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David James: One in ten grassroots clubs could go to the wall, meaning uncertain future for SuperCupNI and other youth tournaments


Former England goalkeeper David James has launched a campaign to support grassroots football.

Former England goalkeeper David James has launched a campaign to support grassroots football.

©Tom Stockill

Former England goalkeeper David James has launched a campaign to support grassroots football.

Ex-Liverpool and England star David James has warned that competitions like the STATSports SuperCupNI could be threatened by the Covid pandemic.

The former goalkeeper says that it is not just elite sport that should be protected and called for grassroots football to be safeguarded too.

He told Sunday Life Sport that with kids' clubs in danger of going out of business it would have a knock-on effect on youth tournaments like Northern Ireland's famous event, formerly known as the Milk Cup.

James, 50, said: "If I can say something about what these tournaments mean, I spent some time in Iceland and they had a grassroots tournament which was amazing.

"The Milk Cup has the similar unity amongst the community to facilitate this festival, which is essentially what it is.

"Without grassroots football clubs, you don't have your tournament.

"I think that's the key thing, and one in 10 could potentially be lost because of the pandemic.

"And that has a knock-on effect - that tournament started somewhere.

"My first tournament in England was like a parade of different teams, you saw big kids, small kids, black kids, white kids, whatever.

"You have to start somewhere, and, again, there's the social value of it and also the competitive value of it.

"And without the grassroots element these things don't happen."

The tournament was first played in 1983 and now has a stellar reputation as one of the best youth football competitions in the world, with top clubs taking part.

World-famous players who have been involved in the past include the likes of Harry Kane, Ryan Giggs, Sergio Busquets, Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford.

James, capped 53 times for England, said there is "absolutely" a real fear that youth football clubs will go to the wall because of Covid.

A League Cup winner with Liverpool and FA Cup winner with Portsmouth, it was at Welwyn Garden City where he won his first medal after lifting the County Cup back in 1984, aged 14.

He has teamed up with energy firm Utilita in a bid to help clubs save money through energy efficiency with their Switch Before Pitch campaign, which included a report they commissioned that showed some clubs do not think they can survive financially.

James said: "I would go as far as saying it's a probability that one in 10 grassroots football clubs will go out of business within the next 12 months.

"Reading through the report, it was scary, and this report was done before the second wave - which, again, is going to compound the issues that these grassroots football clubs are going through.

"Without grassroots participation, the social values wouldn't have been there.

"I'm no different to a lot of people around the country in that I grew up in a single-parent home and a lot of the human values which you miss out on in a single-parent home on its own, you gain through the social interaction with other people.

"The state of the future population is at risk here if we lose a fundamental part of the growing experience."

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