13 July 2018
Jesse’s Hereford Times column: Football fever!

IN-GER-LAAAAND!!!! By the time you read this, gentle reader, we will know whether England have made it through to a final of the World Cup for the first time since 1966.

But already one thing is clear: that the campaign waged by the wonderfully gentle and decent Gareth Southgate and his young team has caught the nation's imagination. Indeed, not merely caught it, but set it on fire.

But where does this performance come from? Partly from the Premiership, where young English players fight to compete with the best in the world. But mostly--I would say overwhelmingly--from the grass roots.

That's why it was such a huge pleasure for me to be invited the other day to open the new all-weather 3G football pitch at The Hereford Academy.

Facilities like this pitch are vital to the development of local communities, and it made me very proud to see an investment worth £150,000 from the Premier League, the FA and the Government, via Sport England, here in Hereford.

I was joined at the opening by Chair of Governors Bruce Freeman, by Dan Chance and Steve Wilmott from the Herefordshire FA and by Paul Quarrel, a Director of Hereford FC. Huge thanks go to them and all those who fought hard to make this happen.

And what better time for the new pitch to open than when World Cup fever has hit the nation?

But of course the benefits of this pitch will outlast the summer, and provide more opportunities for the development of grass roots football in Herefordshire for many years to come.

As well as the Academy, the pitch will be used by local teams Pegasus FC, Hinton FC and Belmont FC, as well as Hereford FC's Academy and Community teams. What a pleasure it would be to see youngsters who have trained here play for England in a future international tournament!

The physical and mental benefits of regular sports participation are evident beyond doubt, and big increases in sports participation are now expected as a result of the new Academy pitch. But projects like this have many other benefits: they encourage volunteering, and they can also support local businesses, creating jobs during their construction and delivery and leaving lasting benefits on the local community.

I would encourage as many people as possible to make the most of the new opportunities provided by this state-of-the-art facility.