Football clubs have long been an integral part of the communities they represent. But their impact is not limited to what happens on the ground.
Outside of match day, a wide range of initiatives are in place to help the community – and clubs have highlighted their work during the English Football League’s week of action.
A recent report measuring the impact of the work of EFL clubs in their community suggests that the 72 clubs and their community organizations created over £865m of social value in England and Wales during the 2021 season- 22.
BBC Sport reviews some of the programs across the EFL.
Getting new moms back in shape
Hayley Kinnaird and Elle Leggatt are new mums looking to get back into shape after recently giving birth.
Their local football club, Doncaster Rovers, helps them. And the couple also bring their babies.
“I was part of the pilot course,” Hayley said. “I joined my son when he was about five and a half months old – he’s about seven months now.”
She heard about a local fitness group’s sessions and attends them every week.
“It was a bit intimidating to think it was Doncaster Rovers – a football club,” Elle said. “But once you start attending sessions, you’re comfortable because even if the baby is your priority, you’re also a priority.”
She describes the sessions as “a good balance between mental health and physical health”, which Hayley agrees on.
“We go at our own pace and the support is there if you need help with a certain exercise. It’s nice to have that support network of other mums as well – it’s been really beneficial.”
Their story highlights the experiences of many people across the country who live in the same area as an EFL club running similar programs in their local community.
“Doncaster is the second most deprived district in Yorkshire, we have designed the course to offer something for mums who cannot afford baby groups or a session with a personal trainer,” explained the co-ordinator of Health and Welfare of Doncaster, Lauren Platts.
“Moms soon after birth need very low impact exercise and for some it’s not safe to exercise so they just come to enjoy the social aspect. They can do it at their own pace.”
Sometimes the exercise is simply a walk through Doncaster’s Eco-Power Stadium or a session with resistance bands. There is also a mental health midwife who talks to mums and regular nutrition sessions.
“Not many mothers have the confidence after giving birth to join a gym,” said Lauren, who notes that nearly 600,000 women give birth in the UK each year.
“Everyone here is on the same page – they’ve all had a baby, so there’s the mental health side. It’s not just the physical aspect of having a baby.”
Doncaster full-back Tommy Rowe said he was “honoured” to be invited to participate. “I have three young children myself,” he said. “My wife and I know firsthand what these people are going through, especially when we’ve been through an era of Covid.”
Rowe joined in the session, joking that he felt ‘a bit sore’ afterwards, although he was amazed at how the babies lay still and quiet on the floor as their mothers worked with them. buttock bands.
“Sometimes the hardest part is getting there,” he added. “But it’s open to the general public – we want to hear each other’s stories.”
Knife Crime Awareness
In Bradford City, the mood is darker as manager Mark Hughes discusses the local Bantams initiative, aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of knife crime.
“This is a real concern for many communities and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be resolved anytime soon,” he said.
Hughes, a former Manchester United player who has managed Wales – as well as six Premier League sides – believes a club like Bradford is ideally sized to reach out to the community.
“We have a lot of reach and when we do things they get noticed,” he said. “So we are able to bring this issue to light and with our fanbase we can reach a lot of people.”
Bradford’s initiative is designed to alert young people to how situations can spiral out of control and how to avoid them. Last year the local Bradford newspaper ran the story of an eight-year-old child caught carrying a blade to school.
“There is an element that thinks it’s a good idea to carry knives. But unfortunately it can lead to tragedy and disaster,” said Hughes, who has seen first hand the work that clubs in Premier League have done in the community when playing.
“Bradford knows poverty and people struggle to make ends meet. It’s important the club steps in and has influence.”
Skateboarding to help refugees settle
Former Wycombe Wales striker Sam Vokes played it safe during the action week with his club’s initiative, and was probably wise to do so.
The League One team developed a skateboard hub for the city’s growing refugee population to introduce them to each other, the city, and the locals.
“I started out sitting on a skateboard — I couldn’t quite stand on it,” Vokes said. “In the end, I managed to pull myself out while clinging to the wall.
“When I was young and doing skate parks, all my homies had skateboards and looked cool. I couldn’t trust myself even standing on them.”
Wycombe reached out to newly arrived members of the community through the Wycombe Refugee Alliance who already practiced a number of sports, including skateboarding.
The club ran it through the local council and were successful. When the money ran out, he included it in his Premier League Kicks scheme.
“We identified that there were increasing numbers of refugees coming to High Wycombe, with little or no provision in terms of sporting or social opportunities,” said Luke Godfrey, of the Wycombe Wanderers Foundation.
“It can be difficult [to engage with them] because they don’t have many ways to communicate with other people outside of their immediate family – this makes it all the more important that the contacts we have are strong.
“It’s not just the young people involved, when you talk to their mums and dads you can see it helps them to come and talk to the staff.”
Wycombe now has a professional skateboarding coach from Skateboard Academy UK to help people improve their skills.
“It’s more just fun and games to get people comfortable on a skateboard – there’s no set program or goals,” Godfrey added.
The skateboarding group, however, has plans to expand its reach. They learn skateboard maintenance to get the most out of their boards and seek to plan and produce their own lines of boards and apparel.
Godfrey believes that smaller clubs have a better chance of reaching the local area with their initiatives.
“They can have more contact time in the community,” he said. “There is not this commercial side that runs through everything that is done.
“There’s not a huge financial side to getting involved in the community for clubs like us, but we still do – it’s seesaws and roundabouts.”
Vokes added: “Community is at the heart of a club like Wycombe. I don’t know if they’ll come and watch us on Saturday, but the main thing is that it’s great to see people from different backgrounds coming together.
“They seem to have fun when they come here and they have a great group of friends – from all walks of life – which is great for the foundation.”
Other EFL Action Week Initiatives
Hartlepool United organized a pétanque club for veterans to help them improve their health and well-being, with the help of the local armed forces.
Northampton town Manager Jon Brady and the other first-team coaches have implemented NHS health checks, designed to flag early signs of stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes or dementia for 40 to 74 year olds.
Burnley boss Vincent Kompany has taken part in the mental health program the club runs in local schools, which aims to build resilience and well-being. The Clarets say they have helped more than 4,000 students struggling with mental health issues over the past three years.
Sheffield Wednesday Manager Darren Moore attended one of the club’s anti-racism sessions, which the Owls run in conjunction with local schools.
Town of Ipswich Centre-back George Edmundson was present – as he often is – at the club’s adult disabled football session, having outfitted the squad out of his own pocket when he discovered he was missing the regular uniform of the Tractor Boys.