L&C update for all club secretaries

This is a particularly trying time for all in grassroots football. The national lockdown has put a halt to the game and with the uncertainty surrounding when it will be safe to resume, the L&C has sent out voting forms to all clubs to give their preferences in the event that the season cannot be completed in its entirety.

We have every intention of finishing the league season and are making plans so that we are ready to go if and when grassroots football is given the go-ahead. However, in the event this is not possible, the league has sent a ballot paper for clubs to give their views, should the season not be completed.

This is one of the points to bear in mind in our latest update:-

  1. The voting is underway for the possibility of season 20-21 curtailment. Please consider the options carefully and consult your clubs for their views.
  2. The committee are raring to go once we get the go ahead that it is safe to do so. We want to be ready to restart without any issues – all administration matters (in both meaning of the word!) from before Christmas must be completed before you restart.
  3. Match sheets, refs marks and match stats must be up to date. John Howard, Harry Jack and Gill Bowden are continuing their checks, so please assist them by doing the necessary NOW, not waiting till a date for a restart is known.
  4. The treasurer Phil Faulkner has sent invoices for all outstanding amounts. Many clubs have paid, but a significant number have not replied at all. We fully understand that there is no income, but you need to speak to Phil to make arrangements for when you can pay.
  5. We hope all are safe, secure and well.

Dave King passes away

The Lancashire & Cheshire AFL is saddened to learn that Dave King has passed away at the age of 80.

Dave was one of the most well-known and well-respected members of the L&C community and dedicated more than 60 years of his life to amateur football.

Mike Yates, Chairman of the L&C, paid his own personal tribute: “Dave’s love of football shone throughout his life – as a player, manager, referee and administrator. His knowledge of the game was invaluable in shaping league policy and decision making.

“He will be greatly missed for this, but also for his friendship and popularity within the league committee and the wider L&C league.”

His love affair with the L&C began in 1958 when he joined Aldermere, and he played a remarkable 690 games for the club over a 36-year period. His versatility was obvious given the fact he played in every position for the club. He also held the post as Chairman and ‘held the club together on occasions’. It’s no surprise that he was known as “Mr Aldermere” by many.

Dave’s playing days were curtailed when he broke his leg in a game against Moston Brook, but his versatility and commitment to the league saw him thrive in other roles. Firstly, as a referee for many years. During that time, he gained a notable reputation, as fellow committee member and friend Graham Ellis explained.

He said: “There are various comments from match sheets about Dave King the referee. One said ‘the referee Dave King arrived late after struggling through traffic……and we really wish he hadn’t!’”

It highlights the respect he commanded, but also the high regard he was held in. Graham joined the committee as a result of Dave’s influence in a friendship that lasted for decades.

“Dave will be sadly missed for his football enthusiasm, his warmth, humour, his diligent work, and refereeing experiences.”

He was a vital part of the league committee for many years; during that time, Dave played a key role in all aspects of the league’s business. This included a year as President in 1994-95, and subsequently he was a staple part of the league management committee.

His ‘true vocation’, as explained by John Howard, was his role in organising the L&C’s annual presentation dinner, which is regularly attended by more than 300 guests.

John said: “The work was concentrated over a short period towards the end of the season and required the patience and charm that Dave was renowned for displaying.”

“Grassroots football has prospered over many years and the fact the L&C is now in its 112th season bears witness to the selfless work conducted by so many people over this time.

“Dave has been one of those that has ensured the aims of the original group of league founders have been maintained.

“It has been a pleasure to have known and worked with Dave over the years and I know he will be sadly missed by all his many friends in the game.”

These warm words have been echoed by many paying their own personal tributes. A common theme emerges – one of a man who enjoyed what he did, was a pleasure to work alongside, a character whose presence everybody enjoyed, a gentleman, a man of humour who was the first to offer help, a popular presence, a person who was respected by all, and more than anything, someone who was a pleasure to know.

Geoff Garnett and Dave both began playing in the 1950s and joined the league management committee in the 1980s, at which time they got to know each other very well. Geoff describes a man who was “totally respected by clubs and their officials for his knowledge and willingness to help where needed.”

Geoff added: “His hard work, dedication, knowledge and experience was a vital asset to the league committee. There are so many happy memories I can remember sharing with Dave but the abiding ones are that he was a true legend of amateur football, never afraid to share his wisdom to benefit others.

“It was a pleasure to know Dave.”

The willingness to help is apparent in Keith Marsden’s tribute to Dave, who he described as “an unassuming type whose value to his club and the league cannot be overstated.

“At committee meetings, whenever something needed doing, he was always the first to say: ‘I can give you a hand with that’ and he certainly put tremendous efforts into organising the Annual Dinner over many years.”

Current League Secretary, Brian Davies, first met Dave in the 1990s and got to know him well because of the role of organising the Annual Dinner.

He said: “We worked closely over the final months of the season and that was always a pleasure with his friendly approach. As the date neared, Dave would make a couple of hundred phone calls to finalise the numbers and a small team ensured it all came together on the night.

“A character who will be missed by all those who knew him.”

This contribution to amateur football was recognised in 2018 at the Manchester FA Awards dinner, when Dave was presented with the Frank Hannah Lifetime Achievement Award. This was “richly deserved as his voluntary football work was simply outstanding,” Keith Marsden said, whilst Geoff Garnett described it as “fitting recognition” of his services to the amateur game.

Dave’s indelible mark will forever be imprinted within the L&C’s rich history and his legacy will endure in refereeing standards, the way the Annual Dinner is organised, and commitment necessary to make sure grassroots football thrives.

But more than anything, we mourn a “great guy who will be sadly missed,” according to LAL League Secretary Peter Duffy, and somebody who Malcom Kershaw described as “a true gent and a smashing fella.”

Everybody at the L&C is honoured to have known Dave King, and we extend our deepest condolences to his friends and family.

Top four in Division One separated by a point

The final round of fixtures before Christmas produced exciting games across all eight divisions.

The competition at the top of Division One is highlighted by the fact that the top four are separated by one point.

Stretford Paddock had a comfortable midweek win over Trafford United to join Moston Brook at the top but they were overtaken by Brook who had to work hard for a point in a 3-3 deadlock at Didsbury.

Just a point behind Brook are De La Salle Reds who had a close 3-2 win over Newton and Hadfield Athletic who won by the same score at Signol OB.

Urmston Town trailed by 3-1 hosting North Walkden but showed their fighting spirit as they came back to draw 4-4.

Wild celebrations for Dukinfield Athletic who picked up their first win of the season with a fine 4-2 victory at Bury Ams.

Premier Division runaway leaders Mellor were denied a fixture as they look to continue their 100 per cent record allowing the chasing pack to close Mellor’s lead to a single point.

Salford Vics moved into second spot on goal difference ending a recent losing sequence with a thrilling 3-2 win over Dom Doyle.

It was a great game which was end-to-end for virtually the full 90 minutes.

Goals from Luke Norris, Joe Axon and a penalty from Josh Lawman gave Salford Vics a 3-2 win over an excellent Dom Doyle team, and provided one of the best games of amateur football ever seen by Vics legend Chris Carney, ably refereed by Chris Denis.

Another thriller at Irlam Tigers saw them share six goals with AFC Oldham who kept in touch at the top, level on points with Salford Vics. However, league leaders Mellor still have plenty of vital games in hand over their nearest rivals.

Reigning champions Rochdalians ended their recent lean spell with a comfortable 4-1 win at Radclyffe and Abacus Media also enjoyed a convincing 5-2 derby win at Milton to stay in fourth spot.

There were more close encounters in Division Two with top team Old Stretfordians staying a point clear after a nerve-jangling 2-1 win over close rivals Shaw Athletic.

Signol Athletic JFC stay in second place after a clinical 2-0 win at Oldham Vics.

Bedians scored the only goal of their derby game against South Manchester reserves and the tight nature of the division was reflected in a 3-2 win for Stoconians against Santos.

Just three points separate the top four teams in an action packed Division Three and Hattersley lead on goal difference from Sale Ams after a 4-2 win over Village Manchester

Sale edged a 4-3 win over Stretford Paddock reserves and Wythenshawe Wanderers are firmly in the mix with a 2-0 win over Didsbury reserves.

This took them above Aldermere who went down 3-1 at Woodhouses JFC.

There was also a thriller at Elton Lib Hargreaves as they shared six goals with Hooley Bridge Celtic.

The other game saw Stoconians seconds beat Abacus Media seconds by 5-2.

Non-playing Division A leaders Kartel dropped back into third spot in division A being overtaken by AFC Stockport who enjoyed an emphatic 4-1 win over Milton reserves, while AFC Oldham reserves recorded an even more emphatic win by thrashing Old Strets reserves 5-1.

The other games in the division saw Moston Brook reserves win 3-0 at Trafford United reserves and Deans Youth shared eight goals with Chadderton Park.

The only game without goals on the day was at Division B leaders Aldermere reserves who were held 0-0 by AFC Oldham thirds allowing Flixton JFC to close the gap at the top to a point after a thumping 6-1 win over Dukinfield Athletic reserves.

Heaton Mersey are on a superb run of form and kept up the pace with a comfortable 4-1 win over Bury Ams reserves to stay in touch with the top two.

A mid-table tussle saw Chadderton Cott defeat Moston Brook thirds and the other two games were deadlocked as Hillgate drew 2-2 with Irlam Tiger Rangers and Salford Albion shared eight goals with Spurley Hey.

AFC Stockport Warriors stay in firm control of Division C after easing to a 5-2 win over Salford Storm reserves to stay six points clear of the next four teams in the division.

Radclyffe reserves lead the quartet on goal difference which was enhanced by a 4-0 win over Bury Ams thirds and next up are Altrincham Hale who had Rick Veight and Leigh Thomas to thank for cancelling out an own goal in a 2-1 win at Village Manchester reserves.

Govan Athletic showed plenty of grit as they held Staly Lions to a 3-3 draw but basement team Didsbury thirds found Stoconians thirds too hot to handle in a 4-1 defeat.

Irlam Tigers moved four points clear at the top of a goals-filled Division D with main rivals Urmston Town Vale without a game as they beat FC Bury Aces 5-3.

Shaw Athletic reserves recorded the highest score of the day with a 9-2 derby humbling of Chadderton Park Reserves.

Whalley Range found their shooting boots to record their first win of the season by beating Stoconians fourths 6-3.

L&C proud to support Rainbow Laces Campaign

This year’s Rainbow Laces Campaign enjoyed support in the previous weekend’s fixtures in the L&C AFL.

Promoted by Stonewall, the campaign plays a key role in making sure sport is a game for everybody, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexuality. It is certainly necessary when you consider research from the UK’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights charity revealed that 43% of people feel that sporting events are not welcoming spaces for LGBT people.

Much work needs to be done to eradicate this mentality, and the Rainbow Laces Campaign ran between 26 November – 13 December this year.

The theme was allyship, which focuses on the vital role of challenging homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, while also supporting gender equality and equal civil rights.

One of the league’s most active teams in challenging inequality and prejudice is Village Manchester, and their players took to the pitch this weekend proudly sporting rainbow laces in their home encounter with Abacus Media.

AFC Oldham close the gap at the top

ONCE more, heavy rain reduced a full fixture programme of league fixtures but the use of artificial pitches saw the bulk of games completed.

Runaway Premier Division leaders Mellor were without a game giving the chasing pack a chance to reduce their big lead at the top of the table.

Newly-promoted AFC Oldham closed the gap to two points with an efficient 3-1 win at Abacus Media but Mellor still have a game in hand over their nearest rivals.

Salford Vics suffered a second successive defeat by 3-1 at Manchester Polonia but stay in third spot.

Dom Doyle’s new-look team are beginning to get into their stride and were deserving 4-1 winners over Radclyffe with Ryan Waterhouse and Danny Hugo (two) finding the back of the net to move their team into fifth place.

It was close in the other two games with Rochdalians sharing six goals in their local derby with Milton.

The game between South Manchester and Irlam Tigers was typical of the tight and competitive nature of the division in an exciting end-to-end contest.

South led at the break with a penalty converted by Jay Rushton but a spot kick for the Tigers after the break drew them level.

The match was decided in the dying moments as a superb team move by South was rounded off in terrific style by Shabir Ali to secure victory.

Division One is even more competitive and the top two met for the second week in succession in another very tight contest at Moston Brook.

The previous game had seen De La Salle score the only goal of a very keen encounter and again it was another cliff-hanger with just one goal scored.

This time it was Moston Brook who enjoyed victory thanks to a clinical strike from Marshall Roberts to take them three points clear of their rivals who have two games in hand on the leaders.

Hadfield Athletic were delighted to resume action and enjoyed a comfortable 4-1 win over Bury Ams to move into third spot, with plenty of games in hand.

The other game was another thriller with Dukinfield Athletic still looking for their first win of the season after losing out by the odd goal in seven to Signol OB.

There were plenty of goals in an action-packed Division Two with leaders Old Stretfordians maintaining a slender one-point lead with a comfortable 3-0 win over South Manchester Reserves.

Hot on their heels are Signol Athletic JFC who outclassed local rivals Mellor Reserves in a 4-1 victory.

Shaw Athletic kept in the hunt with a 3-1 win over Santos as did Chadderton Cott with a resounding 6-2 win over Rochdalians reserves.

A pulsating game at Salford Vics Reserves saw them share eight goals with Oldham Vics.

Just three points separate the top five teams in Division Three with three of them locked at the top on 18 points after a goal-fest in the division.

Hattersley lead on goal difference after delivering a ruthless 8-1 demolition job at Hooley Bridge Celtic.

Sale Amateurs also had their shooting boots on in a 6-3 victory at Didsbury Reserves to stay second place over local Trafford rivals Aldermere who had to work hard for a 2-1 win over Elton Lib Hargreaves.

Village Manchester are also firmly in the race for the title after an excellent game with Abacus Media reserves saw them triumph 5-1, inspired by Steve Curtis who netted his second goal in his 11 years at the club.

Plenty of goals too at Wythenshawe Wanderers who stay in a very handy fifth place after winning a breathless encounter with Stoconians reserves 5-4.

The race for top spot in Division A is intensifying, as leaders Kartel were held to a 2-2 draw at Trafford United reserves and second-placed AFC Stockport were beaten 5-2 by Salford Storm.

AFC Oldham reserves moved on the heels of the top two after a hard-earned 3-2 win over Deans.

The other games in the division saw Milton reserves defeat Old Strets reserves 3-1 and Chadderton Park were 4-2 victors at Mellor thirds.

There was an upset too in Division B as leaders Aldermere reserves were beaten 3-1 at an in-form Heaton Mersey.

There were 2-0 wins for Hillgate hosting Moston Brook thirds and Chadderton Cott against Spurley Hey and the other game ended deadlocked at 1-1 between Irlam Tiger Rangers and Dukinfield Atletic reserves.

Division C saw goals galore with AFC Stockport Warriors keeping on top of the table with a comfortable 6-0 win over Didsbury thirds.

Salford Storm reserves stay in second place despite a shock 8-1 thrashing by Radclyffe reserves – and Staly Lions defeated Oldham Vics reserves by the same scoreline.

Altrincham Hale hit eight of their own in an 8-3 destruction of Stoconions.

All the top teams in Division D were out of action and the only two games played saw Greater Manchester keep an immaculate clean sheet in a 3-0 win at Chadderton Park reserves and Moston Brook fourths drew 2-2 wih Spurley Hey reserves.

Mellor maintain perfect record as league action resumes

THE league were delighted to return to competitive action in bright sunshine following snow and heavy rain on the previous day which threatened to cause mass postponements.

The top game of the day saw Premier Division leaders Mellor host reigning champions Rochdalians in an excellent encounter well refereed by Craig Woodhead.

Mellor had a perfect record going into the match and soon settled their nerves with a 20-yard volley from Jack Stringer, quickly followed by a cool penalty from the ageless Dave Whelan taking them to an early 2-0 lead.

It was even-steven for the rest of the first half but the young, pacy Mellor attack always looked dangerous with the Rochdalians keeper making some outstanding saves.

Mellor took control after the break as they doubled their lead with a free-kick from Cameron Coup and a penalty converted by Joe Dalby.

Jack Stringer added his second and Louis Isaacs made it 6-0 before Rochdalians bagged a late consolation.

The victory took Mellor four points clear at the top with a game in hand as second-placed Salford Vics lost out 4-2 at Irlam Tigers and AFC Oldham moved into third spot with a 3-1 derby win at Radclyffe..

The other games in the division saw Dom Doyle beat South Manchester 3-1 to move level with them in mid-table and there was a welcome second win of the season for Manchester Polonia at Milton.

It’s much closer at the top of Division One with three teams locked on 13 points and De La Salle Reds are the new leaders after winning a tight game with Moston Brook as they scored to only goal of an occasionally feisty game well controlled by referee John Melia to draw level with non-playing Stretford Paddock.

Bury Ams missed a chance to join the top three as they were held by Didsbury in an entertaining 4-4 deadlock.

The closeness in the division was reflected in the other two games with Urmston Town winning 3-2 at Dukinfield Athletic while Trafford United and Signol Athletic shared four goals.

Old Stretfordians and Signol JFC are flying high at the top of Division Two with Signol posting a big 8-2 demolition of South Manchester seconds to stay a point behind Strets who were also impressive in a 5-2 victory over Chadderton Cott.

Bedians looked good in a 4-2 win over Shaw Athletic and the other games saw Oldham Vics beat Mellor reserves 1-0 while Santos recorded their first win of the season by defeating Salford Vics reserves 3-1.

Division Three is providing a thrilling spectacle, with three teams locked on 15 points led by Sale Amateurs who were out of league action winning their Altrincham FA cup match against their own second team by 4-1 to gain club bragging rights.

Hattersley joined them and non-playing Aldemere at the top after edging Elton Lib Hargreaves 3-2.

Viilage Manchester are poised behind the top three after a good team performance saw them beat Woodhouses by 3-0.

A great team goal was finished superbly by George Mourdoukoutas put Village ahead at the break and Matt Hodgson doubled the lead on 55 minutes before a late strike added gloss to the scoreline.

Wythenshawe Wanderers are also well placed after a 3-1 win over Abacus Media reserves.

Hooley Bridge Celtic were able to celebrate their second win of the season by 2-1 at Didsbury reserves and Stretford Paddock reserves were in seventh heaven with a resounding 7-2 win at Stoconians reserves.

There was nothing to separate the top two in Division A as AFC Stockport and Kartel drew 1-1 to stay level on 14 points and move four points clear as Moston Brook reserves were beaten 3-1 by Mellor thirds.

AFC Oldham reserves drew level with Brook after winning 2-1 in a close encounter with Parrs Wood Celtic and the tight nature of the division was reflected in a 2-2 draw between Chadderton Park and Trafford United reserves.

Aldermere reserves saw their big lead at the top of Division B reduced to four points  as they were beaten 3-2 by Irlam Tiger Rangers, which gave local rivals Flixton JFC to close the gap and they duly did with a routine 2-0 victory over Chadderton Cott reserves.  

Also in the chasing pack are Salford Albion, who recorded a 6-0 win over Bury Ams reserves, and Moston Brook thirds who beat Spurley by the odd goal in three.

Heaton Mersey won their local derby by 4-2 over Hillgate and the other game in the division saw AFC Oldham thirds and Dukinfield Athletic reserves share four goals.

Just a point separates the top three in Division C with AFC Stockport Warriors moving into top spot on goal difference from non-playing Salford Storm reserves after a convincing 6-1 win at Oldham Vics reserves and a confident 4-0 victory by Bury Ams thirds at Govan Athletic keeps them a point behind the top two.

There was also a six-hit for Stoconians thirds over Staly Lions and Altrincham Hale shared two goals with Didsbury thirds.

Irlam Tigers A team made it a great day for the club as a 4-2 win over Deans reserves keeps them a point clear at the top of Division D from Urmston Town Vale who had to work hard for a 3-2 win over Whalley Range reserves.

Spurley Hey’s new reserve team were the top scorers in the league on the day with a 9-1 thumping of Chadderton Park reserves and also in the goals were Moston Brook fourths who hammered Stoconians fourths 5-2.

Greater Manchester Football Club suffered their first defeat of the season – a 4-1 loss at the hands of Shaw Athletic reserves who were boosted by an early strike from Owen Shaughnessy.

Greater Manchester Football Club: creating a diverse and inclusive legacy for the region

Greater Manchester Football Club is embarking on its inaugural season in the amateur leagues, making waves with a commitment to creating a legacy for equal opportunities in the game throughout the region.

Its men’s team has enjoyed an unbeaten start to life in the Lancashire & Cheshire AFL, winning three and racking up a goal difference of +21 in the process, while the women’s team have registered their first win in the Greater Manchester Women’s Football League. But results almost feel inconsequential when compared to the hugely important achievements off the pitch.

The club’s CEO and chairman, Mohammed Haroon, spoke eloquently and passionately about the formation of GMFC, the hopes for the future, and the significant effort to make the game of football accessible for all people regardless of race or sexual orientation.

Based at Hough End, the club is providing opportunities and a welcoming environment in which to enjoy the beautiful game that sadly seem to be lacking in many other places. As is apparent from our conversation, many of the players have suffered abuse when playing football in the past.

In the two years since the club was originally formed, the interest in the club has been “amazing,” according to Haroon. After putting messages out to all communities about the men’s and women’s teams and the trials for both, the first four weeks saw 286 turn up to the men’s trials and more than 100 for the girl’s team, a “real cross-section” of people, Haroon added.

The environment is special, inspiring, and exciting; the competition is high, and as the club point out, inclusion doesn’t mean a drop in quality. Haroon said: “There is no prejudice on religion or sexual orientation.”

Trials are different too. Rather than just a session or two, prospective players are invited to train over a period of three-to-four weeks, to get a rounded impression of each player.

In total, there are 51 players in the men’s and women’s squads, including individuals who are Atheist, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist. The two squads boast 31 different nationalities, including British, British Asian, Iraqi, Syrian, Libyan, Saudi, Somalian, Indian, Pakistani, and Jamaican representatives. The full list is even more diverse.

The open mindset is entrenched in the foundations of the club and on matchdays, an “inspirational” routine that celebrates inclusion is now commonplace.

Haroon explained: “Everybody gets together in a circle, and one of the coaches, who is Italian, says the Christ’s prayer in Latin. Another coach recites Our Father, and one says an Arabic prayer. It’s so inspiring and everybody gets excited about it because we’re all bringing something to the table and proud of our cultures.

“Everybody should be proud of religion and background.”

The club is aware of socio-economic issues and has helped to support players who can’t afford boots, or other equipment. It shows a deep understanding of the communities GMFC hope to represent in the long term.

Although just starting out, GMFC’s approach is anything but novice. Both teams have a manager and assistant manager. There are data and performance analysts who also provide nutritional advice to all players. Both teams also have a strength and conditioning coach, physio, and mental health coordinator – a key position because the club is committed to looking after its footballers, conscious that the failure rate is “astronomically high.”

Haroon said: “Our mental health coordinator will get in touch after injuries. A lot of players come from troubled backgrounds and this has given them a glimmer of hope. We don’t want that glimmer to have a negative impact if it doesn’t work how they want it to, and if they can’t take part for some time, we’ll give them support behind the scenes.

“We’re using the attraction of football to help them become better members of society.”

That drive to equip people with skills that will serve them in the long term is a vital part of the GMFC ethos. Through its partnership with Active Communities Network, all players are provided with a careers interview to identify their skills and qualifications. Any gaps are then filled with courses from academic qualifications – some players are now taking GCSEs, Haroon says – to vocational qualifications such as electrician courses.

Haroon said: “There has to be a plan B. You have to come out of this experience either as a somebody in football, or somebody who is a better, more responsible member of society.

“We want to say with everybody that we’ve given them skills, whatever journey they’ve had with us. So it gives them a worthwhile experience, not only on the football side, but beyond.”

The process to this point has been a thorough one. Formed in 2018, the club has been in contact with the FA for well over a year, who offered their support in the setting-up process after Haroon aired his views about the existing systemic racism and inequality. He is thankful to the Manchester FA’s help with legalities, administration, setup process; organisations such as Kick It Out, Active Communities Network, and Manchester Active have partnered with GMFC, and the L&C have been “extremely welcoming and given us so much support before, and during the process, and what to do when up and running.”

It has been a long journey to get to this point.

Communication is key

Kick It Out has fought for almost three decades to improve equality and inclusion in football. Nationally, the prevalence of systemic racism has been brought to the attention of the wider world with Black Lives Matter and taking a knee highlighted every weekend at clubs throughout the country. But what is the tangible change? Arran Williams, the Northern Grassroots Officer at Kick It Out, is in his third year at the organisation. At the grassroots level, he paints an ominous picture of complaints surrounding racism made “every single week,” and said incidences are at their worst level “by a long way.”

It’s a stark reminder of how difficult it is to accomplish real change – something that GMFC have sought by working with Kick It Out since January 2019. Things really progressed in summer 2019 when plans were put in place and it has built from there, with both GMFC and Kick It Out bringing their own ideas to the table.

Arran said that the commitment to a diverse and inclusive club – something that is “easy to make, hard to prove,” – is apparent, and the thirst for that tangible change had driven the project; GMFC have shown what the region’s communities want. They have worked very closely with the British Muslim Heritage Centre to change the representation of these communities in football.

More importantly, it served to show what the community is and what it wants in terms of football. Arran added: “Then we looked at how we can link grassroots football and people, right through the chain to the people at the top of the FA and towards the general public.”

An event that was set to be run through the Grassroots Activity Fund at the British Muslim Heritage Centre had to be postponed because of Covid. But the aim of that was to get people from the communities in Manchester together so everybody could find out about each other.

“It was aimed at developing that community cohesion that organisations so often say they want but then do the same things that don’t achieve anything. This is different,” Arran added.

A wider and significant point with this collaboration is communication; Haroon and GMFC have sought to improve channels of communication to the FA and communities to increase participation and inclusion.

It’s not that the FA doesn’t want to drive real change; the issue previously has been that they haven’t delivered their message in a way that reaches the right recipients.

Haroon said: “The biggest issue was a complete lack of communication between ethnic minorities and mainstream football, and it resulted in a lack of trust.”

GMFC’s first port of call was to create communication, in the form of a workshop at the British Muslim Heritage Centre; approximately 200 people turned up to this, and other focus groups where they were asked about the barriers in football they have encountered. The feedback was relayed to the FA.

It is a two-way street too, as this collaboration means the FA can send out sensitive messages to the communities via GMFC. Already, it has yielded a great deal of positivity; because of the improved communication, the FA has made it clear that girls from Muslim communities who are cautious about playing in shorts can play in full leggings, and an FA-approved headscarf is now available, which negates the risk of unravelling during a game, as is possible with a normal headscarf.

“This is what we have tried to change. We communicate with everyone. We speak to the FA, Kick It Out, the L&C. It’s about building those channels,” Haroon said.

And change is coming; before Covid hit, the FA reached out asking if they could organise a Ramadan-type festival for GMFC to host.

Haroon was quick to point out that the communities needed convincing too; they have suspicions because of previous treatment. But GMFC have reached out in this way too, driving participation and inclusion through visiting schools, colleges, universities, synagogues, temples, and mosques. “To build trust, you have to go where people are,” he said.

GMFC have spoken on Asian Sound Radio, who have approached the club about a weekly show that will involve guests from the women’s game, the FA, and others to talk about any issues and initiatives.

Changing the status quo

Haroon believes that a simultaneous lack of finances and reaching out into minority communities is stifling the inclusivity of football, and it is something GMFC has sought to change. He said: “In recent times, it has become about money. Those with backers or parents who can run them back and forth and buy fancy equipment are fine, but those from less affluent backgrounds – which a lot of Manchester is – don’t get an equal chance.

“The fact is that when it comes to recruitment from the BME community and LGBT community, there is no proactive method. It’s a question of if they turn up, we’ll have a look. There’s no reaching out to make it a level playing field. So firstly, our aims were from a recruitment point of view, and secondly, from an ethnic minority point of view.”

Many in the BME community have horrendous stories to tell about their experiences of racism within football. It is depressingly unsurprising given the wider picture of football in the country that has been visible over the past couple of seasons and beyond.

As Haroon said: “People in football know it (racism) exists. Especially in Manchester, which is very mixed.”

It is sobering to think that every player on both the men’s and women’s teams at GMFC have experienced racism. Many had previously stopped playing because of suffering from racist abuse during trials at other clubs.

Even when you think the potential to shock is gone, you can get stopped in your tracks with what some of the players have to go through because of racism. One story is particularly jarring. A player at the club, who Haroon describes as “fantastic, with a great attitude,” whose ability is higher than the level he’s at. He tells of a trial he attended where he was asked to fill in a registration form before getting changed and getting ready to start.

After filling the form in, the trainer threw it back in the player’s face because a page had been left blank, accompanied with a tirade of abuse and an abrupt end of the trial before it began.

The reason the form was left blank? It asked for your parents’ details. The lad on trial lost his parents in the Syria War, and is a refugee.

That the natural reaction was to behave that way than with compassion is telling, and GMFC are at great pains to end this behaviour and the lack of communication that helps to fuel it.

Haroon said: “Nobody had bothered having that three-second conversation asking why he hadn’t filled it out.

“It doesn’t take a lot to ask someone and, from my standpoint, half the issues we have in the game stem from the lack of communication because we don’t take the time to talk to people.”

It is a key theme of Haroon and the club, and the approach that actively encourages inclusion and diversity.

To talk to Haroon is an enlightening experience, because it would be easy to focus on the fact that “every single one of our players and coaching staff have horrific stories to tell.” But it is far from the focus and the outlook of GMFC and those involved is inspiring and energising to listen to.

He added: “We know the racism and inequality in football is an issue, but at the same time, giving out horror stories doesn’t achieve anything because it creates more animosity and anger.

“Instead of talking about this, why not try to present a solution. There’s a club here that doesn’t care what race you are, gender, religion, sexual orientation. If you have a passion for football, come and join us and we’ll help develop your talent and push your game.

“Our belief is we’d rather concentrate on what we have in common than the things that separate us.”

Recognition

GMFC’s work has already been recognised. Kick It Out have been so impressed with the club’s efforts to tackle racial inequality that it was nominated GMFC for an award at the prestigious Northwest Football Awards. Kick It Out said that GMFC’s “work really stood out.”

In the 13th annual awards ceremony, GMFC went up against the likes of Manchester United and eventual winners Everton for the Kick It Out Promoting Inclusion Award. Haroon is understandably honoured that the club’s important work has been recognised in this way.

“For us to even be mentioned in the same breadth as clubs like Everton and Manchester United is an honour and if the only thing that comes out of it is people start to understand a bit more about what we’re trying to do as a fan, player or supporter, it will have been worth it.”

And what of the future? The club has an ambitious target of establishing itself as a lower league club, or in the higher echelons of non-league football.

More than anything, “it will create a legacy project for the whole of Greater Manchester, for anybody with a passion for the game.”

League action to resume on 5 December

Following the government’s announcement this week, we can confirm that the Lancashire and Cheshire Amateur Football League will resume on Saturday 5 December.

The national lockdown will end on 2 December at midnight, at which time we will revert back to Tier 3 restrictions. Much like prior to lockdown, this will mean cross-tier travel restrictions.

Clearer information will be available in the coming days but as a league, we are ready to resume action and our previous Covid-secure procedures will be expected of all clubs, including risk assessments and control measures. It’s vital that everybody takes the necessary precautions to prevent the virus from spreading again.

All clubs should have received an email with our procedures for use as soon as the season restarts, such as confirmation, team sheet, postponement, Covid case reporting, and the referee’s amended match sheet report.

Many match sheet copies still not having been sent to matchsheets@landc.org.uk. Please send them this weekend so we are all straight for the restart. It has been a pleasure to write to you all, let’s get back to enjoying some football!

Gill ‘honoured’ to be the first lady

THE involvement of women in football at all levels is rapidly increasing, particularly at junior level, and the management committee of the Lancashire and Cheshire AFL was delighted to join the growing trend by asking Gill Bowden to join the committee in 2019.

Gill was the first lady to join the management committee in its long history and she has made a quick impact in her new role.

Her path in amateur soccer is a great example for other women to follow as she outlined: “Despite having three brothers I only became interested in football in 1998 when my then four-year-old son Daniel began to train with Signol Athletic JFC.

“It was interesting to learn the history of the club which was founded by Anne Signol in 1980. Anne is a very prominent member of the local community owning the ‘The Signol Centre’ which is one of the longest established physiotherapy and acupuncture practices in the Stockport area.

“The club was born from Anne’s work at Stockport Infirmary treating asthmatic children to improve their lung capacity, treatment was only offered once a week so Anne offered daily sessions at ‘The Signol Community Centre’ for all the patients, the sessions were concluded weekly with a ‘kickabout’ in the local park and Signol Athletic JFC was born.   

“When Danny was seven the club took all the boys to play in a tournament in Holland, by this point my husband Gordon was Assistant Manager of the team and I helped with collecting subs and team organisation as we both wanted to give back to the community as Anne had done and add to her legacy.

“Lots of fundraising occurred to help fund the trip and shortly after this I was asked to lead the Clubs social committee which organised many social functions and raised funds to help grow the club.

“Over the years we had Christmas discos, Sportsman’s Dinners, and our annual tournaments which were extremely popular with local teams and those from further afield. I became the Club Treasurer between 2012-2016 and as I am a Certified Accountant, my day job helped with this role.

“The 2009/10 season saw us as an Under 16 team and historically this would be our last year with Signol as they only provided for teams up to Under 16s, however, we didn’t want that to be the end of our Journey with Signol and Gordon successfully convinced the Club Committee to allow us to continue as an open age team and in 2011 we entered the L and C league.

“We chose the L and C as both Gordon and I had watched Daniel refereeing several matches and were impressed with the standard of teams and organisation of the League.

“We are still playing in the League as Signol Old Boys and it is still a family affair with both Danny and Gordon running the team with myself as Secretary and Treasurer.

“In 2019 the League approached me and asked if I would consider joining the committee to assist with managing Fulltime player statistics. I was honoured to be the first woman to join the committee and be a part of its long history and evolution and believe that I bring a different perspective to the meetings. 

“I have been involved in football for over 20 years now and it is exciting to see progression over those years. In 1998 we didn’t have many girls’ football teams but today I see no barriers for any young girl wishing to play football.

“I draw parallels between the business world and football and diversity is one of football’s major challenges, everyone should be aware and accountable for their actions both on and off the pitch yet it does need to be driven right from the very top and the L and C are leading in this and I am proud to be part of this journey.”

L and C secretary Brian Davies added: “I recognised Gill’s excellent work with the Signol team, and invited her to join the league committee. I am delighted Gill agreed, and now in her second year in the role has made a real impact on the completion of team statistics, now running at over 90%.

“It is a real pleasure to see her volunteer considerable time to the league, club and family alongside a busy day job.”

Potential fixture availability on 26 December and 2 January

The shutdown of amateur football has resulted in a fixture backlog that was building because of the challenges of Covid.

As such, the league committee has considered the request from some clubs who have asked if Boxing Day and 2 January would be available for action.

We can confirm that fixtures will be offered on those days for those clubs who would like to play. As always, the availability of pitches is a factor.

If your team would like a fixture on either or both of those dates, please let Malcolm Kershaw fixtures@landc.org.uk know, and if you can have home games.

As you can see, we are doing everything possible to enable fixtures to be played as early as possible to avoid the prospect of season curtailment due to overrunning.