The pandemic and rise in the cost of living has led to 2,600 grassroots football clubs folding in last 12 months, a report has found.
A further 6,000 are at risk of closure between now and the end of next season.
The Price to Play Report asked 1,000 parents of grassroots footballers, aged 5-16, how their football had been impacted by the pandemic and, latterly, by the cost-of-living crisis.
It found seven per cent of clubs have closed, and a further 16 per cent of parents fear their child’s club could be the next to go.
The new report is the sequel to energy company Utilita’s State of Play Report, published in 2020, which revealed the devastation caused by the pandemic on grassroots football.
As the previous report had warned, 10 per cent of players have not returned to the pitch, with 58 per cent of parents saying affordability got in the way of play.
And the number of people who can’t afford kit has almost doubled from 18 – to 34 per cent of families.
Utilita worked with former England goalkeeper, and grassroots football champion David James MBE, to create the report, which also found a further third of parents fear they will not be able to afford kit for next season.
David James said: “The cost of football kit cannot be allowed to be a barrier to playing football.
“There is enough for everyone. We just need to think twice about throwing away perfectly good items.
“About two-thirds of parents say their child requires more than one pair of football boots for playing on different surfaces, out of which 27 per cent said they can’t afford more than one pair of boots, limiting where their child can play – this does not have to be the case.
“Football Rebooted is the game’s biggest ever environmental movement, and there are enough boots for every child who wants to play – no matter what the surface.”
The report also found annual subs have become a major hurdle for parents as only six in 10 parents can comfortably afford this.
The rest either have to make sacrifices elsewhere or accept support from the club.
Families in the north east are facing the biggest struggle to afford subs (46 per cent), along with those in Yorkshire (43 per cent), Northern Ireland (42 per cent) and the south east (42 per cent).
The Football Rebooted campaign now has 500 dedicated boot collection points in schools, colleges, clubs, and community centres all around the country, including Goals soccer centres from this week.
The campaign set out to rehome one million pairs of boots and is well on track to hit the target by the end of the year.
Bill Bullen, founder and CEO of Utilita Energy, said: “For millions of people, football is at the core of their lives and their community, and we can’t let that slip away.
“I really hope this report will urge decision makers to intervene before affordability results in families and children becoming absent from their clubs.”
Families requiring football boots can find their local collection point listed at www.footballrebooted.co.uk, and are advised to call ahead to check they have the right type and size required.