Words by Ed King & Estelle Murphy / Pics by Ed King & FC Elite Academy
Sport is set to return to Short Heath Playing Fields, as Kingstanding based FC Elite Academy have teamed up with Short Heath Fields Trust (SHFT) to deliver a programme of youth football coaching on the beloved green space.
Having secured planning permission to develop their existing home at Twickenham Park into a permanent sports facility and community hub, FC Elite Academy are now looking at Short Heath Playing Fields to train up some of their younger squad members.
The ambitious Kingstanding club are looking to develop their current College Road ground and are currently fundraising for the £70-80k they expect the project to cost – including building a 3G pitch, clubhouse, changing areas, café, on site office, and parking facilities.
Plans for Short Heath Playing Fields, revealed to Erdington Local, show the establishment of four football pitches, five training ‘grids’, a ‘runner’s route’ around the parkland, and an ‘event zone’ at the top end near Short Heath Road.
FC Elite Club Chairman, Mario Gerroni, told: “Football sessions will be taking place on Short Heath Playing Fields in May. FC Elite Academy and Short Heath Fields Trust are forming a new partnership.
“It’s a positive move for everyone involved and I am excited to see the growth of sports from Short Heath Playing Fields, bringing something back to the community.”
Short Heath Road resident, Ifan Stretkesia, added: “This is a good thing, it’s good that we are finally listened to and our children have something they can now do.
“We go to all the events at the (playing) field and my daughter wants to play football. There is nothing for children now, just Xbox. They need to grow strong.”
FC Elite Academy was set up in 2013 by Mr Gerroni, an experienced football coach who previously worked with Aston Villa and trained ‘soccer’ in North America. The club’s website describes its ambitions to ‘continue growing grass roots football in the North of Birmingham.’
SHFT was formed in 2020 to protect Short Heath Playing Fields from development, after Birmingham City Council tried to push through plans for an 84 strong housing estate on the urban parkland – amidst widespread local objections.
But following years of fiercely fought campaigning by concerned residents, a recent letter from the Leader of Birmingham City Council, Councillor Ian Ward, confirmed the site will now only be sold as a ‘sports field’. The letter also confirmed SHFT would be give a 12-month license to manage the site and ‘establish themselves’ as effective landlords.
A report conducted by Birmingham City Council into the viability of using the playing fields for residential development further identified acid grass on the green space, making it harder to continue with their plans for housing. Further environmental concerns were raised by about the wildlife and plant life that would be affected by building on the parkland.
SHFT began talking to FC Elite Academy back in August 2020 about providing football on Short Heath Playing Fields, who were busy working on their planning application for the Twickenham Park site.
Plans to bring sport back to Short Heath Playing Fields, a parkland once used by several local schools for Physical Education, are now moving forward – with the club offering to both set up and maintain the football pitches and start sessions this May.
As part of the deal, all community events organised by SHFT will continue on the playing fields – including the annual Halloween event and Easter Egg Hunt. A special dog walking circuit will also be established, allowing the many local pet owners who use the green space to continue unheeded.
A spokesperson for SHFT told Erdington Local: “Mario from FC Elite becoming SHFT’s sporting partner and bringing football for 4 to 12 years olds back to Short Heath Fields is a community dream true, you might say our very own field of dreams.
“And with a guaranteed one year license from Education (at Birmingham City Council) you know those dreams will become a reality.”
SHFT added: “It’s been a hard fight to save the playing fields. Now it’s the people of Erdington’s chance to get involved and use the playing fields as a sports field again, this is a great opportunity for boys and girls of all ages 4 and up to come and train and take part.
“FC Elite have a proven track record and we are all looking forward to working together in the future.”
For more on FC Elite Academy visit www.fcelite.co.uk and for more on Short Heath Fields Trust visit www.shortheathfieldstrust.godaddysites.com