Grassroots football across Europe: a snapshot

Reflecting on UEFA Grassroots Week, we highlight some of the most innovative grassroots football programmes run by Europe’s 55 national associations.

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Over the next four years, UEFA has committed €44 million to helping its 55 member associations develop grassroots football across Europe.

While emergency health measures have brought many grassroots competitions and programmes to a temporary halt in 2020, ensuring players can enjoy football in a positive, safe environment lies at the heart of every national association’s long-term mission.

As UEFA’s annual Grassroots Week, which shines a light on the organisation’s Grassroots Programme and the Grassroots Charter, draws to a close, we look at some of Europe’s most innovative grassroots programmes and show how national associations have adapted to keep young players fit and ready for action during the lockdown.

Austria

The Austrian Football Association (OFB) launched an innovative coaching initiative this summer, using sponsorship funds from the cancelled Coca-Cola Cup.

The programme proved popular, allowing staff from more than 600 grassroots clubs in four regions to speak online with experts and find tailor-made solutions to their situations. It also helped strengthen the OFB’s relationship with its regional federations, with the plan now to roll the programme out further to all nine regional federations.

The Austrian national team also contributed €500,000 towards the country’s 2,200 grassroots football clubs.

Chidlren enjoy a game in Veliky Novgorod, Russia
Chidlren enjoy a game in Veliky Novgorod, RussiaAFP/Getty Images

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Grassroots football in Bosnia and Herzegovina has a new group of 17 coordinators in place to deliver the association’s nationwide strategy to develop the game.

This year, as part of UEFA Grassroots Week celebrations, football festivals will be held in six cities across the country. Despite limitations on group sizes, more than 500 participants from 30 different organisations will participate in the events.

Bulgaria

In Bulgaria, a new website allows families to enrol children in a free grassroots training programme beginning this autumn, which has been promoted by former international, Martin Petrov.

The nationwide programme is overseen by trained and qualified grassroots coordinators.

Croatia

The Croatian Football Federation (HNS) attributes much of its recent success on the international stage to a strong grassroots platform.

Croatia’s main programme aims to promote football among children and targets girls and boys aged from six to 12 in rural areas in Croatia – last year more than 3340 students (1369 girls) attended 89 ‘football days’ across the country.

Other grassroots initiatives are crucial in ensuring as many people can play football as possible. Croatia’s disability football programme is supported by UEFA HatTrick funding, while there are also football camps for children from minority backgrounds and national football and futsal championships for veteran footballers.

Hungary

The Hungarian Football Federation (MLSZ) hopes the impact of hosting the recent UEFA Super Cup will spread far beyond its venue, the Puskás Aréna in Budapest, by adding momentum to its efforts to inspire a new generation of grassroots footballers across the country.

The MLSZ’s grassroots football programme has already reached its long-term objective of ensuring no Hungarian citizen lives more than 10 kilometres from a quality pitch. Now it is working to fill the pitches with more players.

In the past 10 years, the Federation has built or renewed almost 3,000 football pitches, some with UEFA funding support. Over the same period, the number of registered grassroots players has increased from 100,000 to almost 300,000, including 30,000 young girls.

To further increase the number of children playing football, the MLSZ has allocated 500,000 Euros to a Club Accreditation programme, with UEFA contributing 5% of the overall cost. The initiative offers financial incentives to the country’s network of professional clubs to strengthen their ties with local football teams and schools.

Grassroots football in Italy
Grassroots football in ItalyM. Puglia/Getty Images for UEFA

Italy

Football is of course a way of life in Italy, and this continued through schools and institutes throughout 2020 despite restrictions enforced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, we looked at how the HatTrick-funded ‘Tutti in Goal’ programme was showing how football can help teach skills way beyond the pitch and school playing fields.

But the Italian Football Association (FIGC) has not stood still, delivering an app to help educate and connect young people during the lockdown. Students were able to capture and share videos of football songs, dances, goal celebrations and other football activities, and in total, the FIGC’s grassroots activities have helped keep more than 65,000 children engaged with the game in some way.

Kosovo

The Kosovan FA has traditionally organised activities for UEFA Grassoots Week, held on an annual basis every September.

The latest event featured schoolchildren from the region of Prishtina, with more planned for the future once the COVID-19 pandemic allows. In Mitrovica, there are plans to stage a new session for children with disabilities, to help them access and enjoy the game.

Earlier this year, the Kosovo FA also increased its provisions for women’s football, with projects financed by the UEFA HatTrick programme. It is hoped that by providing more opportunities for women and girls to play grassroots football, it will, in the future, lead to a strong women’s national team.

Montenegro

Football is the number one sport in Montenegro. You can find organised football everywhere – schools, universities, companies, veterans’ leagues, amateur city leagues, commercial tournaments, recreational football matches – and many clubs and academies offer programmes for both boys and girls.

The Djetic League offers national competition for kids from Under-8 up to Under-11, with coverage on the national association social media. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant competitions started with special medical protocols applied, prepared in cooperation with the public health institute and in line with the UEFA Return to play protocol. However, all schools football is suspended until the end of the year.

Norway

Norway’s ‘Corona Guide’ is a fantastic example of innovative thinking by a national association during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shared with all grassroots clubs across the country, it provides a list of precautions a club and player must take to comply with health regulations. Mandatory for all players over the age of 13, it has so far been completed by more than 100,000 people.

The course has three sections – an introduction to the virus and how it spreads, how football must handle the situation and finally an exam with a diploma as a result. The initiative has been so successful, it has been adopted b the Sports Federation of Norway for use on other sports.

Republic of Ireland

The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has produced excellent coaching guidance and an effective protocol around the return of grassroots football following the COVID-19 lockdown.

The main document outlines key procedures for preparing training venues, facilities and equipment, responsibilities for coaches, parents and players and a checklist for ensuring sessions stay safe.

 Wales manager Ryan Giggs visits a school in Llanelli
Wales manager Ryan Giggs visits a school in LlanelliJohn Smith/Same Old Smith

Russia

Amateur football in Russia is everything from the fourth tier and below, where leagues are divided regionally and often played through the summer.

Each May, Russia holds its national ‘Grassroots Football Day’, organised by the Russian Football Union (RFU) and Ministry of Sport. The festival focuses on encouraging participation in the game and encouraging a healthy way of life.

Activities are not just aimed at children, with first-time women’s footballers encouraged to get involved through simple ball exercises, and those with health limitations receiving opportunities through a dedicated ‘Football For Everyone’ initiative.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this year’s festival was cancelled, but plans are already underway for it to return in 2021.

Scotland

Football is the national game in Scotland and grassroots football is something that is engrained within national society. With around 2,500 clubs and more than 650,000 casual players, grassroots football is integral to life for many people, building friendships and a competitive spirit which helps improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

The Scottish Football Association (SFA) has a special ‘return to football’ hub on its website and has worked hard alongside the government to bring grassroots football back in stages – each team has a COVID-19 officer to ensure regulations are adhered to.

Last week, the SFA launched ‘Give For Grassroots’, a new support fund that will allow fans to help grassroots clubs provide playing opportunities for children within their local communities.

Wales

The strapline of the FAW is 'Together, Stronger' and the encompasses every aspect of the game in Wales, from grassroots to the national team. Grassroots football is a key element of the sport in Wales and forms an integral part of the overall vision for the game.

National team manager Ryan Giggs is an advocate of FAW-organised free football sessions for children, while members of the Wales Women's team are continually and actively working with the FAW Huddle introductory programme that is designed exclusively for young girls. Junior football (age 5-11) returned from COVID-19 lockdown from 21st September, just in time for Grassroots Week!