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Community football scheme is growing success

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The Sir Tom Finney Preston Soccer Centre (PSC) is going from strength to strength

UCLan partnered FA community Hub Club development scheme goes from strength to strength

A community football initiative designed to open up the sport to all regardless of experience or ability is celebrating after attracting more than 230 players across 19 teams over the last three years.

The Sir Tom Finney Preston Soccer Centre (PSC), in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and the UCLan Students’ Union, has grown from a charity providing football coaching to 4 to 16-year-olds, including disabled children, into a full functioning club with several age group teams from under sevens up to and including under 14s. Based at UCLan Sports Arena, it also boasts two women’s open age teams, an adult men’s team and four disabled men’s teams. The Soccer Centre also provides football coaching sessions for homeless people.

The centre is the brain child of chair Peter Mason and his wife Kath, whose vision was to open up football to young people from all communities in Preston regardless of their ability, disability, sex, colour, race or religious belief.

Regardless of their ability we want to encourage young people to play competitive sports, build up their confidence and stay healthy.

Peter, who originally set up the centre in 1999, teamed up with UCLan and the Lancashire County Football Association in 2013 to pilot the FA community Hub Club development scheme. The competitive aspect of the scheme had a bit of a twist with the Centre taking players who couldn’t get places in other teams or who, due to their social backgrounds, couldn’t afford the fees of other clubs. Now, along with 19 established teams and a non-competitive coaching session attracting 80 children on Saturday mornings, it also provides opportunities for young people to gain coaching qualifications and for UCLan students to gain vital experience through several voluntary roles. The University has also been successful in creating a referee hub consisting of 14 student referees.

Peter commented: “The key driver behind the Sir Tom Finney Preston Soccer Centre is to bring young people from all walks of life together and give them a chance as part of Sir Tom’s legacy of ‘football for all’. Regardless of their ability we want to encourage young people to play competitive sports, build up their confidence and stay healthy. If the children don’t wish to play competitively they can still attend our Saturday morning sessions. It’s also fantastic to see our young coaches and UCLan students develop as they build up experience, trust and responsibility.”

The Hub club is based at UCLan Sports Arena, led by Duty Supervisor Sarah Berry, coaching, matches and training taking place on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

The venture has proved to be so successful that it was recently awarded a £20,000 grant from the Football Association (FA) to develop its workforce. UCLan graduate Cian McEvoy has already been appointed as a Football Development Officer and his remit is to grow the club to 1,350 members by next June with almost a third being made up of female players. The rest of the cash will go towards developing existing staff qualifications.

The FA National Football Development Manager for Further and Higher Education Oilver Self said: “The Football Association set out to establish Community Football Hubs in Higher Education and UCLan is a shining example of what can be achieved when partners pull together in the same direction and collaborate to support the development of grassroots football."

The Football Association set out to establish Community Football Hubs in Higher Education and UCLan is a shining example of what can be achieved when partners pull together in the same direction.

“Key to the success at UCLan has been the commitment of all the partners to establish a clear vision for grassroots football in Preston and this is supported by a football development plan which clearly aligns to the FA National Game Strategy. I look forward to seeing how this partnership develops over the coming years.”

Around 40 UCLan students volunteer with the Soccer Centre in coaching, video analysis and social media roles.

UCLan graduate Ryan McMylor volunteered for PSC during his studies and now works in Tanterton as a Youth and Community Outreach Officer. The 21-year-old said: “I started coaching on Saturday mornings which led to working with the under sevens and under tens team and gave me some great practical work experience.

“Without volunteering for Preston Soccer Centre I wouldn’t be as confident as I am now and I wouldn’t have made such great community contacts which proved invaluable when applying for my first job.”

For more information about the Sir Tom Finney Preston Soccer Centre visit the club’s website.

Lyndsey Boardman | 08 November 2016