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Chasing dreams comes at a price

PUBLISHED: 16:37 25 February 2009 | UPDATED: 10:29 23 August 2010

OLYMPIC HOPEFUL: Francesca Steggall is ranked No.1 in Britain for judo but has had difficulty raising sponsorship.

OLYMPIC HOPEFUL: Francesca Steggall is ranked No.1 in Britain for judo but has had difficulty raising sponsorship.

AS High Street stores go bust, housing prices plummet and the cost of living soars, millions of people across the country are feeling the pinch. Even large sports clubs are having to cut back – Charlton Athletic made a net loss of £11.5 million during th

AS High Street stores go bust, housing prices plummet and the cost of living soars, millions of people across the country are feeling the pinch.

Even large sports clubs are having to cut back - Charlton Athletic made a net loss of £11.5 million during the last financial year and recently had their overdraft facility withdrawn by HSBC.

Some grassroots, smaller clubs are facing the possibility of funding themselves out of their own pocket to chase their dreams during the economic downturn.

While they may be the training grounds for budding David Beckhams, the signs are that it is getting increasingly harder to get youngsters out on the pitch.

After all, it is not cheap to suit and boot a 10-year-old lad for a season's football and, with the rate they grow at that age, it is a recurring expense.

Although the annual sums involved in running a kids football team is miniscule in relation to those of the Charlton or Bromley the money, grants from public bodies is getting hard to come by.

Francesca Steggall from Sidcup, who trains at the Dartford Judo center is an athlete on the verge of international recognition who has to chase her own dream.

The 18-year-old has burst to prominence this year but because she has not competed on the world or European stage she is not entitled to lottery money - even though she is now ranked number one in Britain.

The potential London Olympics competitor has also tried on occasions to raise money from the businesses in her home town but to no avail.

Instead, funding for her training has to come from her own family.

"Everyone is on a rave about the London Olympics and if you were to get to one it would be your home event rather than someone else's," she said.

"I have tried to get sponsorship but there is nothing there especially if you are not involved in a mainstream sport.

"It is hard because the equipment isn't cheap and you have to go to national training in Sheffield. However it just has to be done as I have been working towards this for 13 years and it would be stupid to give up that hard work and my dreams now."

Junior football in the area has not suffered yet, although the full extent of the recession on that area of the game won't be known until the start of next season according to SELKENT - a junior league - general secretary Sally Dolan.

She said: "At the moment I would say that more clubs than usual are behind with payments but that is more likely to be with the effect the weather has had on things.

"At the moment I don't think that parents are suffering too much but I do feel that the picture will become clearer by September."

She does, however, believe that football for young boys and girls is an important part of growing up and that if a team was in genuine difficulties they should be offered help.

Ms Dolan, who has been involved in junior football for over 20 years, added: "There will never be a club in our league that won't be allowed to play because of genuine monetary problems.

"As long as it is made clear to us what the situation is in good time we can come to some sort of a payment plan.

"It can be expensive for a child to play football and we have to be conscious of that. I am a born and bred club person and we would be sensitive towards clubs individual players needed help.

"Kids love the football and look forward to it and your team forms sort of an extended family as it were and it would be very hard to take them away from it, so it would be if it was the only resort."

If necessary, she said, they could resort to traditional methods to raise more cash such as barbecues, quizzes and a 20p donation by spectators of the game to cover the costs.

Bromley FC who ply their trade in the Blue Square South League - five divisions below the glamour of the Premier League - have had to drastically alter their spending habits to stay afloat.

Like many clubs at their level they are finding it hard to attract the sponsorship they rely on to survive as former backers look to cut costs.

Chairman Jerry Dolke said: "We couldn't have had a worst year to not have a cup run because when you couple that with the recession it has killed us.

"We have been very active over the last number of years seeking sponsorship from local businesses and this year it has been very difficult to attract people.

"We are very fortunate that we have built excellent facilities down here but we have had to reduce the price of these to attract interest. The corporate events side of things has been hit the hardest because companies are keeping it in house."

He also noted than 'bums on seats' have fallen but is convinced that football is one of life's necessities for supporters and like the recessions in the early 1980s and '90s crowds would not turn their backs on their team.

He added: "Perhaps the main problem in terms of getting people though the gate is that we have not been doing too well. People want to go and watch the football and have a beer but they want to watch a decent standard and quality."

One of the saddest victims of the recession could be the most vulnerable groups that participate in sport.

The South London Special League (SLSL) in Shooters Hill provides competitive cricket and football for children with disabilities across south-east London and north-west Kent.

Although they have managed to secure a £126,000 grant from the Football Foundation - to be paid over three years - they still need to raise the same amount again in order to cover the costs of running the leagues.

They have found some businesses still willing to help and are trying to provide support in ways other than a straight-up cash donation.

"These are very difficult times and finding people to sponsor the project is very hard," league founder Sharon Brokenshire said. "We secured the grant we needed from the foundation, who are themselves feeling the pinch, and it is a great endorsement that we were one of just three from 19 applications selected.

"Companies are helping in other ways; we have a printer in Greenwich who is getting us reduced rates."

Although many athletes are facing uncertain times, what is certain is that those involved will continue to participate, whatever the costs.

This is partly because sport has the ability to unite and help people forget about the trials and tribulations of life.

One of the most enduring memories in British sport was the near-perfect score by ice skating duo Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean in the free dance final at the Sarajevo winter Olympics in 1984.

The country was still in shock from the economic plight during the early part of the decade and this small glimmer of hope - which is known by people not even alive at the time - rejuvenated the level of pride felt in a nation down on its luck.

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