With the optics of football funneled through the lavish, moneyed Premier League, it’s easy to forget that there are 71 clubs in total in the English Football League, of all different sizes across England and Wales. This week, the EFL Day of Action highlighted the impact these clubs are having in their community.
Shrewsbury Town used the day to launch their Off The Streets FC programme in partnership with local homeless day centre The Shrewsbury Ark. The initiative will provide space for those supported by the Ark to come and play football, in a bid to highlight the growing problem of homelessness across Shropshire.
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“This is really a boost for people’s confidence,” said Wendy Faulkner of The Shewsbury Ark. “It’s made them feel good about themselves and we can see they’ve all really enjoyed it today. Watching them get onto that pitch in their kit and boots is a really positive thing for all of us.”
Steve Burnside, marketing manager at Shrewsbury Town In The Community, told us that a Christmas visit to the Ark provided the inspiration behind the project. “When we were there, Wendy took some of our staff around and highlighted the work they do, and mentioned that a couple of their clients had asked about the possibility of a kick about.”
It’s made them feel good about themselves and we can see they’ve all really enjoyed it today
As well as providing an opportunity for people to play every week, with the hope to get enough attendees to host matches against other community trusts, the club also provide attendees use of their shower facilities, as well as linking them with a barber to help boost self esteem, and giving them access to a mental health professionals. Steve also told us they are looking into how the club can help with returning some of the community to the workforce, with stewarding roles at club games a possibility. Shrewsbury Town are hosting a sleepout on the weekend of July 3 to raise money to help support the project going forward.
Last September, Oldham Athletic became the UK’s first homeless friendly football club, providing an information point for homeless people at the stadium and writing about homelessness in their match day programme.
Six months on and it seems their influence has spread. In West London, QPR used the day to promote their relationship with food distribution charity City Harvest, with full back Angel Rangel joining them on a food delivery to hostels and homeless shelters in the area, and last weekend Bristol Rovers Community Trust staged their first sleep out, raising over £7,000 for local homeless charity Caring in Bristol. As the homelessness crisis continues, football clubs across the country are stepping up, and showing how crucial they are to their communities off the pitch.