Non-League Day

Antonio returns to roots to inspire next generation

21 Mar 2024

West Ham star sees how Premier League has helped his former non-league club Tooting & Mitcham United as well as old school

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This weekend marks the latest Non-League Day, which celebrates grassroots football and encourages fans of Premier League clubs to take in a local non-league fixture over the international break.

As part of the Premier League's support for the campaign, we are featuring some of the top-flight players who have gained valuable experiences and lessons in the non-league game.

Michail Antonio (West Ham)

Michail Antonio's journey from school football and non-league to the Premier League is a source of inspiration to many players in his old stomping ground of south London and beyond.

The 33-year-old striker came through the ranks at Tooting & Mitcham United before spells at Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest led to him to the Premier League with West Ham United, where he has been for the last nine years.

Antonio recently made a return to his roots, firstly stopping off at his former school in Earlsfield before going on to Tooting & Mitcham United.

Antonio Earlsfield school

He sought to inspire the people he met during his visits on how to deal with setbacks, as Antonio did in order to achieve his goal of becoming a professional footballer.

"It's your self-belief and your self confidence that drives you," he said. "I went on trials and I got a lot of 'Noes'. A lot of people out there are going to have opinions and say stuff, but how you see yourself is the most important thing."

Michail Antonio, West Ham United, Earlsfield Primary School

"As a headteacher you're telling the kids that Michail went here and they're watching him on Match of the Day," Steve Trow, Earlsfield Primary School head, said.

"It shows that fairytale journey and that you should never give up, you should keep going, and you can aspire to be whatever you want to be."

Michail Antonio, West Ham United, Tooting & Mitcham Borough

When Antonio returned to Imperial Fields, the home of Tooting & Mitcham United, he met academy players and staff, some of whom were at the club when he played there as a teenager.

"Without grassroots football there wouldn't be a Premier League," Antonio says. "Tooting & Mitcham gave me a great opportunity to live my dream so it's always got a place in my heart."

And Antonio heard how the Premier League has proved crucial to the thanks to investment from the Premier League Stadium Fund.

"The Premier League has a fund that's open to grassroots football, which is great and we've been able to make three applications to them quite recently," said Jackie Watkins, chief executive at the club.

"We've had a tractor, which helps no end. We had to bring in some new fire regulations, so we had to go back and ask for help with that. And most recently, thank goodness, they've helped us with our floodlights. 

"Now having at least one set of LEDS on the main pitch, it helps and looks amazing. Not only do they look good, but the LED floodlights also save the club a lot of money from ever-rising utility prices."

The Premier League funding has also helped to provide a new 3G pitch, changing rooms and CCTV.

"We're very lucky the Premier League model is so successful to allow that money to come down the line," said Tooting & Mitcham chairman Steve Adkins.

Antonio Tooting and Mitcham
PL support for wider football

The investment at Tooting & Mitcham is part of the significant financial support the Premier League offers to the 72 clubs in the National League, the top tiers of non-league football, in addition to all 92 Premier League and EFL clubs and women and girls' football and the grassroots game.

Between 2022-2025, the League has committed to investing £1.6billion to the wider game and communities. Of this, £400million will go to funding projects including the development of facilities and community and education programmes.

It is the biggest voluntary contribution to communities and other good causes of any football league in the world.

Through the Premier League Stadium Fund, £192.7m of Premier League money has been invested into improving the stadiums and facilities of clubs in the EFL, National League System and Women's Football Pyramid since 2000. 

More than 5,630 grants have been provided to 1,083 clubs across 114 leagues.

The Premier League will also provide approximately £16m of financial support to National League clubs in solidarity, Academy and community funding between 2022-2025.

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