‘One Game’ forums put grassroots football first
Kick It Out embarked on a series of ‘One Game’ community forums throughout April to discuss issues surrounding the grassroots game.
The events, held in London, Birmingham and Bolton, saw several current professional footballers, grassroots and community groups, officials from professional clubs and local County FAs come together to discuss how local stakeholders can work collectively to make football readily available to everyone in their areas.
On Tuesday 24 April, West Ham United hosted ‘One Game East London’, with the club’s co-chairman David Gold insisting great strides have been made in the battle to rid football of discriminatory behaviour.
“We have come a long way,” said Gold, addressing attendees during the open debate at Upton Park. “When you look at the conditions during the 70s and 80s, compared to the playing environment now, it’s clear we are winning this battle. There will always be another hurdle to overcome, but it’s about confining these problems as much as possible and moving things along as best we can.”
After presentations from London FA’s Darren Smith and the West Ham United Community Trust, a Q&A session followed, with former Chelsea and Celtic defender Paul Elliott, and Blue Square Bet North side Histon FC’s Gordon Boateng, football’s current youngest chief executive, joining Gold on the panel.
Elliott, a Kick It Out trustee and campaigner of over two decades, reiterated Gold’s message regarding the progress which has been made in making the sport more inclusive: “We have to be mindful and respectful of the advancements which have been made. We are still one of the leading countries in the world when it comes to the area of equality, diversity and integration.”
He added: ”We cannot get complacent though. There are current challenges and further ones ahead, and it is important that we drive for real sustainable, meaningful change across all levels. Regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, disability or sexuality, equality of opportunity is a god-given right.”
Two days later, the campaign descended on the West Midlands for ‘One Game Smethwick’, a first-of-its-kind community forum which took place at Smethwick Gurdwara, the largest and oldest Sikh Temple in the UK.
Held in the shadows of West Bromwich Albion’s Hawthorns Stadium, Baggies icon Brendon Batson, Walsall full-back Malvind Benning and ex-Saddler Netan Sansara, headed up the forum, run in conjunction with Birmingham County FA, the local Sikh community and West Bromwich Albion in the Community.
With a particular emphasis on the under-representation of the Asian community in the professional game and the links between faith and football, Sansara, now plying his trade in Cyprus at PAEEK FC, is one of only a handful of British Asians who have broken through to the professional ranks, and talked candidly about the role religion plays.
“I’m a Sikh boy. Even in Cyprus, my faith isn’t left to fallow. There is a Temple nearby which I use, and is good for when my family comes to visit. My faith is just as important as my football and I give both equal billing in my life.”
Benning, who has only recently signed a professional contract, spoke of his pride at making the grade and representing the local community. “I’m in the early stages of my career and hearing from people like Netan, who was at Walsall when I was just starting out, is inspiring. His work with organisations such as Kick It Out demonstrated to me how important this area of work is, away from just the playing side.”
The campaign then headed up to the north west the next day for ‘One Game Bolton’ at the Reebok Stadium.
Following presentations from Bolton Wanderers Community Trust and Lancashire County FA, Stuart Holden, current Wanderers player of the year, ex-Hull City boss Phil Brown, Bury defender Efe Sodje, former Juventus and Stoke City striker Vincent Pericard and ex-England international Earl Barrett took part in a panel forum, in which they were quizzed by attendees about their experiences in the game.
US soccer star Holden spoke about the difficulty of having to adapt to different cultures for certain professional footballers. “I was born in Scotland, but grew up in America, and it was difficult for me to move away from family. It’s very difficult for overseas players who can’t bring their family with them and the culture and banter can be hard to get used to. It’s difficult in every way to be away from home. It was when I settled into the Bolton Wanderers family that I felt truly settled here.”
Agreeing with Holden’s outlook, Brown, a former assistant manager at Wanderers, talked about his experiences as part of the management team when it comes to foreign players. “It’s very important to the club that the player settles in as well, because of their investment, and it crucial to help this process otherwise the club can fail the player.
“We had a player liaison officer and we were one of the first to do this, but it was very important to get the best out of the players, and helping them feel at home and comfortable in their surroundings is crucial to make that happen.”