The intrinsic value of grassroots football will be made clear on Wednesday when UEFA and the European football community celebrate the first ever UEFA Grassroots Day.
UEFA's commitment to tending the game's grassroots is a long-standing undertaking yet, by staging UEFA Grassroots Day as a precursor to the UEFA Champions League final, it is emphasising once more that the top-level professional game could not exist without strong foundations.
UEFA's technical director Andy Roxburgh said that it was fitting to place UEFA Grassroots Day in the programme of events heralding Saturday's UEFA Champions League final in Madrid.
"The aim is to celebrate and acknowledge grassroots football, and, significantly, it starts the build-up to the UEFA Champions League final," he told UEFA.com. "After Grassroots Day, you have the youth match between the UEFA Champions League finalists, the UEFA Women's Champions League final, and then the elite men's match. Just as the grassroots are the start of everything, so they are also the start of this week in Madrid."
The basic concept behind UEFA Grassroots Day is to promote and recognise grassroots football. The response from UEFA's member national associations has been impressive to say the least, with activities planned across the continent, both on Wednesday and throughout the week.
"A lot of the federations have written to tell us what they are doing," said Andy Roxburgh. "Serbia, for example have an enormous programme organised; the German FA have 140,000 kids involved, utilising the thousand or so mini-pitches they have built around Germany."
The grassroots will also be a visible presence during preparations for the FC Bayern München-FC Internazionale Milano showpiece match in the Spanish capital. Since the UEFA Champions League final in 2006, it has become a tradition for the host city to hold a UEFA Champions Festival to engage football fans and visitors with, among other attractions, skill-related games and public facilities such as mini-pitches.
It will be a new departure on Wednesday, however, when prominence is given to UEFA Grassroots Day during a 'Champions Week' press conference at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium, intended to cover both the inaugural grassroots celebration and the impressive range of activities surrounding the final.
That three former UEFA Champions League winners – Fernando Hierro, Raúl González and Luís Figo – will take part in the conference, to discuss their own early development as players, is a perfect endorsement of the grassroots initiative.
Such high-profile backing is just the tip of the iceberg. UEFA Grassroots Day has been advertised through its own dedicated website, uefagrassrootsday.com, since February. The celebration will also be accompanied by the UEFA Grassroots Awards for 2010 – with a best grassroots leader, best grassroots project and best grassroots club being selected by the UEFA Executive Committee following a string of nominations from the national associations.
For Andy Roxburgh, Wednesday will be the culmination of untold hard work by UEFA, both this year and throughout the last decade. "What we are trying to do is to establish the concept – with the website and its classroom campaign, the awards, the press conference, the grassroots festival in Madrid," he said. "Then next year, when we'll have a whole year to prepare, we'll be able to push the federations to get more and more involved.
"Over the last ten years we've been doing an enormous amount of work to promote and develop grassroots football, in particular through the UEFA Grassroots Charter which is an endorsement scheme involving the federations," he continued. "Grassroots Day is an added feature where we take the opportunity to celebrate grassroots football across Europe. It is something we'd hope to build on during the next few years."
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