THE number of council-owned football pitches in Dudley has increased over the last 14 years, new figures show.

It comes as a new study reveals there are over 800 fewer public pitches across the UK.

The GMB union, which released the figures as England and Scotland began their Euro 2024 campaign in Germany, warned council cuts could "crush grassroots football".

Figures obtained by a freedom of information request show there were 89 council-owned or operated football pitches in Dudley in 2009-10.

By 2023, this had risen to 96, an increase of seven.

The figures show among the 176 councils to respond to the request, there were 869 fewer council-owned or operated football pitches last year than in 2009-10.

The worst-hit part of the UK was Scotland, which lost 258 pitches during that period.

The other areas to have lost the highest number of pitches were all in northern England and Wales.

Across the West Midlands, there were 551 pitches in 2022-23, an increase of 62 in 14 years.

Not every council in the country responded to the union's request, so the exact figures may vary.

Speaking at the GMB's annual conference in Bournemouth, before the European Championships began, union secretary Rachel Harrison said: "Before a ball has even been kicked, the next generation of footballers have already lost.

"Losing almost 1,000 council football pitches could crush grassroots football in the UK and is yet another deeply depressing legacy of the Conservative’s austerity mission."

A spokesperson for the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, said accessible sports facilities are important for public health, but financial pressures force councils to make unpopular choices.

"Councils face a £6.2 billion gap over the next two years just to keep services at current levels. This means that difficult decisions must be made when given the choice of funding statutory services such as social care or non-statutory services like sports," they said.

"Councils are aware that residents expect a broad range of services when they pay tax, however they are increasingly faced with the almost impossible task of trying to make limited budgets stretch to cover the full range of services that they have provided in the past."

It has called on whoever forms the next government to invest in services that help to prevent ill health, such as football pitches, leisure centres and cultural venues.