For more than 150 years, the beautiful game has been woven into the fabric of British culture. Most households across the nation will have some sort of relationship with the game. Whilst some will have connections to the professional side; for the vast majority, the main first-hand experience will be with the grassroots game. Away from the bright lights, television deals, and six-figure weekly salaries, the beating heart of the sport can be found nationwide. Real people doing real things for their communities, and the love of the game.
It has been a year like no other in the United Kingdom, with the Covid-19 pandemic placing life as we know it on hold. As the nation ground to a halt, so did the non-professional side of the game. A hobby, and more importantly a healthy outlet for countless people taken away. However, the light at the end of the tunnel is nearing.
As of the 29th of March outdoor grassroots sports have made a return, and people are allowed to re-engage with sports that are so important to our quality of life. Following May 17th small crowds of supporters are allowed to return to matches. As the lockdown starts to ease and the country reopens, there has never been a better time to get into football. This article will go over some of the options available to get into the game in the UK, as well as highlighting some great projects which are doing important work in the grassroots community.
The best part about football is that it can be played almost anywhere there is a playing surface, by anyone. If you are interested in getting into football at any level, I cannot urge you enough to take the plunge and to do so. Playing football recreationally has been reported to significantly improve the physical and psychological wellbeing of the person who practices it. Not only developing your fitness but building confidence, lowering stress levels, and offering a great social opportunity. A quick bit of research, and you should be able to find an easy way into the game in your local area. No matter who you are and what your fitness or experience level is. Football is everyone’s game.
Small sided football
I have never been the best at football, or exercising for that matter. However, during my final year at university 5-a side football helped me with a lot of things. Joining a team with my course mates helped me a lot socially and gave me something to look forward to on a Monday night. It was a cheap, enjoyable way to socialise and improve my mental health during what was quite a stressful time.
There are a variety of organisations across the UK that offer pitch hire and league play at different skill levels and age groups. Goals, Powerplay, Powerleague and Playfootball are some of the biggest names nationwide. 5aside.org offers team or solo registration across a variety of London based venues, and super5league are an award winning Hackney based women’s league.
The small-sided game is arguably the most popular form of recreational football, and it is a great way to get moving and play the game casually. Whether it’s a group of friends or just on your own, there are always teams looking for players to join their pool and it can be a great way to meet people.
Walking football sessions are also available in most places, offering a more relaxed pace to the game but still providing a great way to exercise. Also, football is not something which is off limits to disabled people by any means. Please visit the FA ‘Get involved with disability football’ website for information about pan-disability and impairment specific leagues and training opportunities if you are interested.
Developments in social networking and technology are also greatly benefiting the growth of the game, and improving ease of access.
Our friends at Footy Addicts have developed a brilliant online platform, dedicated to making finding games and playing football as stress-free as possible. Available online or on the Footy Addicts app, the platform allows you to see every game and drop-in session happening on any given day and to easily book your place. Leaving you ready to simply turn up and play.
Innovation such as this will be key to the grassroots game’s development across the country. If playing football is as simple as booking an uber or ordering a takeaway this can only be beneficial. Be sure to check the app out.
11 a side/Sunday League
Sunday league football is somewhat of a cultural phenomenon in the UK, with thousands of clubs up and down the country playing matches and training every week. Similar to the professional grounds, Sunday league pitches across the land will all have their individual tales to tell. Most football fans will be familiar with the image of players caked head to toe in mud, and red in the face after a 90 minute shift on a Sunday morning. The 11 a side game is a great way to get a full body aerobic and anaerobic workout. If you want to take a step up physically and write your own footballing headlines this could be the option for you. Most local leagues and teams are visible online, and easy to get into contact with if you are interested in giving it a try. There are also opportunities for 11 a side flexi-football online if you are not able to commit to playing for a team weekly.
The women’s game in the UK is growing rapidly, and is currently the biggest female team sport in the country with over 3 million active players. The amount of untapped potential within the women’s game is high, and grassroots projects are key to the further growth and development of the sport. As more and more women are getting involved the number of clubs and opportunities is also growing. ThisFanGirl, an online community of female football fans recently published a really helpful list of clubs and opportunities to get into womens football on their instagram. https://www.instagram.com/p/CNACGWwjoTH/
Goals4girls is another fantastic women’s organisation, committed to working on boosting engagement with young girls and sports. Helping to maximise potential and build confidence for the next generation of women through sport. Romance FC and Stonewall FC are football clubs dedicated to breaking down barriers, opening doors and getting people into the sport, providing safe social spaces alongside the mental and physical benefits of football. The work being done is well worth checking out. Pridesports.org also does great work in support of the LGBT+ community within football. Currently they run the Football V Homophobia campaign to challenge discrimination across all levels of football. Their website also features an option to search for LGBT+ sports clubs and opportunities local to you.
If playing the game really isn’t for you, then there are also a number of equally rewarding ways to get into the game from the sidelines. From coaching to volunteering or even just supporting your local grassroots sides. Most Non-League clubs are grateful for the help of volunteers and their love of the game, across any number of different roles. Speaking from experience it is a great thing to be a part of. In my time writing match reports for East Midlands Counties League side Ingles FC, I visited a number of great local grounds and watched some thrilling football along the way. I would recommend getting involved with your local club to anyone. If that isn’t for you then even just going down to a game is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Fans are not currently allowed due to the Covid-19 restrictions, but once they are, watching your local Non League side is a great way to clear your head and get your football fix. The entry fee is cheap and will help your local club continue to do what they love. The action on the pitch might not be as high in quality as you would see on the television, but the charm that Non-League football provides is hard to beat.
In summary, there is a big world of football out there regardless of who you are. It is not something exclusive to those naturally gifted at the game, and neither are the benefits. Whether it’s going for a kickabout down the playing fields, or joining an 11 a side team and playing every week,engaging with sport and exercise will reward you both physically and mentally. Here at FC Not Alone we have an exciting grassroots project of our own starting soon. We will be running our own Football For All sessions from May, with official information coming in mid April. Be sure to keep checking our social media channels for updates, we cannot wait for the sessions to get going! The links below go directly to all organisations mentioned in this article and a few others which are definitely worth checking out. Get yourself involved!
Report into Psychophysical benefits of playing recreational football –https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/196266606.pdf
Walking Football – https://thewfa.co.uk/
Pridesports.Org – https://pridesports.org.uk/
Stonewall FC- https://www.stonewallfc.com/
Coats and Goalposts – www.instagram.com/coatsandgoalposts
5 A side
Playfootball – https://www.playfootball.net/
Super5league (LDN) – https://www.super5league.com/
leisureleagues – https://www.leisureleagues.net/
5aside.org (LDN)- https://5aside.org/
The FA -https://www.thefa.com/womens-girls-football/get-involved
ThisFanGirl –http://www.thisfangirl.com/ Instagram- @thisfangirl_
Goals4girls – https://goals4girls.co.uk/
This Girl Can- https://www.thisgirlcan.co.uk/
Romance FC – https://www.romancefc.com/
Ladies Superliga (LDN) https://www.ladiessuperliga.co.uk/
Womens Powerleague – https://www.powerleague.co.uk/football/womens
Women in Football –https://www.womeninfootball.co.uk/
Sunday League/ 11 a side.
Football Clubs Near Me- https://footballclubsnearme.co.uk/
Fa FullTime- https://fulltime.thefa.com/ff
Find Football Team- http://www.findafootballteam.info/teamlist/?q=3&p=LE129DG&m=0-LE129DG