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Volume 475: debated on Monday 12 May 2008

The Football Foundation, a partnership between the Football Association, the FA premier league and the Government, has helped to transform grass-roots football facilities, through £650 million of investment since 2001. A new three-year funding deal for the foundation, which was announced last week, commits my Department to providing £15 million each year to the foundation, matched by the FA and the premier league.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he was as pleased as I was to learn on Saturday that Stourbridge FC—the glorious glassboys—has been promoted to the British Gas Business premier division. The club’s success was a combination of the skills of the players, obviously, and of the manager Gary Hackett and the president Hugh Clark. In common with many clubs at that level, however, Stourbridge FC has problems with its facilities. For instance, the club has to share its ground with the cricket club. What further assistance can the Government or the foundation give to promote football and Stourbridge FC’s march to further glory?

I hope that my hon. Friend will pass my congratulations to Stourbridge FC on securing promotion. I would urge her to encourage the club to go to the Football Foundation, which makes funding available for multi-sport schemes as an important part of its new funding agreement, and encourage her to work with the club, through the foundation, to secure investment in improving its facilities still further. It sounds like the club will have a good case, given that it is making firm strides on the pitch to get up the league.

The question does not specify that it is about association football, so it could well be about rugby football. May I therefore ask a lengthy question—although I hope that it is sufficiently short for you, Mr. Speaker. Will the Minister express appreciation to Macclesfield Town football club, which I am glad to say still resides comfortably in league division two, for its role in encouraging community football, particularly in the more deprived areas of my constituency? Will he also express appreciation to Macclesfield rugby union football club for getting such a huge number of young people playing rugby football? That is keeping young people off the streets and encouraging them to use their energy and exercise on the playing field.

That was a very inventive question, but I am happy to send my congratulations to both association football and rugby football in Macclesfield. The hon. Gentleman makes very well the point that sport can reach young people in a way that many other things cannot. It can really transform young lives.

Will the Secretary of State send for the papers about the dispute between the Football Association and Grays Athletic football club? Mindful that footballers should be role models, Grays dismissed from its football squad a player who was involved in and convicted of armed robbery, only to have the full force of the Football Association require performance of the contract. However, any employer has the right to dismiss someone who has brought its firm, game or team into disrepute. Will the Secretary of State look at the papers, as I believe that there is a political and Government dimension to the case? Grays Athletic stood up for having role models and for the quality and reputation of the game, whereas the Football Association has been unreasonable and has ignored that responsibility.

I am not aware of the case that my hon. Friend mentions, but I will look at the papers if he will make them available to me. However, I point out that, as part of its national game strategy, which was launched recently, the FA has placed great store in the Respect campaign, which encourages players to show respect on and off the pitch, particularly to match officials. That is an example of the FA putting its house in order.