There were 2.2 million adults (over 16s) playing football regularly in 2012. Just 18 months later, that figure had fallen to 1.8 million. Something needed to be done and that ‘something’ was Sport England announcing it would invest £1.6m of National Lottery funding into creating the first ever UK City of Football. The aim was to choose a city to host a pilot scheme, designed to find new ways to get more people playing the sport regularly – with a particular focus on those aged 14 to 25 years old.
In the initial application stage, 22 cities submitted expressions of interest and three were shortlisted. From that group, Nottingham overcame competition from Manchester and Portsmouth and was chosen as the one to drive the two-year experiment. Nottingham’s winning bid brought together partners both from inside and outside the traditional footballing family. These included the Creative Quarter – the city’s creative network where business, art and technology come together – local sports clubs, schools, colleges and universities as well as large local businesses such as Boots and Capital One.
Announcing the winner, Sport England said Nottingham’s use of insight and understanding of its target audiences was “most impressive”. The City of Football took lessons from Nottingham’s annual GameCity Festival, which successfully draws young people into digital technology by showcasing video games’ cultural side.
As England’s first City of Football, Nottingham chosen mission statement was to help people ‘find their football’. Since the initiative began in April, it’s created new partnerships, supported better planning of football events and is driving the city to having the fastest growing number of female and black and minority ethnic (BME) players.
As well as promoting initiatives to support the diversity of those participating in football, Nottingham City of Football (NCF) is also promoting the cultural, social, health and educational benefits of participating in all forms of football for people of all abilities.
NCF managing director, Amanda Chambers, says the programme’s main purpose is to ensure more people play football regularly (at least 30 minutes a week), reversing the trend of declining participation. “Our ambition is to spark an explosion of grassroots football participation, by people of all ages, but particularly by young people,” she says.
“However, we don’t just want to get more of the same people participating. We want to reach those who are aren’t currently engaged in football at all.”
NCF chair Jeff Moore is also keen to reach out to the communities which the established game fails to influence. “We want to widen and deepen engagement with the communities and groups of people which the established game of football does not reach. We think there are limitations in the traditional ‘targeted interventions’,” he says.
“There is a need to focus on a change in behaviour, not just within individuals, but within the football infrastructure and organisations currently leading, managing and delivering activity in the city.
“We’d also like to reach people who are inactive and get them active, providing equality of access and opportunity and ensuring our activities are inclusive to all communities. While we will only get to keep the title of City of Football for two years, it’s not over for us there. We want to ensure the increase in participation is sustained and that football will be embedded in the lives of people.”
FUNDING THE GAME
The group is currently only funded through the National Lottery backing from Sport England; the money is being spent carefully and in ways which will directly increase participation in football across their key target audiences. For example, many of the events have been highly targeted and involved localised activities with 14 to 25-year-olds, BME communities, women and girls and disabled people.
Over the two years of the project, NCF also aims to achieve a shift in the gender, ethnicity and demographic profiles of people playing, coaching and volunteering in football in the city to better reflect the diversity of people living in Nottingham. The team is creating new approaches to how football is delivered, including the development of a new planning tool called Playbook.
A digital platform, Playbook will help providers planning to put on football activities in the city target the right people, in the right places, at the right time, with relevant offers.
The Playbook will allow the NCF to communicate its football offers more effectively and more coherently across a broad range of communication platforms. It will also mean that football activity programmes can be designed around specific user needs.
It’s hoped that the Playbook will become an open football platform, allowing people and communities to identify where football events or coaching sessions are happening, who they can play with and how to get there. By doing so, the NCF believes Playbook will remove some of the greatest barriers to participation by making football sessions available and accessible for all.
Chambers and Moore share the same hope that Nottingham’s time as the first City of Football will leave behind a great legacy for the city’s grassroots football at the end of the two years. The ideal outcome would be more people playing football, a more diverse demographic of players and coaches, and the creation of a more accessible local football infrastructure. The team accepts that it will face challenges as it has a relatively short time span to deliver its goals to positively alter and challenge the structure of how football is delivered and viewed in the city.
The team also hopes that future participation projects will be able to learn from what is achieved by Nottingham’s tenure as City of Football – and that other cities and national governing bodies can take on board the key conclusions as they implement their own plans across the UK. Sport England has already announced that it plans to use Nottingham’s experiences and lessons to implement a new strategy for football in the future. With the project already seeing improvements in football participation across the city, Chambers is confident that the initiative will help drive a radical change in football across the region and beyond.
“There’s already been a real buzz around the city since we began implementing the project in April, she said. “There are some amazing role models within our local football sides and the success of the women’s teams recently, both nationally and locally, has helped us inspire more women and girls to get into the game, which is fantastic.
“We’ve seen a similar rise in the amount of BME communities getting involved in local football sessions and coaching courses, which is great for the future of football at all levels.
“We want this increase to continue and particularly with those young people aged 14 to 25. Our goals will always be set around the need to reverse the trend of declining participation and I truly feel that we’re taking all the right steps to see a fundamental change in football participation across Nottingham.”