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Give it up for the grassroots of the beautiful game

GRASSROOTS: Local football clubs have a can play a huge role in uniting communities (Image: Kick It Out)

WORKING WITH the backbone of football – or the grassroots as we prefer to call it – is a key part of the work we do at Kick It Out.

Our involvement with the top levels of football is there for all to see, but we are here for everyone who plays, watches or facilitates the game.

Last Saturday was Non League Day – a chance to celebrate the beauty of the unglamorous and attract more people to support their local clubs.

Six fixtures in different parts of England were paired with Kick It Out and we had staff reporters at some of them.

This week, I want to share some of their experiences and anecdotes. It is merely a snapshot - but a useful one - of the role those clubs play in their communities.

Burgess Hill V Haringey Borough – Bostik Premier, Green Elephants Stadium, Burgess Hill, Sussex

Reporter – Mark Sandell, head of media at Kick It Out.

“The staff, managers, players and fans at Burgess Hill were fantastically welcoming and supportive of Kick It Out - our t shirts were everywhere on and off the pitch, and our wristbands were that day’s must-have fashion accessory.

“Some Burgess Hill fans though questioned why we were there as they felt that in a community club like theirs, the message of inclusion was heard, understood and acted upon.

“Then I spoke to a Haringey Borough official. He is black, as indeed are many of the team he works with. He spoke about getting off the coach at some grounds and making his way towards the changing rooms, only to find that on occasions he was stopped by the security guard at the away ground, while others were not.

“Once the situation was explained and his bona fides were accepted, it was all good again. But he said that as a team from the Tottenham area, he found people made judgements which were hard to shake off. People even referred to the Tottenham riots.”

At the same match, people said how they felt undervalued by local politicians, despite being a positive force for inclusion and cohesion in their communities…

“A few Burgess Hill fans talked about how difficult it was to get council backing or grants to help them expand and provide more facilities for their club. “Haywards Heath rugby club seems to get everything it wants while we get left behind.”

Despite this, one good story came out of the windy afternoon in Mid Sussex.

“A 12-year-old boy said he’d seen a sign for Haringey’s next match while out shopping. He asked his dad if they could go and they did. He fell in love with the atmosphere, the friendliness, the singing, the cowbells and the accessibility of the players. That’s his first team now, not Liverpool!”

Worksop Town FC V Maltby Main – NCEL Premier Division, King Of Soho Stadium, Worksop, Nottinghamshire

Reporter – Arran Williams, northern grassroots officer at Kick It Out

There were two things which stood out for Arran on his visit to Worksop.

“The community interaction from a club that usually relies on support from the traditional few hundred who attend the games was unbelievable. The club will be partnering to share best practice and knowledge with another local side - United Worksop - whom are a predominantly Polish team with a few English and Moldovan players. They're now looking at building a 3G pitch to share.”

“At most grounds you will find the 'traditional’ foods, such as pie and peas or a hot dog. Worksop invited a local food company that specialises in Caribbean food. Not only was this something unseen at most grounds, it opened up conversations about Caribbean culture. I could hear talk of how curried goat came about, given it's an indo-Caribbean food combination, and discussions around other parts of the culture. This was between young and old, male and female, and it was great to see everyone involved.”

Sporting Khalsa V Winsford United – FA Vase, Aspray Arena, Willenhall, Walsall

Reporter – Tajean Hutton, grassroots manager at Kick It Out

For Tajean, multiculturalism took centre stage.

“My highlight was the integration between Asians, black people and white people. Among the home crowd there was a sense of togetherness which was unfortunately pierced when the away fans arrived with a completely different aura.

“I was particularly taken aback by the fact that the sporting Khalsa first team had no Asians in the starting XI, considering they are an Asian-run club. It was later explained to me that it is frequent in Asian culture for young parents to stop playing in their early to mid-teens to focus on other ventures, in particular their studies.”

Edgware Town V Biggleswade FC - Spartan South Midlands Football League, Underhill Stadium, Barnet

Reporters – Maamun Hajmahmoud, office manager at Kick It Out and Crystal Davis, Raise Your Game coordinator at Kick It Out

Maamun and Crystal got a taste of quintessential non-league culture in North London.

“On entry to the ground, we were greeted by a set of closed turnstiles and the crest of North West London’s second-biggest team – Hendon FC. Considering we were there to watch Edgware Town – we were slightly worried we were at the wrong ground!

“Luckily, there was a gentleman donning the Green Army colours on hand to guide us and advised that they ground share with their local neighbours, which explained the initial confusion.

“When we asked what the fee was for entry, the gentleman pointed to the bucket on the desk in front of him and told us the procedure is to pay what we feel is fair.

“This was a refreshing change to the answer I usually get whenever I dare to phone my favourite club’s ticketing office!

“The game itself was supposed to be a mismatch with Biggleswade FC top of the league. The Edgware Town assistant manager informed us before the game five of his big-hitters failed to turn up (most likely due to the opposition they were facing), so we were prepared to keep a tally of the goals.

“When we asked a home spectator, what will happen to the players who weren’t available for this game, he chuckled and fired back, ‘They’ll be back in the starting 11 next week!’

“Despite their being four goals in the match, the incident which drew the greatest amount of attention was when Edgware Town’s right-winger was lay motionless after a lung-busting run down the flank early in the first-half.

“The young man was responsive and substituted immediately, with an ambulance called as precaution. Unfortunately, the paramedics didn’t arrive until stoppage time…in the second-half. Thankfully, no further action was needed.

“Coming back from behind not once but twice, Edgware showed true grit and character to disappoint their visitors and share the spoils on what was a beautiful day in West Hendon.”

Tamworth FC V Redditch United – Evo-Stik League Premier Division, The Lamb, Tamworth, Staffordshire

Reporter – Steve Jones, Media and Communications Assistant at Kick It Out

Tempers flared on the terraces at Tamworth, as Steve reports.

“Unfortunately, the atmosphere soured in the second-half when the home team, who find themselves struggling at the wrong end of the table, threw away a precious one-goal lead against a side who had won just once in the league all season before kick-off.

“The aptly-named ‘Shed Choir’, who are housed in the Shed Terrace on home match days, aired their frustrations with the performance as The Lambs slumped to a 3-1 defeat to a chorus of You’re Not Fit To Wear The Shirt and other chants which can’t be published.”

But it wasn’t all bad.

“Seeing Tamworth’s first team manager, Dennis Greene, chatting and having a laugh with a group of disabled supporters stood near the dugout before and during the game highlighted the much stronger link between clubs and their fans in the lower leagues. I could never imagine the same thing happening in the Premier League.”

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