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FC United/northerncare Tournament (Nov 2008)

Positive outcomes - that was the theme of the day when the JJB Soccerdome hosted the latest FC United/northerncare football tournament. Giving the youngsters in the care of northerncare the chance to work together as teams whilst doing something they love was a perfect example of a positive outcome, according to David Rae, northerncare's Chief Executive. And it was a positive outcome for FC United too as it took another step towards cementing its growing reputation as a club fully committed to playing a meaningful role in the broader community.

The day started in hectic fashion as throngs of excitable youngsters eddied around FC's own Vinny Thompson, northerncare's Laura Harvie and Keeley Dunn, and their small team of volunteers as they patiently tried to register the teams, hand out t-shirts and bibs and direct the kids to the right part of the JJB. Amazingly, order did gradually emerge from the good-natured chaos as the youngsters donned coloured bibs and finally got on the pitches to play a bit of football. Four courts had been block-booked for the tournament and one end of the JJB was transformed into a little corner of the FC universe as flag after flag appeared and was draped along the sides of each court. In fact, the legendary FC bar flag - yes, that bar flag - was hung along the whole length of one of the courts and formed a magnificent backdrop to the game itself.

The tournament featured twelve teams from northerncare homes from as far away as Hull and Nottingham and teams from local authorities such as Salford, Bury, Oldham and Cheshire. Over 100 young people between the ages of 10 and 17 were taking part and the teams presented a wonderfully diverse mix of age, size, culture and sex all seeming to be setting about the task with genuine enthusiasm, and in a good spirit and with no little skill either. FC Manager Karl Marginson was there and he must have been impressed with some of the technical ability on display. In addition to neat footwork and deft dribbling skills, the players displayed an impressive range of non-football skills too as they supported and encouraged each other and even calmed each other down when things got a little over-excited.

northerncare's Chief Executive, David Rae, had only good things to say about the event and as one of the largest providers of residential childcare with education in the UK, northerncare is fully aware of the importance of including young people in care in the community and achieving positive outcomes. After a lukewarm response to the first tournament - these are teenagers, after all - David had seen signs that the positive feedback from those who had taken part last time was encouraging others to get involved. And that's reflected in the fact that the number of youngsters participating is increasing with every tournament. David also made the interesting point that clubs like FC United could do things that clubs at the top level could not. How many top-level clubs could invite such large numbers of young people to a game and provide a guided tour of the ground? It was difficult to gauge, he said, the positive impact of giving these youngsters the chance to visit a football club boardroom. It was just a shame that on this particular Saturday the FC home game against Ashton United had had to give way to Bury's FA Cup tie with Gillingham. Still, there's always next time.

It has to be said that there was one pitch on which things threatened to get out of hand as players got overly aggressive, a few harsh words were exchanged and the will to win seemed to get the better of some people. This was the pitch on which the FC squad were training! If you want to know why we have so many players injured on a matchday, come and watch these lads train. They don't do friendlies. Actually, they seemed to love it and to have as much fun as the kids taking part in the tournament. It was a great idea for Karl to bring the players along and it certainly added to the occasion. One young lad took the opportunity to get his football shirt signed by the FC players - his Bury FC football shirt. Look out for that one on eBay.

There were three team prizes up for grabs in the tournament: the Cup for main competition winners and the Shield and the Plate for teams that lost out in the main competition and went into the play-offs. The Gold Team proved the best team in the tournament and carried off the Cup whilst the Shield went to the White Team and the Green Team picked up the Plate. There were individual prizes too and they were just rewards for some very skilful displays. Kevin from Salford picked up the prize for best older player while Connor from The Nook in Colne scooped the prize for best younger player. But none of the youngsters that took part went away empty-handed as all participants received a medal, certificate and an FC United goodie bag containing a badge, key-ring, hat and scarf.

After all that huffing and puffing in the morning, it was off to the St. Ann's Social Club in Stretford in the afternoon for some well-earned refreshments and the presentation of medals and trophies. These were handed out by FC manager Karl Marginson who was ably supported by his lovely assistants - Chaddy, Jerome and Sam Ashton. northerncare's Operations Director, Billy Grace then rounded off a superb day by congratulating everyone that had played their part in making it such a success. I'm sure we'll be doing it again soon.

There can only be one verdict on the latest FC United/northerncare football tournament - a positive outcome for everyone involved. The kids loved it and so did the volunteers from northerncare and FC United who gave up their Saturday to make the tournament possible. FC had 14 volunteers present doing everything from keeping scores to refereeing matches and hanging out flags. It was a case of just turning up and mucking in. Though the words "just turning up" hardly seem adequate to cover the case of one FC volunteer who set off at six in the morning from Birmingham to be there. Fantastic.

For more on the work done by northerncare, click on the image below:

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