How Manchester FA is keeping grassroots football alive and kicking  

In the silence that engulfed Manchester immediately after the lockdown in March this year, murmurs of disappointment over the halt imposed on the ‘beautiful game’ may have gone unnoticed. 

Home to two of English football’s top-flight clubs, the absence of football was felt by players, coaches and fans in Manchester alike. It was a sentiment the city’s governing body for grassroots football, the Manchester Football Association, noticed only too well.

In the immediate aftermath of the curbs, MFA had one primary concern: the plight of officials, coaches, referees, administrators and players. What would they do when there was no football? 

“Football has an older workforce, and our concern was that with the lockdown, individuals could become more lonely because they wouldn’t be able meet their family or friends as they used to,” said Paul Roots, Business Operations Manager at Manchester FA.

MFA, a customer of Freshworks, leveraged the Freshdesk software to explore its customer base—which included aspiring coaches, referees, and football aficionados—and segment it down to certain categories. It began reaching out to them proactively. In the words of Paul, the idea was “not to sell them anything or get them to do anything but just talk to them, talk to them about football, because if there is one thing all our customers have in common, that’s football.”

MFA should know: according to its website, the organization looks after the development of about 30,000 players across 2,200 teams. It is a non-profit service delivery body, committed—like 50 other county football associations across England—to developing, supporting and governing grassroots football. Among other things, it provides coaching and refereeing courses, and guidelines on providing a safe environment and reducing the risk of harm in football. 

While Freshdesk came in handy for MFA to reach out to customers, the act itself is not atypical of an organization that has remained dedicated for nearly a century and a third to the game. Far removed from the glitz of high-flying leagues, taking the game to the depths of communities—including those underprivileged by class and race—takes patient work. 

In its mission towards achieving ‘Football for All’, MFA has been a user of Freshworks products since 2017. But this took on a steep technological pivot, too. Earlier used for handling customer queries for specific departments like discipline and competitions, Freshdesk has now become the interface for all customer queries, including those popping up on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. “We still use other systems… but any customer that wants to talk to us will come through the Freshdesk system,” said Paul.

Following the national lockdown that began in late March, Manchester FA stepped on the gas when it came to automation, using the Freshdesk system to automatically answer queries. It had the unenviable task of informing clubs post-lockdown about where the league positions stood. Using Freshdesk, MFA was able to send automated emails on how the seasons would be resolved.

Manchester FA has ensured that each of its 420 clubs is kept updated at all times. “We only have a small team (17 agents) who have had to deal with a vastly increased number of enquiries and tickets, and Freshdesk has been crucial to helping us do this and keep all clubs informed with how their season has been resolved,” said Paul.

Sport across England is seeing a sputtering resumption. The Football Association in England had announced a phased return. The MFA had stated that competitive grassroots football like pre-season fixtures, festivals and small-sided contests may begin in August, but that league fixtures needed to wait till September, adding that clubs and facility providers should put necessary risk assessment systems in place before competitive football could make a comeback. The big-buck challenges have already charted their return—the famed English Premier League published a detailed rulebook as early as June. 

Amid doubts and troubling questions over the future of sport, bodies such as MFA continue their work to introduce the game to grassroots communities. Freshworks’ UK managing director Simon Johnson summed it up well: “Sport has not been immune to the global crisis, but it does feel great to be supporting the efforts of a driven organization like MFA in trying to inculcate the spirit of football down at the brass tacks.” 

For MFA, the next frontier with Freshworks is to improve access to the knowledge base on its website, which will enable customers to help themselves with useful information. Of course, MFA has now been leaning toward Freshworks’ chat product Freshchat. “What the system is showing is that a lot of the queries are coming in at 3-4 am, believe it or not! Without changing our opening hours, a big focus of ours now is on how we enable support around the clock and through the year,” said Paul. 


(With inputs from Miguel Allende)