Pardew: A step in the right direction; Newcastle manager Alan Pardew tells NEIL CAMERON why new facilities such as those at the Walker Activity Dome are so vital for English football.
The odds on the ticket in your pocket being the big winner are astronomical. Almost as high, in fact, as the chances of England producing a footballer any time soon with the guile of Lionel Messi or Juan Mata's technical ability.
Actually, we don't need to look to Barcelona or London. Is there a homegrown player in the Premier Leaguer today who can boast the first touch and natural flair of Hatem Ben Arfa? Why is this? Well, Alan Pardew, Ben Arfa's manager at Newcastle United reckons he knows the answer, which goes something like this. You don't produce world-class footballers if you don't buy them any football pitches to play on.
Pardew was speaking yesterday at the Walker Activity Dome in Newcastle when he presented a cheque for PS338,819 on behalf of the Premier League Community Facility Fund.
This grant pays for the second phase of redevelopment at the centre that boasts a number of excellent football pitches; all small in size, which is how every Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch and German kid are introduced to the game.
And they seem to do okay in terms of bringing through genuine talent. Pardew said: "I was only talking the other day about English footballers and the lack of them coming to the top level. Facilities like this one are great because the young kids can have the ball at their feet and play in all weather. These pitches can be used non-stop. It's a fantastic facility.
"It also gives the kids somewhere to go, it's organised and gives them some discipline. It's not just about football. It's about life. Fortunately, with the finances that do come into the Premier League, there are sufficient funds to spread it down - and thank God for that.
"There was a period when all the school pitches were taken away by the government - they were sold off - and that was a massive problem for English football. You started to see a lack of people playing actual football. But these facilities, with the lighting and somewhere you can get changed and keep warm, all helps.
"This gives them a chance to play with the ball at their feet, which really helps. We don't do enough of that, which is the reason we don't have the technical players we should have.
"But it is difficult to play football and improve on skills when there are no pitches. It's as simple as that."
Pardew is not a manager who needs to be dragged along to such formal club events. He was happy to give not one, but two team-talks to the primary school aged boys who were trying to catch the manager's eye. How they could have done that was by taking a touch and playing a pass. The Premier League Community Facility Fund has been introduced this year and will give clubs PS18million over the next three years for projects such as this one, which Newcastle United in conjunction with the centre and local council bid for earlier this year.
Pardew said: "We brought along Papiss Cisse and Cheick Tiote today who are heroes to the young kids. It's good to see them with the kids and they get asked a million questions; they don't understand three-quarters of them, but are still smiling away.
"There is a lot of good news surrounding football clubs, which goes unreported, to be fair.
"The foundation we have at Newcastle is fantastic. It's a great thing to be part of. The foundation is down at this facility three times a week. We work with people who are disabled or blind, and not just local kids, to make sure they get some football.
"We support these events and always get the players down to lend a hand."
Pardew even had some kind words to say about the plastic pitches. Not something you hear often.
He said: "The one thing about the Astroturf is that it's much better now. You don't get those horrible burns you used to get and the surface is far truer to a football pitch.
"It will never be the same, but it's as good as it's going to get, I would think."
You can have the best facilities in the world, but if the best lads on your doorstep slip through the net then what's the point? Alan Shearer is the best example of a Geordie lad who was somehow missed, and the same could be said about Michael Carrick who has played in three Champions League finals for Manchester United.
Pardew would welcome youngsters from anywhere in the world if he thought Newcastle would benefit. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't hurt him to see someone else snap up the best 13-year-old in the area.
He said: "What we don't want to miss are the local boys. That is really important to me.
"This year we've got Sammy Ameobi, Shane Ferguson, Adam Campbell and James Tavernier. If they were part of my squad next year then that would be a great result. It would prove we are doing good work."
This gives them a chance to play with the ball at their feet, which really helps. That's what it's about
WELCOME DEVELOPMENT Newcastle United's Alan Pardew, Papiss Cisse and Cheick Tiote watch teams from Walker Central play football yesterday. Far left, Cisse gets involved PICTURES: Tim McGuinness