Darius Vassell Feeling Like a Newman after Villa Hero Opens University's New All-weather Pitch


Former England forward joined by Premier League Assistant Referee, Sian Massey-Ellis MBE

On Wednesday 20 September) Darius Vassell, former Aston Villa FC and England forward, officially unveiled a state-of-the-art new all-weather pitch at Newman University in Birmingham. He was joined by Premier League Assistant Referee Sian Massey-Ellis MBE, a Newman University alumnus. The project was made possible by a grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which is delivered by the Football Foundation.

The grant enabled Newman University to install a new third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch (AGP) suitable for Under-16 football. The new surface, which is capable of holding three 5v5 games at once, is expected to boost football participation at the site by 67% across all ages.

The upgrades made to the site will not only benefit the University’s students, but also partner clubs Bartley Reds FC and Northfield Town JFC. Other users will include: Conway Albion FC; Bournville FC; Castle Alliance FC; Rubery Oak FC and Harborne Harriers FC.

There is currently a shortage of appropriate football facilities in the area, but Newman University’s upgraded pitch is helping to remedy this. Other sport-focused community programmes will also take place on the pitch.

The new surface will help to continue Newman University’s commitment to improving the mental health of people in the region through partnerships with the Aston Villa FC Foundation, Birmingham MIND and Sport Birmingham.

Newman University worked alongside the Birmingham FA and the Football Foundation to compile a five-year Football Development Plan, which is a vision of how sport will be played at the site with an emphasis on increasing participation.

It is expected that overall sports participation will rise by 57% at the site thanks to the upgraded pitch. Additionally, a 110% boost in Under-14 football participation is predicted. This is supported by the partners clubs’ plans to introduce new teams. Bartley Reds FC will create five new teams, taking their total from six to 11, whilst Northfield Town JFC will establish four new sides.

The club worked in partnership with the Birmingham County FA to secure a £315,968 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which helped to make the project a success.

Since 2000, the Football Foundation Funding Partners’ investment has provided 375 grants worth £21.5m towards grassroots sports projects worth over £50m across the whole of Birmingham.

By providing more high-quality facilities, coupled with coaching at the appropriate age group, the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund aims to improve the experience for regular players as well as attracting new players to the game. Many of the new state-of-the-art facilities will serve to strengthen the connection between professional football clubs and their local communities, particularly in the most deprived areas of the country, through the professional clubs’ community trusts’ outreach work.

Darius Vassell, who scored 35 goals in more than 150 appearances for Aston Villa FC, said: “I’d like to thank Newman University for inviting me to officially open their new all-weather pitch. This is an outstanding facility and everyone who helped to make this possible should be very proud. Credit to the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund for making the funding available in the first place.

"Before turning professional, I came through the grassroots and non-league game so know how important quality facilities are at this level. I now do a lot of coaching and all-weather pitches are great because they allow play to take place all-year round, even in the pouring rain. When it gets dark you just switch on the floodlights and keep playing.

“I’ve already seen so many people from different walks of life using the pitch and that’s fantastic. The majority of these people will not turn professional but that isn’t the point. This facility is encouraging people to get off their sofas and get involved with sport. This keeps people fit and healthy as well as gets them socialising and making new friends.”



Sian Massey-Ellis MBE, who completed a BSc in Sports Science and a PGCE in Secondary Physical Education at Newman University, said: “It was great to return to Newman University, where I studied, for the official opening of the new all-weather pitch and to officiate a match on it.

This is a state-of-the-art facility which is going to hugely benefit the university’s players, as well as local people. I hope the new pitch will inspire more people to get active, and maybe even discover a new love of refereeing!”

Professor Scott Davidson, Vice-Chancellor at Newman University, said: “Newman University Birmingham would firstly like to thank Darius Vassell for generously volunteering his time to open our fantastic new 3G pitch, it is a privilege to welcome successful sportspeople to our campus when they are such good role models. We would also like to thank one of our alumni, Sian Massey-Ellis MBE for her continued commitment to Newman as she officiated the staff versus student football game at the opening of the pitch.

“The grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund is one which we are extremely thankful for; the grant will not only improve our facilities for our own students but it will also give members of the wider community the opportunity to have somewhere local that they can use to train and play. Here at Newman University Birmingham we strive to be inclusive of our local community and the new pitch means that sports clubs, schools and individuals will have a better experience of playing grassroots sports here in Birmingham.”

Sign up for The People's Cup 2018