Lisa’s Guest Opinion Column in the Gazette & Herald Newspaper – May 2014
As he heads out of the door, at the end of a drop-in session, B turns around and states very determinedly that he wants us to purchase a pink football kit for the team. I look at him incredulously and then make him confirm that he really does mean a PINK kit for playing in public tournaments.
When the rest of the football team confirm that they are happy to play in pink I am actually really rather proud since it shows that the levels of self confidence amongst the individuals have increased dramatically over the short period of time that they have been playing together. As far as I am concerned it shows balls if any male can carry off a shocking pink kit on a football pitch.
The football project is just one of the extra activities that Doorway introduced, way back in 2010, in order to promote physical activity, thereby improving health and wellbeing, and positive social engagement to counteract the general boredom that many of our guests experience in their everyday lives.
Another important objective of the project was to promote social cohesion and teamwork amongst our guests who so often have to live their lives on an individual basis without being able to trust others. When you’re sofa surfing or rough sleeping then life is very much about self-preservation, protection and survival. Football is one of those activities where it is impossible to be an individual and you need to work together in order to produce the end goal. Quite literally.
And so, due to the kind generosity of others in our community, the project was launched in 2010 and since then the team have been able to play weekly at the superb indoor facilities at Ladyfield Church at no rental cost to us which circumvented any outdoor weather issues. The staffing costs have been covered, over the years, by grants from the Co-operative Community Fund and the, now legendary, pink kit was subsequently purchased with a personal donation from the extremely generous local boy Peter Wanless, who is now CEO at the NSPCC.
Since the launch of the project the entire team has evolved and progressed and each individual has increased their own personal level of fitness. In defiance of the sexist assumptions of the general public, female guests have played a major part in the success of the project.
The team have played in half a dozen tournaments including the Wiltshire Addiction Support Project’s annual 5-a-side tournaments involving charities, drug and alcohol support agencies and Wiltshire Police at the superb facilities at the Stanley Park football ground. We even managed to put out two full teams in a couple of tournaments. They have also played in the annual Oxford and Wiltshire Social Inclusion Cups although this has caused some frustration due to the absurd, and somewhat archaic, Football Association ruling that prevents mixed teams from participating. At each of the Social Inclusion Cup tournaments our girlies have been unable to play but have still turned up on the day to support and cheer on the boys playing.
“It’s great to see guests (and volunteers) improve their fitness and skills. In some cases it’s given incentive to stay off substances, at least for that day. In others it has been a reliever of stress and frustration. It’s good to be in a place where life outside is left behind for a while, and we’re all ‘on a level playing field’, where people are equal, and the only things that matter are the efforts put in on the pitch.
It’s also been a source of fun and pride to take part in tournaments, and to see the sense of camaraderie and team spirit. But most of all, there have always been smiling faces and lots of laughter.”
I still remember that first day that our team played in a public tournament. There was a moment before kick-off when I was terrified that we would end up being publicly humiliated. However, that was short-lived and it very quickly became apparent that I should have had a little more faith in their abilities. And the pink kit? Well not only is it very easy to spot our players at a distance, but it also gives them a distinct psychological advantage on the pitch!