For football players and fans, May can be the cruellest month; a fact that was no more clearly demonstrated than in Folkestone Invicta's heart-breaking loss on penalties to Leatherhead in the play off final. Yet, once the dust settles on the season just gone, there will soon a new one to look forward to and with it the hope that next May will be full of the joy of success.
This is a good moment though to reflect on the health of football at a national and grassroots level, and to consider the wider benefits that sports give to our community. On Tuesday this week I met with Greg Dyke, the Chairman of the Football Association, to discuss his new report looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the game in this country. I agree with much of his analysis, if not all of his solutions. In particular he is right to point out that the commercial success of the Premier League over the last twenty years has not lead to an improvement in the quality of the England national team. Young English players do not get the same number of opportunities to play top flight football as they used to, and there needs to be more investment in community sports facilities.
We all take great pride in seeing young people from our community achieve success in sport, as in all other areas of life. We all wish well Johan Ter Horst, the young striker who has made the progression from the Folkestone junior teams, to the Invicta first team, and now to being signed by Premier League Hull City. Similarly, young people can take inspiration from other local sports men and women who have gone on to receive national and international honours, like the cricketer James Tredwell and our London 2012 Olympians Lisa Dobriskey and Jack Green. To make sure that young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential in sport, we to invest in the best possible facilities for them.
There has been some remarkable success in sports investment in our area over the last few years. The investment from the Roger De Haan Charitable Trust in the Three Hills sports park in Folkestone has given us some of the best facilities for hockey and cricket in the county. As a result of this there are now more people playing in more teams from this park, than before. Folkestone rugby club is also recognised as having one of the best youth development programmes in Kent, and we have seen a large uptake in junior football in Hawkinge after the investment in new facilities there. I was also pleased to recently visit Barry Pluck at the Folkestone boxing club in Dover Road. He has established a popular and excellent coaching programme for boys and girls. There has also been welcome new investment in tennis facilities in Hythe.
We can’t all be a future sports star, but there is no doubt that sports are a positive way of channelling the energies and interests of young people; that is greatly beneficial for them and for society. Investment in grassroots sport is an investment in the future of the whole community.