‘If I can change the life of one child, I will’: Grassroots sport is finally set to return… and former Premier League star Robbie Savage has launched a foundation to help children play football for free
- Robbie Savage is throwing himself into the battle to save grassroots football
- The former Premier League star is passionate about allowing all to get involved
- Earlier this month, the 46-year-old launched The Savage Foundation
- The initiative will launch at Macclesfield FC and encourage children to play
Robbie Savage was one of the most recognisable figures in English football during a colourful 17-year playing career — and now plans to use that profile to change the face of the grassroots game.
The former Wales international, who spent 11 seasons in the top flight with Leicester, Birmingham, Blackburn and Derby, has enjoyed a successful stint in the media since retirement but his current project has the potential to be far more influential.
Earlier this month, the 46-year-old launched The Savage Foundation, which has a simple aim — to allow children to play football free of charge. The initiative will launch at Macclesfield FC — the newly-formed club where Savage is head of football — but he hopes eventually to introduce it nationwide.
Robbie Savage turned his football days into a successful media career, but now he wants to make a difference to grassroots football with the Savage Foundation
‘People think grassroots football is free, but it’s never been free,’ said Savage.
‘Even when I was a kid we paid subs. When you take into account the cost of kit, league fees, referees, hiring a pitch, it has become very expensive for families. When I think of grassroots football, I think of when I used to play with my mates on the local park. Everything else comes with a price — £100, £200 a year.
‘I coach an Under 15 team and all the parents have different circumstances but I would never stop anyone from playing because they couldn’t pay.
‘I had a letter recently from a parent which sums up what the Savage Foundation is trying to achieve. She had split from her partner and because her job circumstances had changed due to Covid, she could no longer afford to send her son to football.
Savage is passionate about giving everybody the chance to get involved in football
‘She told me that the launch of the Foundation meant her son would be able to play again. This is my passion, what I believe in. If I can change even one young person’s life through this, I will.’
Savage is backed by the Law Family Charitable Foundation, run by hedge fund manager Andrew Law and his wife, photographer Zoe Law. It was established 10 years ago and offers financial support to — among others — people with cancer, children struggling with mental health and those from low-income backgrounds.
Macclesfield owner Rob Smethurst will hand over the club’s 4G pitch to Savage, at first for two and a half hours on Tuesdays, with the mixed-ability sessions ready to begin as soon as Covid restrictions are eased.
Savage has pledged to provide kit for all who participate and coaching will be done by volunteers who have passed all the statutory safeguarding checks.
His vision stretches far beyond weekly kickabouts at a single venue, however.
Savage would like to link up with local FAs to create non-competitive leagues, allowing children to contest matches at weekends as well as train. And it is not just about playing, either.
During his playing days Savage became one of the most recognisable stars in English football
Savage is concerned at the number of referees turning their backs on the game because of the abuse they receive from players and spectators at amateur level and, if he succeeds in launching the league system, he hopes it will provide a calmer environment in which referees can learn their trade.
First, though — like everyone else involved in non-elite sport — he needs Government permission.
Outdoor team sports were banned again when the latest coronavirus lockdown was introduced in January, eliminating many children’s activities at a stroke. Schools are due to re-open on March 8 and Savage has urged ministers to lift restrictions on Under 18s’ sport at the same time.
‘It needs to be out of lockdown in line with schools,’ he said. ‘When the first lockdown was imposed last spring, I don’t think the Government understood the implications of not playing sport, but I really believe they do now.
‘You talk about being allowed out once a day for exercise but it’s not so simple for some people because of their circumstances.
‘I am lucky enough to have a voice and I have been relentless on this. If we return to the tier system, there has to be an exemption across all tiers for Under 18s playing sport.
‘I have had emails from parents saying that football can save their children, who would otherwise be lost to the streets.
Many children are priced out of grassroots football and calls for changes are mounting
‘A lot of the kids I see come from the real tough areas of Manchester and there are so many different pathways they can choose. Football can save people and I have seen how these lockdowns have affected them. I speak to parents, I speak to teachers if kids in my team have been playing up. I’m not just their manager. I am trying to help them in their lives.’
As an avid user of social media, Savage has been able to promote his foundation across a variety of platforms. There are, however, two sides to this coin.
Savage has been particularly irked by suggestions online that his scheme will damage other grassroots clubs or that it is merely a means to find the best youngsters in the area and bring them into Macclesfield’s academy. He points out that there would be far simpler ways of doing this than creating a foundation, with all the logistical difficulties that entails.
‘I’ve seen people saying that Robbie Savage is a grassroots campaigner because he wants to get all the best kids into his academy and it is ridiculous,’ Savage stressed.
‘The Savage Foundation is separate from Macclesfield. The owner of Macclesfield is giving me time on the pitch at an amazing facility. When people say on social media that there is a hidden agenda it gets you down. I can do this because of my profile but it is what I love.
‘Ninety-nine per cent of the feedback has been positive. Some accounts appear to have been created just to criticise but this is an amazing opportunity for some of these kids. There are some grassroots clubs in the area who have developed amazing reputations and I have no intention of doing anything to affect that.
‘In the next three or four years I want to be doing this full-time. I have had a great run in the media and I have loved every minute of it but I have realised this is my real passion.’
Share this article
Source: Read Full Article