IN a few weeks thousands of footballers in Hampshire will be lacing up their dusty boots for the new season.

But this year some leagues in Hampshire are anticipating fewer players than ever before.

In a bid to give grassroots football a boost, Bolton North East MP David Crausby has set up an e-petition calling for the Govern-ment to ensure the Premier League pumps 7.5 per cent of its money from broadcasting rights into grassroots football.

The Drew Smith Southampton League has seen its numbers drop by a whole division in the junior league, and a division in the veteran league, and it also reported a loss of £3,000.

The petition comes after a Daily Echo investigation last year revealed the shocking state of some of the city’s sports pitches.

Southampton League secretary Rod Sutherland backs the idea. He said: “Players have dropped out for a number of reasons, Saints are doing well and also the terrible weather last year, but one of the main reasons is price.”

“The Premier League should give something back to grassroots football that is played on the pitches in Southampton. Most teams are lads that want to have a kick-about on a Saturday and the higher the price then the more teams we are going to lose.”

The cost of playing football is rising as pitches cost £55 to £62, teams have to pay an extra £26 for insurance a year to cover serious injuries and there is the cost of referees too.

The Southampton Sunday Football League has seen four teams drop out and league secretary Hazel Andrews also supports the petition. She said: “The teams pay a lot of money and they do not get much back for it.”

Some football managers remain sceptical that money pumped into grassroots football would go to where it is needed most.

John May, who runs City of Southampton Sunday Football League Junior Three side Royale Marine, said: “The people who play at our level need facilities, better pitches and changing rooms. Most teams rely on local authority pitches so unless they get their hands on this money it won’t make any difference.”

The Premier League has said its sporting and commercial success last year ensured £1.2bn worth of taxes for the Exchequer last year and it was up to Government to decide how that cash was spent.