For most, a football club is the heartbeat of a community. Thousands flocking to games each week, a team’s fortune - or misfortune - the hot topic around the dinner table and this is before we talk about the dream of playing in your club’s famous
For most, a football club is the heartbeat of a community.
Thousands flocking to games each week, a team’s fortune - or misfortune - the hot topic around the dinner table and this is before we talk about the dream of playing in your club’s famous colours.
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic impacting football across the world, it’s easy to understand why many are feeling detached from their clubs.
But in Cork, Erika Ní Thuama, Cork City’s Community and Academy Coordinator, has been fronting up the ‘More Than A Club’ initiative and connecting the Rebel Army back with the community through a series of programmes.
More Than A Club is an FAI-backed scheme that looks to empower clubs to develop partnerships within their community through social programmes.
Speaking as part of International Women’s Day Erika said: “It’s a programme I have been involved with since 2017 and we’ve really seen the benefits of it in the community. At Cork City we have such a wide catchment area to cover and we have an opportunity to impact so many people’s lives.
“More Than A Club is a chance for us to give something back to society and raise the profile of the club. It needed to get away from just being about Friday night football and to go into a different environment, especially in kids’ minds. We also needed to be more relevant to our older members of the community. So, for example, with our walking football we found it difficult to recruit people individually, but when we went out and recruited through groups we had much more people signing up and widening their social circles.”
With supporters still unable to attend games, Cork City have been finding ways through More Than A Club to reach out to fans. Erika explains: “Our senior players from the men and women’s teams have been speaking to youth groups via Zoom and just chatting to them. They’ve been speaking about resilience and that’s an important subject in the current climate. You need a lot of resilience to become a footballer and they’re sharing that message with young people.
“We’ve had a few new signings for our teams ahead of the new season it has been a great way for our new players to introduce themselves and they’ve been able to make that connection.”
Bank of Ireland, as part of its sponsorship of the SSE Airtricity League, is also planning to work the More Than A Club scheme throughout the country. Erika says that League of Ireland clubs have been excellent in making the most of the programme particularly in the last 12 months when now more than ever people need support.
She recalls one story of how the programme was able to help a child who wasn’t engaging in a game of football, she said: “We went into a school which was for children who weren’t part of mainstream education and there was one particular boy who, while he would take part in the classroom aspect of the programme, didn’t want to get involved physically in football.
“We encouraged him slowly and by the end of programme he played in the game and scored a goal and you would think he’d scored the winner in the World Cup Final – his classmates were that happy for him. He gave us a card thanking us for our help.
“It’s things like that which really show the impact More Than A Club can have.”