Iain McMenemy: Return of community football will have positive impact on youngsters’ lives

Possible restart of grassroots game means clubs can look to get coaches back into work

Scotland stars Jenna Fife and James Forrest at a grassroots football event with St Modan’s Community Sports Club in Bannockburn. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
Scotland stars Jenna Fife and James Forrest at a grassroots football event with St Modan’s Community Sports Club in Bannockburn. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

Football is finding its way back. We are already able to watch games from the English Premier League, and training has resumed for the Premiership in Scotland. It won’t be long until we can watch the new top-flight season kick off in August.

On Wednesday, the First Minister set out her clearest roadmap yet when she outlined key dates when different sectors of society could return. Within that, was the news that “Organised outdoor contact sports can resume for children and young people (subject to guidance)” on 13 July. This, hopefully, paves the way for the return of grassroots football.

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For Stenhousemuir, this is potentially the return of our young persons’ community football programme and our summer camps. This is good news. This could mean that we’ll be able to welcome our young people back into Ochilview in a few weeks’ time. We will of course ensure that we have all the necessary policies and procedures in place to ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing.

I’ve long argued about the crucial role that community football plays in society. The positive impact that football and sport in general can have on young people should not be underestimated. Now that we appear to be slowly exiting a period where our young people have been largely isolated and confined in their homes, getting them back outdoors, running around, exercising and being part of a team environment once again will have a huge positive impact on their lives.

For football clubs, it means we can look to get coaches off the furlough scheme and back into work. We can open some of the revenue streams that have been cut-off completely since March. It brings life back into our stadiums and facilities, and that will be welcome.

As we welcome back community football, this in no way means that we will be stepping back from the work we have been doing in our community to help get others through the pandemic. We’ll be continuing to shop for those that need support. Thus far, we’ve carried out just under 1,300 shopping trips for vulnerable people. We’ll assist our local schools with any free school lunch deliveries or support needed over the summer. To date we’ve delivered around 11,000 free school meals. We’ll continue to support our local foodbank, with over 1,100 food parcels delivered by us since March. Over 300 families supported, and over 17,000 volunteer hours logged. This activity will continue, even when football returns to Ochilview.

The next step for us is to transition the work we have been doing in the community into our own charity. So despite the devastation and negativity that this virus has caused, we hope that the lasting legacy in the Stenhousemuir area will be a new charity that unites the community around our football club with a vision to provide ongoing support for anyone who needs it.

We received our donation this week from the philanthropist James Anderson. What an amazing thing he has done for Scottish football and society. When he made his donation, he was absolutely clear about his intentions. He wanted to ensure the survival of football clubs because of their unique place in communities across the nation. He was right. Football has the power to reach out and touch the lives of anyone, regardless of colour, creed, religion, gender or wealth.

We hope that the work that we have been undertaking at Stenhousemuir FC throughout this pandemic is a good example of the good that football clubs can do. But let me make an important point. We would not have been able to deliver even half of what we have achieved if we had simply tried to stand on our own. We were only able to succeed in supporting our community to the levels we have by working closely with so many other community groups, businesses and individuals.

A local business came on board and increased the number of vans we had on the road from one to three. The Keeping Larbert & Stenhousemuir Beautiful team joined with us and we became an integral part of their food pantry project. The club chef gave up his time to come and prepare hot meals in our facility that could be delivered free of charge to the community. We doubled the number of volunteers through people who previously had little or no connection to the club. Local shops supported us, our sponsors donated and helped. These are just some examples of the partnerships we have built and maintained.

I think it’s important to say that on our own, the club would not have managed to have the same impact. But as a community, as a collective of people, of organisations, of businesses, we were able to have a significant impact on our villages and towns. This is the impact that James Anderson was referring to.

This is the impact that local community-based football clubs can and do have. It is much more than football on a Saturday.

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