Football clubs have always been an integral part of the communities they represent. But their influence is not limited to what happens on the field.
Beyond match day, there are a wide range of initiatives to help in the community – and clubs have highlighted their work during the English Football League’s Working Week.
A recent report measuring the impact of EFL clubs’ work in their community states that 72 clubs and their community organizations created more than £865m of social value across England and Wales during the 2021-22 season.
BBC Sport takes a look at some of the charts across the EFL.
Restore physical fitness for new mothers
Hayley Kinnaird and Elle Leggatt are new moms looking to get back in shape after recently giving birth.
They are helped by the local football club Doncaster Rovers. The couple also take their children with them.
“I was part of the trial course,” Hayley said. “I joined when my son was about five and a half months old – he’s now about seven months old.”
I heard about sessions at a local fitness group and attend every week.
“It was a little intimidating to think that this was Doncaster Rovers – a football club,” Ellie said. “But once you start attending the sessions, you feel comfortable because even though the baby is your priority, you are also a priority.”
She describes the sessions as “a good balance between mental health and physical health,” something Hayley agrees with.
“We go at our own pace and the support is there if you need help with how to do a particular exercise. It was nice to have a support network from other moms too – it was really helpful.”
Their story highlights the experiences of many people across the country who live in the same area as the ESL Club running similar schemes in their local community.
Doncaster Health and Wellbeing Coordinator Lorraine Platts explained, “Doncaster is the second most deprived area in Yorkshire, we’ve designed the course to offer something for mums who can’t afford baby groups or a session with a personal trainer.”
“Moms soon after giving birth need very low-impact exercise, and for some, it’s not safe to exercise, so they just come in to enjoy the social aspect. They can do it at their own pace.”
Sometimes a workout is just a stroll around Doncaster’s Eco-Power stadium or a session with resistance bands. There is also a mental health midwife who talks to the mothers, and runs regular sessions on nutrition.
“A lot of mums don’t have the confidence after giving birth to go to the gym,” said Lauren, who notes that nearly 600,000 women give birth in the UK each year.
“Everyone here is on the same wavelength—they’ve all had a baby, so there’s the mental health aspect. Not just the physical aspect of having a baby.”
Doncaster full-back Tommy Rowe said he was “honored” to be asked to come off and take part. “I have three young children,” he said. “My wife and I know firsthand what these people are going through, especially as we go through the era of Covid.”
Rowe joined the session, joking that he felt “a little pain” afterward, though he was amazed that the children remained silent on the floor while their mothers worked with the gluteal bands.
“Sometimes the hardest thing is going there,” he added. “But this is open to the general public — we want to hear each other’s stories.”
Spreading awareness of knife crimes
At Bradford City, the mood is even more somber as manager Mark Hughes discusses the local Bantams initiative, which aims to raise awareness of the dangers of knife crime.
“It’s a real concern for a lot of communities and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be resolved anytime soon,” he said.
Hughes, the former Manchester United player who has coached Wales – as well as six Premier League teams – feels a club like Bradford are the perfect size to reach out to the community.
“We have a lot of reach and when we do things they get noticed,” he said. “So we’re able to shed light on this problem, and with our fan base, we’re able to touch a lot of people.”
The Bradford Initiative is designed to alert youngsters to how situations can get out of control and how to avoid it. Last year the local Bradford newspaper ran a story An eight-year-old boy who was caught carrying a blade at school.
“There is an element that thinks it’s good to carry knives. But that can unfortunately lead to tragedy and disaster,” said Hughes, who saw first-hand the work Premier League clubs did in the community when he was playing.
“Bradford are poor and people are struggling to make ends meet. It is important for the club to step up and make an impact.”
Skateboarding to help refugees settle
Former Wycombe Wales striker Sam Vokes played it safe during the Week of Action on his club’s initiative, perhaps wise to do so.
First League Side developed a skateboarding center for the growing number of refugees in the city as a way of introducing them to each other, to the city and the locals.
“I started sitting on a skateboard—I couldn’t stand up on a skateboard,” said Fox. “In the end I managed to pull myself up while clinging to the wall.
“When I was little and down the skate park, all my mates had a skateboard and they looked so cool. I couldn’t even trust myself standing on a skateboard.”
Wycombe connected with newly arrived members of the community through the Wycombe Refugee Coalition which already ran a number of sports, including skateboarding.
The club ran it through the local council and it was a success so when they ran out of money they included it in their Premier League Kicks programme.
“We have identified that there is an increasing number of refugees coming to High Wycombe, with little provision for sport or social opportunities,” said Luke Godfrey, of Wycombe Wanderers.
“It could be a challenge [to engage with them] Because they don’t have much means of communicating with other people outside of their immediate family – this makes it all the more important that our connections are strong.
“It’s not just young people who are involved, when you talk to their mums and dads you can see that it helps them come and talk to the staff.”
Wycombe now has a Skateboard Academy UK Professional Skateboard Coach to help people improve their skills.
“It’s just fun games and getting people comfortable on a skateboard – there’s no set curriculum or specific goals,” Godfrey added.
However, the skateboard group has designs to expand its reach. They are learning skateboard maintenance to get the best out of their boards and are looking to plan and produce their own lines of boards and apparel.
Godfrey believes smaller clubs have a better chance of reaching the local area with their initiatives.
“They are able to spend more face time in the community,” he said. “There is not this business aspect that trumps everything that is being done.
“There’s not much of a financial aspect to being involved in the community for clubs like us but we still do – it’s the ups and downs.”
Vokes added: “Community is the heart of a club like Wycombe. I don’t know if they’ll come over on Saturday to watch us, but the main thing is it’s great to see people from different backgrounds coming together.”
“They seem to have a lot of fun when they come here and they have a great group of friends – from all different backgrounds – which is great for the organization.”
Other initiatives from the EFL Workweek
Hartlepool United She organized a bowls club for veterans to help improve their health and well-being, with the help of the local armed forces.
Northampton Town Manager John Brady and other first-team coaches have set up NHS health checks, designed to identify early signs of stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes or dementia for people aged 40 to 74.
burnley Chairman Vincent Kompany attended the club-run mental health program in local schools, which aims to build resilience and well-being. Claret says they have helped more than 4,000 students with mental health issues in the past three years.
Sheffield Wednesday Principal Darren Moore attended one of the sessions of the anti-racism club, which the Owls run in conjunction with local schools.
Ipswich Town Midfielder George Edmundson was present – as is so often the case – at the club’s disabled football session, having kitted the squad out of his own pocket when he discovered they were missing their usual Tractor Boys kit.