Tonbridge Angels hosting 'Season of Action' fixture
Tonbridge Angels FC’s Ryman Premier League match against East Thurrock United FC at Longmead on Saturday 14 February has been selected to host a special ‘Season of Action’ fixture through the ‘Fans for Diversity’ campaign – a joint project run by Kick It Out, football’s equality and inclusion organisation, and the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF).
Kick It Out linked up with Non League Day for the third year running in September 2014 and has been building a stronger presence at non-league level to promote equality and the importance of challenging all aspects of discrimination throughout the game. The ‘Fans for Diversity’ campaign, which encourages fan-led activity in promoting inclusivity, equality and diversity through the power of football, was launched in March 2014 and has seen matchday events undertaken with clubs including Blyth Spartans, Marine, Lewes and Dulwich Hamlet.
Tonbridge’s match against East Thurrock has been designated a ‘Football is for Everyone’ day, and the fixture was purposefully chosen as it is the closest home game to coincide with the late Justin Fashanu’s birthday. Justin, an England international and star striker for Norwich City, was the first professional footballer to come out as gay while still actively playing.
There will be a range of activities undertaken on the day with all the players from Tonbridge and East Thurrock wearing ‘Fans for Diversity’ t-shirts during the pre-match warm-up, and fans presented with anti-discrimination materials such as flags, badges, stickers and wristbands and magazines. Special arrangements have also been made through the ‘Fans for Diversity’ campaign to provide funding for a learning disability team from Maidstone to travel down to face their Tonbridge counterparts on the pitch prior to the first-team fixture.
A penalty shootout competition open to all children will also be held before the game with the final being staged on the pitch at half time. An awards ceremony will be held on the day by Tonbridge’s very successful community scheme which has already helped more than two and a half thousand children from local schools improve their football skills by supplying training days with professional coaches from the club. Additional activity will see Tonbridge signing Kent FA’s newly-developed Equality Charter, entitled ‘Equality and Diversity in Kent Football’, to confirm the club’s commitment to inclusivity going forward.
Dame Kelly Holmes, the double Olympic champion and a Tonbridge resident, gave her backing to her local club and the ‘Football is for Everyone’ concept. She said: “I was delighted to hear that my town’s top football club Tonbridge Angels were holding a ‘Football is for Everyone’ day to highlight that a person’s age, gender, race, ability or sexual orientation should not be seen as a barrier to participating in sport which brings so much health, development and integration to all those who participate. Football has been slower than other sports in addressing these issues but it is great to see my local club is leading the way in tackling these issues. I am very pleased to give this message of support.”
Steve Churcher, Chairman of Tonbridge Angels, added: “The club is very honoured to be hosting this ‘Football is for Everyone’ day here at Longmead and we are all working hard to ensure its success. But let’s be clear this is not just some kind of tick-box exercise – it’s a positive start in moving the club forward to ensure that it becomes a more inclusive sporting facility for the entire Tonbridge area. I would like to thank one of our loyal supporters, Colin Hill, for not just developing the original idea but also taking on the role of overall organiser. Without people like Colin giving up their valuable spare time, football at non-league level would be all the poorer.”
Anwar Uddin, who leads on the delivery of the ‘Fans for Diversity’ campaign for the FSF and Kick It Out, praised Tonbridge for their planned activity. He said: “It’s great to see Tonbridge Angels are running a ‘Football is for Everyone’ day as it will see fans taking the lead in bringing the club and the local community – who clearly have a strong relationship – even closer together to raise awareness about the need for equality, inclusion and diversity throughout the football pyramid. The ‘Fans for Diversity’ campaign has seen activity take place up and down the country at various grounds at non-league level throughout the course of the season so far, and we want to encourage more clubs to follow the example of Tonbridge in hosting similar activity which we can help to support.”
Natalie Curtis, Football Development Officer at Kent FA, is looking forward to the ‘Football is for Everyone’ day and seeing Tonbridge become one of the first clubs to sign the Equality Charter during February. She said: “It’s brilliant to see clubs like Tonbridge Angels who play such a prominent role within their local community hosting events to encourage and promote equality and diversity in football. The game has diversified so much in recent years and occasions like this present an opportunity to celebrate how the game can draw local communities together, provide a platform for social inclusion where people can share their love for the game.
“Tonbridge Angels will be one of the first to sign our Equality Charter. This commitment to ensuring the club communicates and commits to promoting equality and diversity enables us to work more closely together and provide further support to our Kent clubs who are working hard to advance the game and make it more accessible. We have further pledges from Kent clubs who will be signing up to our Equality Charter and look forward to communicating these throughout February. Kent football is always ahead of the game and I look forward to this continuing to be the case next month.”