassroots Football Show 2011 to promote development

One of the most common complaints from English football fans is that the grassroots game is being neglected and that children who show an interest in the game aren’t being given the coaching support and resources needed to really help them develop. It’s an argument which has raged for many years in English football.

However when one spends three days surrounded by the glitz and noise of the brmb Grassroots Football Show 2011 it’s hard to believe that there is even a problem at all. From the 3rd – 5th of June the Grassroots Show took over an entire hall in the NEC and showcased dozens of different companies all dedicated to the lower levels of the game, coaches who wanted to give something back and players mingling and signing autographs for fans.

The show, now in its fifth year, incorporated many different elements from stalls promoting things like portable floodlights and online tactics software to interactive events for children and talks from ex-professionals and managers. Event Director Ben Hatton made it clear that the aim had always been to make the show to be as inclusive as possible catering for small children, coaches and fans alike. He said he was delighted by the diversity of the turnout saying “[the show] is for able-bodied as well as disabled, women and girls as well as guys and I’m really pleased to see so many different people being here and getting involved.”

His words were echoed by Dion Dublin who spent all three days at the event, playing the Dube and signing autographs. Before he took part in a talk on tackling racism in football Dublin enthused about the atmosphere around the show: “You’ve got black, Asian and white kids all here and their playing together and high-fiving and it’s just such an encouraging sight given some of the things I’ve seen in my career. It really shows how far we’ve come. We may never fully squash racism but it’s absolutely fantastic to see stuff like this, really encouraging.”

Robbie Savage echoed Dublin’s calls saying “it’s wonderful to see this kind of thing because there was nothing like this when I was a boy. Would have been great to be able to come to something like this when I was a young player and I really think it can help the ones that do.”

Dublin and Savage were hardly the only big names at the event either. Managers Peter Taylor, Chris Hughton, Iain Dowie and Graham Taylor all threw their support behind the project by turning up to give talks on coaching and management, run training sessions or engage in Q&A sessions. Throughout the three days the main area gave fans the opportunity to see how Iain Dowie coaches creative play in the opponents half or how Chris Hughton organises counter-attacking drills during training while in the FA theatre Peter Taylor spoke on issues such as confidence building and Hughton gave talks on the tactical differences between various formations.

Dowie spoke to ADL about the duty that coaches and managers have to develop players: “It’s my passion, it’s the best part of the game watching youngsters develop so it’s just wonderful to be at an event like this dedicated to the grassroots levels of football.” He went on to say that there needs to be more from professionals and ex-players. “It’s very important to see guys who’ve been in the game at the highest level putting something back. Look at Australian rugby for example, packed with former players at all levels, that’s something I’d like to see more of over here. Fundamentally it’s all about giving back to the fans.”

Peter Taylor followed Dowie’s example and was bursting with praise for the whole event. The former England caretaker manager said “this is my third year here and each time it just seems to get better and better. It’s lovely and it’s refreshing to see so many people come together for this because they’re not getting paid; it’s all out of love of the game. For the young people here it’s all about keeping them enthusiastic about football and showing them ways into the game while for the young coaches the chance to watch other coaches at work is invaluable. Doesn’t matter whether it’s Arsenal players on thousands a week or Under-11’s, the problems on the training ground are the same so it’s just great experience watching the likes of Iain [Dowie] and Chris [Hughton] work.”

However one minor disappointment for the show was the lack of support shown by the Premier League for the event. Ben Hatton said that invitations had been sent out to all the footballing organisations like the Football League, the FA, UEFA, all of whom had come with stalls to the event and the Premier League were the only organisation not to take up the invite. “It’s a real shame because the accusations of arrogance are only going to get worse the more they turn down these sort of events. I hope next year they see their way clear to attending and helping to promote grassroots football with all the other organisations.”

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