Live: Kickstarting community sport

After months of inactivity brought about by strict social distancing rules, community sport has taken its first steps towards a full return. Like regional Football Associations across the country, North Riding FA is tackling that return with a mixture of confidence and realism as it faces fresh financial and administrative challenges. Steven Wade, chief executive North Riding County Football Association, shines a light on an evolving situation.

There’s been a huge appetite to get back to football at adult and youth level during the last few months. People have genuinely missed the game and are happy that they have the opportunity to get back to doing what they love. Inevitably, some individuals are wary of returning at this time and that’s completely understandable. However, we’re delighted that the game is back up and running.

We’re very confident that if clubs and those individuals involved in the game, whatever their role, follow the guidance provided by the Government and the FA then it’s safe for football to resume. There continues to be a limit on spectators attending games, although these will ease as the roadmap unfolds. Social distancing and good hygiene remain the priorities. If people follow the guidance then there should be no issues around safety.

Although we’re approaching the future with confidence, we have to be realistic. Like most businesses, we’ve suffered significant losses of income as a result of the pandemic. This unfortunately led to us losing a member of staff during 2020 and having to place the majority of the remaining staff on furlough leave. Inevitably, this impacted upon our ability to respond to customers in our usual timely fashion, although the football family in North Riding has been very understanding.

North Riding FA was able to support clubs during the 2020/21 season by reducing the cost of affiliation fees and offering free entry to our county cup competitions. In addition to this, the association paid for the cost of public liability insurance for all of our member clubs with money from our reserves and we were able to provide free registration for our referees. We’ve also been able to support clubs from across the National League system and the grassroots game by helping them to access funding from the Football Foundation. That’s been a lifeline to many.

Of course, the loss of income in grassroots football has been one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced during the last 12 months. Fundraising will be more important than ever as football gets back to normality over the coming months. That’s why we’ve partnered with GiveToLocal. They’re a North East-based, national organisation committed to delivering an additional £10m per year to community sport. They connect community clubs to donors and local businesses and I don’t think there’s been a better time for our clubs to take advantage of the fantastic support that’s on offer. Sustained fundraising and sponsorship will be needed to get the game back on its feet and booming again. GiveToLocal’s service offers huge benefits to both the clubs and the businesses involved.

With the continued support of partner organisations like GiveToLocal we’re confident that the future for football in North Riding is bright. The area is full of people who are passionate about the game and this will see football thrive across Teesside and North Yorkshire. We’ll be releasing our new business strategy for 2021-24 very soon and I’m really excited about how this will support the grassroots game during the next three years and enable it to recover from the pandemic. With more than 20,000 registered players and 1,300-plus member clubs in the county, there’s a huge market and appetite for football.