Struggling grassroots football clubs in Scotland are subject to a postcode lottery over pitch hire prices – with one club paying in excess of £120,000-a-year.

The cost of booking a full artificial pitch on matchdays can rise as high as £200 for adults and £100 for youths, with significant variation across the country’s mainland local authorities. One amateur side told revealed how total costs for hosting a cup fixture earlier this season spiralled to £256.

The prices are putting considerable strain on volunteer-led teams amid the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Herald Sport previously told how some clubs had been forced fold teams within their setup due to dwindling numbers influenced by the cost of participation.

And a major factor behind these struggles is simply affording spaces to play.

Artificial pitches in Scotland can fall under local council jurisdiction, or are maintained and operated by their respective leisure trusts. Prices are often determined annually, and could be subject to change in early April, via councils’ budget-setting processes – themselves reportedly facing a £700m funding shortfall.

Pitch fees are generally charged at an hourly rate, and some providers do offer loyalty incentives and discounts for clubs who meet certain requirements. Some facilities charge a standard ‘match fee’ for 11-a-side games, but fitting in a 90-minute fixture plus half-time and warm-ups can require paying for up to two hours’ let. Clubs must also pay for the cost of a referee for matches. Most teams will also look to train at least once a week, which incurs further cost, especially for those which operate multiple age groups.

Using prices listed online, or provided by upon request by booking offices, we have compiled the cost of hiring a full pitch on a match day for adult and youth teams across mainland Scotland. Prices for youth teams are generally discounted to a much lower rate than adults.

Based on the information received, the most expensive price for a two hour slot was in Aberdeen City, quoted at £200 for adults and £100 for youths. Sport Aberdeen, the leisure trust which ‘manages and delivers’ sport services on behalf of Aberdeen City Council, did not respond to a request to discuss their pricing structure.

READ MORE: From Motherwell to Dundee United - community trusts are changing lives

The cheapest adult let price provided for an 11-a-side match was in the Scottish Borders at £74, while £40 in West Lothian was best-priced for juniors. Despite being rated as the most deprived council area in Scotland in 2020, pitch prices in Inverclyde for adults were quoted at £79-per-hour, the second most expensive in the country. Inverclyde Leisure did not follow through on a request to discuss their pricing structure.

Last week, following protests from clubs, South Lanarkshire Council were forced to defer an increase in junior hire prices which left some clubs facing a 114 per cent hike in costs.


Boots, balls, bibs… booking fees.

The cost of Scotland’s national sport seems to just go up and up, at a time when most of us can least afford it. The price of kits or a new pair of adidas has rarely ever been a bargain, but these days even the most fundamental aspect of the game is becoming ever more expensive – a space to play.

Speak to anyone involved in running grassroots football in this country and chances are the price of pitches will be rank high on their list of worries, if not at the very top. In some ways, things are better than ever. There will hardly be a corner of Scotland that does not have some form of all-weather pitch, whether it be the original 3G turf that replaced the old, hockey pitch style astro, or the very latest in artificial surfaces.

The Herald: Season 2022/23 prices across Scotland for hiring an 11-a-side pitch for 2 hoursSeason 2022/23 prices across Scotland for hiring an 11-a-side pitch for 2 hours (Image: Derek McArthur, Newsquest)

The game can be played all year round here, just not on the cheap, and it’s taking a toll on volunteer-led clubs. The cost of living crisis has touched pretty much every corner of society, and when times are hard it’s the so-called luxuries which are first to be sacrificed.

It’s unlikely decision-makers sit down with the express intention of extracting as much money as possible from grassroots football, most of which is played by kids, but they will also be aware that, as much as clubs will grumble about prices, they have continued to pay and pay for years on end.

Perhaps most striking, though, is the disparity across the country, with it being markedly cheaper to play in some areas than others. Individual authorities’ rates can fluctuate year on year, as they will do again in 2023, but the lack of uniformity will likely remain.

As far as saving costs go, grass pitches provide a cheaper alternative for clubs to use on match days, but it is not uncommon for many such surfaces to become unplayable during the winter months. John McClymont has been involved with St Mungo AFC in East Dunbartonshire for over 20 years, and explained that despite the club operating grass pitches at their own facility for as much of the season as possible, they are forced annually to decant to council-run artificial pitches to get games on through the winter months.

READ MORE: Grassroots football clubs fear for future amid cost of living crisis

“We have our own grass pitches, which we lease,” he explained. “We also have a partner club called EDFC, and there’s proposals to amalgamate the two teams to share the cost. It’s all grass we’ve got.

“But because it’s all grass, we have to leave in the winter and go to council-run places with Astro turf pitches. We pay money to run our own place but because it’s grass, lots of games are called off during the winter months.

“From October through to March, all the clubs leave and go wherever they can get pitches to get regular games on, to allow the kids to play. But if you want to use one of the school pitches in the area, it’s nearly half a price dearer.

“East Dunbarton Leisure and Culture Trust, they run one or two places like Huntershill – where we train in the winter - and that’s cheaper. But if you’re booking through the schools – plus the cost of a referee – you’re up to up about £256 to have a match on.

“If you’re only charging a tenner a week and have 17 bodies, you’re only taking in about £170-a-week. And bear in mind, a lot of teams are not as fortunate as us to have our own place. A lot of clubs rely on these places to train and get games on. If you’re using these places to train and then play at the weekend… it’s not right.

“To give you an example of what clubs are spending on pitches, our partner club EDFC in Bishopbriggs and Bearsden, they have teams from four-years-old right through to adult level. They currently spend £120,000-a-year on pitch lets for teams.

“My son and goes and they charge £36-a-month, about £4 less than what an adult team would probably charge.”

A spokesperson for East Dunbartonshire Council told Herald Sport they are forced to strike a balance between keeping pitches affordable for clubs and servicing the cost of running them, insisting that prices have not risen in the area since 2020.

A statement said: “The Council is responsible for the maintenance and letting of a range of sports pitches throughout East Dunbartonshire.

"It is a priority for the authority - in conjunction with East Dunbartonshire Leisure and Culture Trust, which operates facilities in Kirkintilloch, Bishopbriggs and Bearsden - to provide sporting opportunities for all, helping to improve fitness, participation and wellbeing.

"We acknowledge it is a challenging time financially for many local teams and clubs, but we have to levy charges in order to be able to continue to provide pitches for let.

"We strive to strike a balance which ensures we can continue to maintain facilities, whilst providing access for as many people as possible.

"Pitch rates have not risen since 2020. Fees and charges are determined annually via the Council’s budget-setting process, which is informed by consultation.”

Reduced rates, however, are available in various areas – but only if clubs meet set requirements. Fife Leisure, for example, offer 15 per cent discount for clubs who provide minimum £10m public liability insurance, a club constitution and confirmation of coaches qualifications. They become eligible for discount only after booking for 10 consecutive weeks.

McClymont, however, contends that issues are not just with price, but availability.

“I’m involved with a lot of football in the area – probably with every team!” he said. “My daughters play for teams, so does my son, and I play for and run St Mungo’s. So, I’m involved at a lot of levels, and know that the area is at total saturation point, because there are so many clubs that you cannot get a space for love nor money.

“There’s teams trying to start up and can’t get playing, so they end up going here, there and everywhere.

“Parents are paying a fortune. I’ve got three kids and I’m over £100 in fees just to get them out the door. That’s all going into council coffers.

The Herald: Season 2022/23 prices across Scotland for adults booking 11-a-side pitch for 2 hoursSeason 2022/23 prices across Scotland for adults booking 11-a-side pitch for 2 hours (Image: Derek McArthur, Newsquest)

“Teams can’t just go down to a public park to train any more, a lot of them are overgrown. There’s very few places teams can go for free. I’ve heard of clubs where parents pay £40-a-month for their kids to train in a tiny gym hall in a school.

“It’s all down to the fact that there’s not enough places, and they’re too dear. We have our own facility and have a clear vision of where we want to go to save that cost. The money we are paying into the council, we could put directly into the club and give more kids free football, we could put on walking football free for the older adults.

“In my opinion, they need to do more with the prices. There needs to be more places and it needs to be cheaper, but I don’t think you’re going to get that.”


The question is, then: how do we make football more affordable, but also sustainable for providers?

There is an ongoing shift in the grassroots football landscape which underlines both clubs’ ambition to move away from the current model of paying through the nose for pitch lets, and local authorities’ looking to offload facilities which have become too expensive to run cost-effectively.

Some clubs have engaged in the process of ‘community asset transfer’, which has allowed them to take control of facilities for themselves. Examples include Glasgow’s Pollok United taking control of the Nethercraigs facility and Dennis Donnelly Park, while Easterhouse Football Academy have moved into Stepford Football Centre.

However, these are huge undertakings for volunteer-led organisations, and are not a realistic option for every club. The Scottish FA’s facilities manager, Cameron Watt, says the governing body are dialled in to the ‘disparities’ across the country.

They previously commissioned a paper called ‘The Equaliser’; exploring avenues to balance affordability and sustainability. The ideas didn’t get off the ground initially, but Watt believes the challenges and pressures faced by both clubs and providers merits revisiting them.

“First and foremost, we’re totally focused on the cost of living crisis,” said Watt. “It’s hugely concerning. A few years ago, we put together a paper called The Equaliser, which focused on that very topic. It’s not necessarily about parity across the country – that would involve getting 32 local authorities and however many leisure trusts there are now, all singing off the same hymn sheet.

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

“But can we come up with a price for football which is affordable, but also sustainable for them? We weren’t able to take that forward at that opportunity, the landscape at the time didn’t allow it.

“Personally, I think now is a really good time to have another go at that one because we could get a bit of traction, with the trade-off being the local authorities continue to charge a reasonable rate for facilities that they retain in-house, while football helps to remove the burden of facilities they’ve got.

“So, there’s a conversation to be had there. Some of the disparities are huge.

“I’m always aware of this, people tend to look at the headline price when it comes to pitch facilities and not necessarily drilling it down to what it costs per-head, for the period of time.

“That makes a significant difference, instead of the headline figure. It could be eight kids on a four-a-side pitch, 14 on a seven-a-side, 22 on an 11-a-side.

“When you break it down to cost-per-player, it looks more reasonable. But, clearly, if the cost-per-pitch is up at £200, it’s going to be much more expensive for players, as opposed to a headline rate of, say, £80 elsewhere.

“It’s a huge issue for us alongside accessibility. It’s really frustrating, sometimes things like janitorial support get in the way, and the costs of that making a facility accessible or not.”