James Beattie helps mark Football Foundation’s 15th anniversary as he’s unveiled as an Ambassador Football Foundation

James Beattie addresses a large audience at The Blandford School in which he encouraged pupils to participate in sport.

James Beattie addresses a large audience at The Blandford School in which he encouraged pupils to participate in sport.

Former Southampton FC and England striker, James Beattie, was unveiled as the Football Foundation’s latest Ambassador today, when he visited The Blandford School’s third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch (AGP), Dorset. It was James’ first engagement in his new role and forms part of the Foundation’s 15-year Anniversary celebrations.

James, who has just been appointed Premier League outfit Swansea City FC’s new First Team coach, took part in a series of training drills with pupils on the playing surface developed with investment from the Foundation’s Funding Partners.

The striker – who also had spells with Everton FC, Sheffield United FC, Stoke City FC and Rangers FC before becoming Accrington Stanley FC Manager – offered invaluable encouragement and advice to the school’s budding young footballers.

Representatives from the Dorset County FA were also present and watched on as James then took part in a Q&A session with the school’s 700 pupils where he explained the importance of a strong grassroots game, before fielding questions on his time as a professional footballer. He also signed autographs for the captive crowd who then assembled for a magnificent all-school photo next to the pitch.

The Blandford School’s new full-size, floodlit 3G AGP was officially opened on 18 March earlier this year by England Women’s Senior Football Team Assistant Coach, Marieanne Spacey. The project was made possible thanks to a £350,000 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which provides grants towards developing new or refurbished grassroots football facilities. The Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund is delivered by the Football Foundation.

The Blandford School use the pitch extensively for their PE curriculum and have also formed strong partnerships with local grassroots clubs, Blandford Youth Football Club, Blandford United, AFC Blandford, Stourpaine FC, and Wimborne Town Football Club.

The pitch is used by AFC Bournemouth’s Community Trust and Academy for holiday soccer schools and competitive fixtures. The state-of-the-art surface is also used by the Dorset FA who hold weekly FA skills sessions there. Arsenal’s Soccer School initiative also has a satellite base at the site.

James Beattie said: “I’ve always been a huge supporter of the grassroots game, so when the opportunity arose to become a Football Foundation Ambassador I was delighted to accept. The Foundation have done a wonderful job over the last 15 years of improving football facilities at the lowest levels of the game – long may that continue.

“What I’ve seen here today at The Blandford School is inspiring – young people wanting to play and learn about the game, but they can only do this if they have access to quality facilities and this pitch is certainly that. We just need more of them, lots more.

“During my time as Accrington Stanley FC Manager, I drove the length and breadth of Greater Manchester looking for a new training ground for our First Team squad. I really stuggled to find one. It’s not until you really have to look for quality facilities that you realise this country does not have them in the quanitity we need.

“Eventually I came across a facility that, coicidentally, the Football Foundation had built using money from the Premier League, The FA and the Government; and it was an outstanding place. We used it for our training and after our sessions were finished there would always be a local grassroots team waiting to come on! It was evident that is was a real community hub for football and I can see the parallels between that facility and this one here in Blandford.

“You know that when the Football Foundation, with the help of the Dorset FA in this case, builds a facility it is are doing so in an area that needs it most and the help doesn’t stop there. The Foundation makes sure that the pitch is being used day-in and day-out, not just by the school for its PE lessons, but for local grassroots teams and even as a coaching hub for two Premier League teams, AFC Bournemouth and Arsenal.” 

Founded in 2000 the Football Foundation is the largest sports charity in the UK funded by the Premier League, The FA and Government, via Sport England. It funds the development of new and refurbished grassroots sports facilities to improve the quality and experience of playing sport at the grassroots level.

Since it was launched in 2000, the Foundation has awarded around 13,000 grants worth more than £530m towards improving grassroots sport, which it has used to attract additional partnership funding of over £740m – over £1.3bn of investment into the grassroots game.

Sally Wilson, Headteacher, The Blandford School, said: “What a magnificent day for everyone connected with The Blandford School. It was a privilege to host James Beattie’s visit here on the same day he was unveiled as a Football Foundation Ambassador. He was so incredibly generous with his time signing autographs, offering coaching advice and taking part in a question and answer session with the whole school and staff. He had a photo with everyone and even stayed for a bit of lunch with the students afterwards!”

Paul Thorogood, Chief Executive of the Football Foundation, added: “James Beattie has played at the highest level of the game and is now a highly respected coach. His enthusiasm for grassroots football is infectious and we are delighted that someone with his profile has joined us as an Ambassador as part of our 15-year Anniversary celebrations.

“Using money from our Funding Partners – the Premier League, The FA and the Government – the Foundation has helped develop more than 520 artificial pitches right across the country, just like the one at The Blandford School. Facilities like this are important for a healthy grassroots game, because if the game has healthy roots it will be healthy right the way to the top.”

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