This article was first published today in our bespoke Sports newsletter The Fixture. You can sign up in seconds to receive it straight to your inbox every weekday here 

Broken glass on pitches, litter, half-working floodlights and a plethora of other shortcomings. If you're a parent or guardian of a child who plays grassroots football you might have heard the news about fees increasing for council lets which provide training and match day facilities. Similarly, you might be wondering what exactly it is you will be paying for when the cost of sending your child to football inevitably increases in the coming months.

In The Fixture's own council region South Lanarkshire, a petition objecting to the proposed increases has surpassed 7000 signatures – one of which is my own. Arbitrary price increases are nothing new in the cost of living crisis we are living through, energy bills alone have skyrocketed and – across the board – retailers and service providers have passed those prices on to the already stretched customer.

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But there are times when some of those increases feel particularly hard to stomach. The proposed rise is as much as 114 per cent – double and in some cases treble the amount presently paid – for some of the lets in South Lanarkshire where the level of service has degraded from year to year.

Community leaders say they receive a stock answer from South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture – the arm's-length trust which delivers sport and leisure on behalf of South Lanarkshire Council – when they ask where the revenue is directed. At face value, it certainly does not seem to be going towards the upkeep of the facilities they claim it is for. 

READ MORE: How council cuts are helping SFA hand pitches back to the people

At one let in Blantyre, the pitch is scattered with debris – some potentially dangerous including broken glass and shards of wood – that has to be cleared from the pitch before every game. The conditions at the Jock Stein Centre in Hillhouse – where entire sections of the pitch can be cast in darkness due to floodlight failure and large chunks of the playing surface are ripped and dangerous underfoot – are a little better. It is a health and safety issue that goes unchecked on a consistent basis and a set of circumstances that would have the great man, whose name is emblazoned on the outside of the pavilion, struggling to contain his notorious temper were he alive today.

It's not just the abject facilities that SLLC claims the increase is to cover. They also say it is for the payment of staff. Anecdotally speaking, my own experience of dealing with said staff is that they are required to turn up and unlock a gate on a Saturday morning, for example. Any subsequent tasks that are carried out – be it the lifting of goalposts to and from a hanger or the affixing of nets and setting out of flags – is done by parents and coaches. Even something as simple as a set of pegs for the nets has to be provided by coaches.


Something doesn't add up, and the people who will suffer should clubs fail are among those who need football the most. 

“These facilities service some of the most deprived areas in South Lanarkshire,” says Michael McGlynn of the Blantyre Community Council. “There has been no consultation regarding this change. It is going to deny children – who come from some of the most impoverished families in the area – access to football skills, but not just football skills. They gain life skills, learn about teamwork and there are mental health benefits. The crisis which has engulfed the grassroots football community with regard to the increased fees for children's football by both SLLC and SLC was caused by the lack of good governance, the absence of proper consultation mechanisms and the dearth of sound financial organisation, management and planning."

Last week the council announced it was deferring the increases for junior clubs until there has been further engagement between all parties but few expect that reprieve to last for long, especially in light of comments made by local politicians regarding the matter.

Speaking to Planet Radio, the Labour council leader Joe Fagan said earlier today that the Scottish Government is to blame due to a lowering of budgets.

“We're facing a £4m budget gap and we've had to take, in some cases, drastic measures to address that,” said Fagan. “SLLC operates from a large number of sites, and operates in a context of rising inflation, rising energy costs and chronic underfunding for Scottish local government so the support we can step in and provide is limited. I have to be honest, this year and next are going to be extremely limited.”

But last week, the SNP pointed the finger at the Labour-led council saying: “We proposed a budget which included £2m additional funding to SLLC which would have removed the need for this level of price increase.”

As is so often the case with these local-level disputes, party politicking comes ahead of resolving the actual issue. That is particularly worrying news for those caught in the middle, namely the grassroots clubs – some of whom believe they will have no option but to fold should the proposals go ahead.

In response Third Lanark – one of Scottish football's famous old names and a club which in the past paid the ultimate price for poor governance and financial mismanagement – and Cambuslang Football Academy have organised a demonstration scheduled to start at Newton Farm school in Newton at 5.30pm this evening to oppose the increases.

Concerned parents might want to lend their voice.