Changing Lives Through Football - Our Stories 2021-22
As we prepare for the start of the 2022-23 season, Cheshire FA’s team at Moss Farm have taken some time to reflect on some of the projects, initiatives and provisions which have helped us change lives through football.
Please take a look at each of our team members’ stories below…
During the 2021-22 season, I was proud to be able to support our continued work and commitment to inclusion, in particular around the LGBTQ+ community.
Having led on our 2021 Rainbow Laces event, 'Creating an Inclusive Environment', one element that it shone a light on was the importance of supporting members of our Trans community. Pippa Henry spoke very bravely about her story on the night and this stayed with me following the event.
As part of our support for Trans Awareness in early 2022, I was keen to speak in greater detail with Pippa to learn about her full story and the journey she had been on through her life.
Pippa agreed to a sit-down interview and we recorded this at Cheshire FA HQ. Pippa shared with the world her incredible life story, in such an honest and inspiring way. We were then able to share this with our grassroots football community, in a three-part documentary style interview.
The response we received to this has been nothing but supportive and positive.
Thank you to Pippa for your bravery and honesty, you will have helped someone, somewhere.
Last October, Cheshire FA provide a grant to start up new Women's Walking football sessions.
Funding was awarded to clubs and organisations in Frodsham, Marple, Nantwich and Northwich and Macclesfield.
Now there are over 100 women playing walking football on a weekly basis and over 8 clubs / sessions running across the county.
Nine months after the funding had been awarded Cheshire FA hosted the first ever women's walking football festival linking in with the Women's EUROs to which 5 teams took part in. The majority of the players were new to the game and many women were of the 'missed generation' of football as they were excluded from playing because of the historic FA ruling which banned women from playing.
Across the county there are now opportunities for women who may not be able to play traditional formats of the game to be involved in football and be a part of a team keeping fit, healthy and socialising with new friends and the start of a new Women's Walking football league has been born.
During season 2021-22 we ran a ‘Class of 22’ Female Coach Development programme with the aim to Inspire, Empower female coaches and support them on their coaching journey. This was first of its kind linking with the Women's Euros and ensuring a legacy for female coaches in Cheshire.
There were 25 female coaches who were involved. They were from all different areas/clubs of the county, different ages from a 16 year old coach from Hartford FC to a 59 year old coach from Sandbach FC, different years of experience from just starting to 15 years, different qualification levels from BT Playmaker to Level 2 with two having recently started their UEFA C and one started their UEFA B.
All have had their own unique journey in football so far. Different workshops have been delivered to support their individual development, build their confidence and inspire them. We have seen the group flourish, share their learning experiences as well as developing coaching friendships. The coaches as group recently attended together the exciting Women’s UEFA Euros group fixture of Sweden v Portugal.
One of the coaches said after the workshop in May: "Tonight's session was brilliant, so nice to be with a group of women who all have such a passion for football. I feel totally inspired, like I could take on the coaching world."
They are all making a fantastic impact with the players they are coaching in their club and a number are already ambassadors for female coaches in their area, supporting other females to get involved. We are looking forward to linking up with all the coaches in the near future through the new Cheshire FA Female Coach Development group launching in September and hearing more about their journey.
My Changing Lives Through Football story is the introduction of a Women’s Walking Football Session at Cheshire Football Centre. The majority of the credit must go to Stephen Ellis, Mick Wood and our very own Steph Knott, but to play a very small part in facilitating and watching it grow from its infancy has been amazing.
That first week, on a cold October evening, was attended by 5 women keen to play some football and socialise. The growth has been really rewarding since then with numbers hitting 20+ on a regular basis. We pride ourselves on having a Facility that is safe, inclusive, progressive and respectful, and opening up the Facility for the group every Monday afternoon and being greeted with a mutual smile and joke before they play is exactly why we work for Cheshire FA. It was also pleasing to see so many of the women play in the first Women’s Walking Football tournament in July 2022. Hopefully, the session continues to grow at a steady pace and the women not only enjoy their football and the benefits that go with it but have met friends for life.
Every week Cheshire FA receive reports of discrimination within the game and regular enquiries from member clubs regarding Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. It was apparent there was a latent need to educate and support our members and help develop a more inclusive environment. Therefore, we set out to use our influence as a County FA to develop a programme that would promote an inclusive game that is free from discrimination.
The FOR ALL Officers programme was developed and aimed to
• Support the FA Inclusion strategy ‘A Game For All’ and Cheshire FA’s value of being Inclusive.
• Support the development of inclusive football clubs in Cheshire
• Facilitate the development of a club network to ensure everyone in Cheshire has the chance to play and fall in love with the game.
• Educate people who are dealing with challenges and issues within their clubs linked to Inclusion.
We focused the programme on five key areas of club development; Governance and Workforce, Participation, Club Strategy, Communications and Marketing and Facilities.
We have implemented a training programme to upskill individuals and challenge their clubs to be more inclusive. ‘For All’ Officers have attended monthly workshops which have been delivered as part of the project and included the following topics:
1. Developing an Inclusive Club - Cheshire FA
2. An Introduction to Equality delivered by PLAN4SPORT
3. Mental Health 1ST Aid Training - Health Hub
4. Discrimination in the Game - Kick It Out
5. Disability Equality Training - Activity Alliance
As a result of the programme we have successfully developed a small network of FOR ALL Officers who have engaged in the workshops and completed the following as part of the programme
• Engaged in a series of workshops to upskill their knowledge around Equality, Diversity & Inclusion.
• Completed a self assessment of their club to evaluate how inclusive their club is and identify areas for development.
• The FOR ALL Officers have attended and engaged in the training workshops.
• The clubs involved in the programme have been asked to sign a pledge committing their clubs support to inclusion.
• An individual from the group has been identified to represent the group at the CCFA Inclusion Advisory Board (IAB).
• A Media Channel has been set up for participants which is acting as a discussion forum and a holding place for resources to support their work and upskill their knowledge.
A small example of the impact on clubs is Sharon from Marple Athletic who contacted us to say she had rewritten her Squad Girls application after attending one of the Equality Workshops. She had originally used old fashioned language to describe a hardship fund and the workshop prompted her to use more appropriate language.
Another example was from Zach who contacted us to say he had challenged some behaviour at a local game. He informed the managers he was part of Cheshire FA’s FOR ALL programme and they changed their behaviour and the referee felt supported.
My Changing Lives Through Football Story is the new 3Gs on the Wirral. They haven't started building them yet but the grant offer is there!
It always amazes me how clubs on the Wirral are able to field SO many teams with such a lack of facilities. Just shows how much people love football there and the dedication of those volunteers who are able to somehow find somewhere for those teams to train and play!
The three new facilities are not going to solve the problem, it will only scratch the surface really, but finally teams on the Wirral are starting to get what they deserve - good quality facilities to match the quality of the players. This will also provide such needed facilities for Cheshire Girls League Wirral Division which hopefully will help with the phenomenal growth of the league and girls participation.
I am so excited to see the opening of these pitches and seeing facilities used every day.
P.S. No pictures as it hasn't been built yet!
Walking Football Festival - Feb 2022
Walking Football has become an ever-growing area of the game. This aspect of the sport completes the player pathway and had provided opportunities for older participants who wish to start and continue playing football.
Our objective was to host and facilitate a Walking Football Festival which provided both physical and social elements to new and existing Walking Football teams following the easing of COVID restrictions. The aim was to increase participant and signpost players into existing provisions and create a sanctioned league which provides both recreational and competitive formats.
As part of the registration process, we wanted to ensure all barriers to participating were removed. As a result, we offered free affiliation to any new teams, which included the cost of insurance and any additional fees. We also subsidised the cost of hosting and running the event to ensure we optimised participation in the event.
One of our main objectives was to showcase this area of the game and provide opportunities to Over 50 & Over 60s, whilst working with Age UK and the Walking Football Associated who supported advertising and promoting the event.
We had ten teams take part, with over one hundred players participating from around the county. On the back of the festival, Cheshire Football Centre saw a rise in the number of targeted participants and affiliated team then organising fixtures amongst themselves.
Off the back of the festival, we are in the planning stage of creating Walking Football League which will promote existing and form new recreational sessions, also create a competitive provision which will be rolled out across the County for the start of the 22-23 season. Following an FA review of the Walking Football Laws of the Game, we are looking to host several tailored Walking Football Referee Courses, to provide opportunities to individuals who may not want to play, however, be involved with the game.
Exciting times ahead for Walking Football!
My Changing Lives Through Football highlight from last season was when the staff came together to agree that our values would be Inclusive, Progressive and Respectful. I felt that this was a really important decision that everybody contributed to and we were fully committed to using these values to help us focus our commitment, resolve and energy to support grassroots football in Cheshire.
The reason I have chosen this is because I have seen the values come to life throughout the season and seen the impact of positively supporting and collaborating with so many great volunteers to make football in Cheshire safe, fun and accessible to all.
I really appreciate all the support people give to football in Cheshire and just a few of the tangible things I have seen through our values are:
The Inspire League; our IAB meetings; Rainbow Laces Campaign support; Muslim Athletes Charter; Our Class of 22 Coaches; Our ForAll Officers; Our first female Board Member; Our Foundation Equality Award;
Closer working with District FA’s; supporting our committees; our Business Strategy launch and Operational Plan; our new VOIP phone system; Our new media and comms strategy; mental health and well being training for all staff; working closer with leagues and clubs; flexi football; walking football.
Our Play safe weekend and Safeguarding Visits; Our awards evening recognising our brilliant volunteers; our engagement with local authority partners; our collaboration with the NSPCC; Our collaboration with CWO’s and regular drop-in Teams sessions; mentoring support for referees;
There are so many more things we want to do and I truly appreciate the support of all our volunteers and wonderful Cheshire FA staff.
On Monday 13 June, Cheshire FA conducted a Support Session for Club Welfare Officers. Greg and I developed a CPD training session for the club welfare officers incorporating, colour blind awareness training. This was well received during the evening, with some fantastic feedback afterwards
A week or so after these training session a Club Welfare Officer contacted me to let me know that the evening triggered something for her and her family. She downloaded some colour blind awareness tests for her 24 year old son, they then went to the opticians who was able to confirm he had failed his colour blind test. Leading to referral to the doctors, who was unable to confirm that her son was in fact colour blind. This brought the family a sense of relief they now have the support system around the son for his newly diagnosed Condition.
This was incredibly humbling for me, that I was be I was able to part of a process for this family to get the help, support and a diagnosis, unknowingly. Designing and developing Club Welfare Officers support session is to give our Welfare Officers the best support and education out there, I never thought I will be able to change the lives of this family
I have thoroughly enjoyed working alongside Kath helping with the girls' league at Moss Farm on Saturdays, it was great to see so many young girls playing football. Growing up football wasn’t always as easily accessible so to see how far it has come really makes me happy and I’m glad I can help contribute to making sure that the girls and everyone else involved has a safe, fun playing environment.
Girls' football has taken me on a rollercoaster of a ride where I’ve met some great people, some whom are forever friends and others who I now call family. If the girls' league can provide that for even just one person I’m happy.
I enjoy working on facility, you come across so many different people from different places and we all have something in common, we love football! Acting as the face of Cheshire FA to our bookings gives me a sense of pride as we provide excellent customer relations and build positive relationships with everyone who comes across us at Cheshire FA.
Holidays Camps are amazing, to be able to be a part of something where we are teaching the younger generation how to play and having lots of fun whilst doing so is great, it almost feels as if it’s not work. As Confucius said: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
I am proud of the customer excellence we have continued to provide throughout the 2021-22 season for our committed grassroots football community.
Throughout the season, I have helped a variety of clubs, leagues, referees and volunteers with questions and queries to make their lives easier.
I love working on the customer service side of the organisation. I find it very rewarding to help people who contact us through email, telephone or visit us in the office.
I feel that I have been able to support Changing Lives Through Football by offering support and guidance where required and the introduction of our new G-Force Telephone System has massively contributed to an increase in the standard of service we provide. At present, we answer an average of 93% of calls received, which is a standard we aim to maintain and improve on as time goes by.
Thank you to all of our volunteers for your continued commitment to Cheshire FA and grassroots football.
As a Football Administrator, my job is to support all areas of Cheshire FA and deal with an abundance of enquiries on a daily basis. My aim is to offer excellent customer service and I have regularly received positive feedback from customers, especially when l have been able to assist them in navigating around our computer systems
The installation and implementation of a brand-new telephone system has enabled us to offer a much more positive experience for our customers and stakeholders. Every day we aim to provide a high-quality service and I am delighted to say that I have been able to support a wide-range of customer queries thanks to this new system. As a team, we have been able to ensure customer queries are resolved in a much timelier fashion and I look forward to continuing our work on this system to maintain customer excellence at Cheshire FA.
As a team we are currently achieving 93% calls answered. You can find the link to our telephone system provider below, for more information: https://g-forcecommunications.com/
My Changing Lives Through Football story is the Inspire League. As someone who regularly has the privilege of helping out and supporting the set up of the league, it is rewarding to see how much the League has grown and to see how many new women get involved every month.
The work that Carla, Gary and all the volunteers do within the league is inspiring to see and I am sure the league will continue to develop and go from strength-to-strength in the months and seasons ahead. I look forward to continuing to play a small part in the incredible work that goes on, and helping to make the game more accessible for women in Cheshire.
To find out more about the Inspire League, head to https://twitter.com/inspire_league
My Changing Lives Through Football story began with being able to closely build relationships with bookings at the Cheshire FA HQ. Previously working as a Facility Officer has helped develop my understanding of the logistics and procedures that take place to enable teams to train and play matches on the facility.
During my transition to Compliance and Regulations Officer.
This role has has added more colour to the canvas of what functions in the background to enable football to be enjoyed within a safe, inclusive and trusting environment. Within the 9 months of this role I have developed a clear understanding of discipline procedures.
It has been a privilege to offer support and guidance to grassroots members through the discipline process to ensure a fair and transparent system is followed. In addition to overseeing the discipline process, I have supported a wide range of customer queries. Whilst also undertaking a number of safeguarding visits to support our grassroots volunteers and ensure a safe environment for all.
As the Finance Manager here at Cheshire FA, I often find that the chance doesn't present itself to get around the county too support and develop grassroots football as much as, say, our brilliant Football Development team.
My Changing Lives Through Football moment arrived at the start of 2022, a club got in touch with our CEO, Steve Smithies, with some concerns around the their relationship with Cheshire FA. Keen to resolve this, myself and Steve met with some of their committee members to discuss the issues, offer solutions and repair our relationship.
We now have a great relationship with the club, often with myself acting as a bit of account manager for them and helping resolve their queries directly.
From this, the idea that in order to support the amazing work our clubs, leagues and volunteers do, we needed more personal approach in how we both work with and communicate with you. We put in place an account management process for this years affiliations. We are hoping that by giving each member of staff a group of clubs to personally affiliate them a relationship can be built between the staff here at Cheshire FA and yourselves, just as I have with the club mentioned earlier.
I hope that we can continue to support you all as best as possible, and thank you for all your hard work over the years and going forward!
This is a brief story from Ruby Sykes, who turned 18 earlier this year. I have had the opportunity to coach Ruby as a Referee as part of the National Scheme. These are her words. She is very humble about her amazing progress and from season 22-23 will referee in the second tier of women's football and be an assistant referee in the Women's Super League, in the same games as all those players that participated in EURO 2022.
"Since I can remember, football has been a big part of my life. It is always on in the background and my football-obsessed family often get together to watch the big games. I started playing football when I was 10.
I joined my local girls team and really enjoyed playing football and making friends. Not long after turning 14, I wanted to look for more ways to get engaged with the sport I love. I started coaching the little ones at my local football club where my brother played and dad chaired.
I loved seeing another side to football that I hadn’t really thought about before and this helped me in my decision to get on a referee’s course. I went in with no knowledge of laws of the game and no idea of the world of opportunity I was stepping in to. I left my referees course feeling inspired and I’ve not looked back.
From my very first game, I have received amazing support. I always have the chance to talk to anyone from my local Referees Association, Altrincham and parent County FA, Cheshire.
Through refereeing, I have developed so many skills but most noticeably, I have gained so much confidence. Refereeing particularly has given me so many opportunities. I have made lots of great friends who I have share my refereeing journey with and I can see the progression pathway there is for everybody."
- Ruby Sykes – Cheshire FA & Womens Championship Referee
At the end of an U14 match in November 2021 a spectator abused a young female referee. She was in her first season as a referee and was abused while wearing the yellow armband that indicates that the referee is under the age of 18.
The referee received support from the Referee Department with report writing and from the Safeguarding team for her welfare. I investigated the incident, which had the referee report along with obtaining five statements from the opposition supporting the referee and reporting other abuse and threats.
The offending club denied the charge and requested a personal hearing. I ensured that the referee was supported throughout the hearing process and made sure she was comfortable with what would happen at the hearing and that we would follow the Young Persons protocols. This meant that the young referee would attend virtually with their parent alongside her for support and all questions would come through the chair of the panel. To make sure the referee was not intimidated all cameras were turned off apart from the Chair of the panel.
The referee was thanked for her attendance and I informed her of the next step in the process. After the hearing I received positive feedback from the referee's parent saying: "Thank you, we would like to know the decision please. As a parent I thought you were all very supportive with (name redacted) and made her feel at ease. Thanks."
The case was found proven and the club was sanctioned with a warning and fine. I am pleased to say this incident did not put her off refereeing and she has registered for the new season.