More than Money: Football as a force for good
Football has never mattered less, or more. Guest blogger Steve Moore, Chairman of Cumnor Minors in Oxford, looks at how football, and VYD, are welcome constants in the new reality.
With a jab in our arm and an eye on the news, many of us can now take our first steps toward whatever is next, it’s worth remembering that while real life was paused, football never stopped.
While the absence of fans combined with the presence of player bio-bubbles and piped-in crowd noise gave matches a surreal quality, the ongoing spectacle of 22 men or women doing their thing was a welcome distraction for some, and a lockdown lifeline for others.
It has not all been good news. The Seagulls are not flying so much as fighting for scraps, while VAR and the rolling eye emoji seem perpetually united on social media.
Whether football is a mirror of society, or our world takes its cues from the game is irrelevant. There is more to consider than 90 minutes of huff and puff, the trivial pursuit of three points, and the dopamine hit of a last-minute winner.
More than a game
Good news stories often go unnoticed, and football has gone about its work, quietly and effectively lifting the individual stuck at home, and binding communities riven by societal issues long before the pandemic heaped more misery on them.
Because while this is a globe-straddling commodity, corrupt to the core, a child-swallowing beast writing all the wrong headlines, out on the edges it is the platform supporting thousands of good-news ‘people’ stories that display the best of us.
Bayern time – something
For example, the sport that enabled Barry Bennell also lifted Alphonso Davies from a refugee camp in Ghana, and war in Liberia, to the Allianz Arena in Munich where the teenage superstar propelled Bayern to a treble in 2019-20. He made a stunning World Cup debut, and is now the first footballer appointed as ambassador for the United Nations refugee charity UNHCR.
Tower of Power – football in Grenfell’s shadow
In London, the Grenfell shell is a physical scar on the landscape, and a moral stain on our society. There are few good news stories here. Apart from this one. Once again, football, a simple game made complicated by vested interests, is the common denominator helping people find a shared identity beyond ‘just’ survivors. They have used the game as a conduit to a better life.
Football Beyond Borders (FBB) uses the draw of a sport Arrigo Sacchi called ‘the most important of the least important things in life’ to support those disengaged at school but passionate about football. Their projects help ensure kids finish school with the tools to make a successful transition into adulthood. And it works; 95% of participants at risk of exclusion at the start of the year finished the year still in school, and 72% of FBB participants improved their behaviour in school.
Manor from heaven?
Is the next Alphonso Davies kicking his heels in Sussex, rather than gracing football’s finest grounds? An initiative I spotted the other day could achieve just that. The Manor FC project, one of many set up and run by VYD in Brighton, uses the universal draw of football to help refugees and asylum seekers assimilate to their new home. Gary, Kevin, Ben and the VYD coaches have created a welcoming and safe space to play and socialise. It uses a familiar element, football, to help the newcomers adapt and adjust to their new environment, and ultimately engage with their new community.
Hawk this way
As an ex-Brightonian I know Whitehawk well, so I read about Hawks Heroes with interest. Led by local community centre the Crew Club, Hawks Heroes encouraged men in Whitehawk, one of the country’s most socially and economically challenging neighbourhoods, back onto the pitch. The aim, once again, was to use football’s tractor beam to attract 17 lads to simultaneously reduce their health risks and boost psychological and emotional wellbeing through a structured programme of coaching and wider wellbeing awareness. And, again, it worked.
‘I’ve suffered in the past with depression … I feel a lot fitter and my attitude is a lot better. Before I would have … watched the telly but now …I want to go to the park with my kids and have a kick about.’ (Hawk’s Heroes footballer)
Gary Pleece set up VYD in 2019 as a social impact Community Interest Company that empowers and uses educational and social impact programmes – and football-focused projects – to positively influences lives in UK. And away from the money-grabbing machine of professional sport, altruism pays its own dividends in shaping better people.
It’s a great project, run by excellent people, getting fantastic results. Join me and get involved.
Steve Moore is Chairman and Secretary of Cumnor Minors FC, a community club of 40 years, currently running 20+ boys, girls and mixed teams from U6 through to U18.