Former Sunderland star and current club ambassador, Kevin Ball, officially opened a state-of-the-art third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch (AGP) at Castle View Enterprise Academy in North Sunderland, recently. The project was made possible thanks to a £346,235 grant from the Premier League and The FA Facilities Fund, which provides grants towards developing new or refurbished grassroots football facilities.

Kevin Ball, who made over 340 appearances for Sunderland, cut the ribbon at the new 3G AGP which will provide pupils from the Academy and members of the local community access to a high quality playing surface in a safe and secure environment. The floodlit 3G AGP complements the already excellent sports facilities at the site, which include a swimming pool, modern changing facilities, fitness suite and real grass pitches.

Sunderland AFC’s community programme, the Foundation of Light, will use the new facility on a regular basis to deliver coaching sessions and sport inclusion programmes. One of the key objectives of the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund is to strengthen the connection between professional football clubs and their local communities, particularly in the most deprived areas of the country, through the professional clubs’ community trusts’ outreach work.

The pitch, which can be split into three playing areas suitable for small sided games and training sessions, will be regularly used by the Russell Foster Youth League. The league, which has over 700 affiliated Mini-Soccer and junior teams across the North East, will develop a Mini-Soccer centre for Under-7s and Under-8s on the new pitch and work with the Academy and local primary school to form school-club links.

The pitch will be used as a venue for the Durham FA Coach Education Programme and also enable an adult male 11v11 summer league to be created, which will help address declining participation figures in adult football. There is expected to be a 551% increase in the number of adults playing weekly football at the site over the next five years.

The school worked in partnership with the Durham FA to secure a £346,235 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund. Since 2000 the Football Foundation Funding Partners’ investment has provided 149 grants worth £5.7m towards grassroots sports projects worth over £28m across the whole of Durham.

The funding by the Premier League, The FA, and the Government, via Sport England and the FA Facilities Fund is delivered by the Football Foundation. This is the country’s largest sports charity. Since it was launched in 2000, the Foundation has awarded around 13,000 grants worth more that £500m towards improving grassroots sport. It has used this to attract additional partnership funding of over £700m – over £1.2bn of investment into the grassroots game. 
By providing more high-quality facilities, coupled with coaching at the approximate age group, the Premier League and The FA Facilities Fund aims to improve the experience for regular players as well as attracting new players to the game. 
Kevin Ball, commented: “The North East has always been a hotbed of footballing talent and with more facilities like this fantastic 3G pitch, which the Foundation of Light will use with the local community, I’m sure we’ll see Sunderland produce a star of the future. It’s also great to see money from the top of the professional game, through the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, being invested into the grassroots. Throughout my playing career and time working in Sunderland AFC’s Academy, I’ve always recognised the importance of high-quality playing surfaces in aiding the technical development of young players and now pupils at Castle View Enterprise Academy will be able to reap the benefits, too.”  
Janet Bridges, Principal, Castle View Enterprise Academy, said: “We are thrilled to be able to offer a world class facility to our students and the wider community. The pitch is outstanding and we are very excited to see the pitch at Castle View Enterprise Academy develop into a major hub for football development and coaching in the North East. I would like to thank the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund for the generous contribution to this project.”  
Paul Thorogood, Chief Executive of the Football Foundation, added: “The Football Foundation is responsible for managing and delivering the Premier League and The FA Facilities Fund, which is funded by the Premier League, The FA and the Government, via Sports England. This new 3G pitch at Castle View Enterprise Academy is an example of the positive impact that this funding is having on our grassroots game. First-class facilities like this are crucial to creating more opportunities for local people to enjoy regular sport. 
 “Aided by Durham County FA, Castle View Enterprise Academy deserves huge credit for taking a vision and turning it into a reality, using funding provided by the Premier League and The FA Facilities Fund. Sport has the power to make a positive impact on the health of communities and this wonderful new facility will improve the sporting experience of local people and encourage them to be more active.”