THE world of professional football can seem far removed from the everyday life of a typical school pupil.
But that world becomes a step closer for thousands of local youngsters thanks to the work of Mansfield Town FC’s Football in the Community (FITC) scheme.
The training sessions and other activities that the team run are often the first contact children have with the Stags, but that first moment can lead to a long-term affiliation with the club.
“Our aim is to promote the club first and foremost, and how we do that is by visiting tens of thousands of children around local primary schools,” said Gary Shaw, Football in the Community officer.
“We try and get some of those kids interested in the club and hopefully they will come and see the first team games.”
Most of the work done by the FITC team is based around football coaching in primary schools where pupils of both sexes learn basic football skills and have fun playing small-sided games.
The youngsters are usually very enthusiastic about getting involved and enjoy the change from a usual PE lesson.
Said Gary: “You see massive smiles on their faces.
“You see some who are not necessarily academic but excel in other things like football and it gives them a chance to shine.”
The FITC team also goes into special schools and holds regular coaching sessions for disabled children in the area.
Among their other activities is a successful 50/50 fundraising penalty shoot-out competition that raises cash for both schools and the FITC scheme, and gives the kids a chance to earn some top Stags’ prizes by collecting sponsorship.
“Some schools can raise thousands of pounds with the help of us doing these activities,” said Gary.
Youngsters who particularly enjoy themselves at the FITC sessions can sign up for school holiday soccer courses or even have a football-themed birthday party at Field Mill.
All of these activities help build a strong relationship between the club and the community, which can see youngsters coming into the club in later years for work experience or employment and, of course, coming down to watch the Stags first team.
Gary said: “Over the past few years especially, when you go pitchside and look into the stands you see the faces of people who have come along after being part of our groups and as they get older, come off their own backs.”
Attracting people to Field Mill has become more difficult since the club was relegated from the Football League, but this makes the FITC team’s work even more valuable.
“In order for small clubs to survive it’s important that we can get people through the gates and involved with the club,” Gary said.
“We want to get more participants in our activities and hopefully as a result of that we will get more people coming to watch and getting involved with the club.”
According to FITC director Mark Hemingray the key to the scheme’s success is his team’s hard work.
“They always do that little bit beyond the call of duty,” he added.
For further information on the FITC project, call 07977428147 or email firstname.lastname@example.org