Kelly Simmons strolled into the lecture theatre with a smile, looking ready and forward to engage with the Sports Journalists anticipating her. It was clear from the get-go that Kelly had an astute understanding of the ‘beautiful game’ as it is so affectionately tagged, The FA director was eloquent and precise in her descriptions of what her role involves – for a group of journalists in practice, it broke the ice effectively and pathed way for a wave of intrigue.
A prominent discussion point was the disparity surrounding the monetisation of the Football Association Cup, now unceremoniously known as the ‘Emirates FA Cup’. Simmons beamed about tradition; exclaiming its importance and how heritage is a giant part of football, however she reiterated that the game, on a national and global level, is also a business: “You know we’ve got things like Wembley to pay back and these are provisions we have to make.”
Kelly spoke in-depth about the development of football at a grassroots level, of course it being her area it was a fascinating insight into how regional associations are nurtured and of course how they can be improved.
Over the next four years, the FA plan to invest £240m into the participation and development of the national game at a grassroots level. Simmons explained the importance of discovering new talent and improving facilities at clubs all over the country, she was particularly proud of the progress women’s football has made it recent times but she said assertively, “We need more children, more girls. Better young players in national leagues.”
It wasn’t hard to identify Kelly’s passion for football. Once a player herself, she is resolutely determined to get more young people actively participating in the sport – including the development of referees. Simmons spoke about the alarming shortage of officials at amateur level which led me into quizzing her about the sometimes disgusting treatment of referees in Sunday league:
JC: You identified a shortage in referees at an amateur level. I played in a Sunday League governed by the Norfolk FA and I encountered referees being treated horrendously by players and managers. What is in place to support these officials; to look after them? Because from what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t want to be a referee.
KS: That’s a good question. One of the reasons numbers were declining is because there wasn’t that support, we invested into county referee development and we’ve ensured they have coaches – mentors. The FA have also pushed this in the last seven, eight years with the Respect programme too.
Simmons was adamant that investment is being made in all the right places at grassroots and is optimistic about the future of English football, she also had high praise for St. George’s Park: England’s state-of-the-art training facility in Staffordshire, “We’ve got a world renowned training facility with dedicated and experienced people in the game. I’m lucky enough to have been a number of times, it is amazing.”
Kelly stated furthermore, the goal for England is to win a major tournament by 2025 – it was met with the usual groans and eye-rolling, we’ll have to wait and see.