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CYFC: One Year On

It began with a simple suggestion of a kickabout, it manifested into something much more. From a fleeting Friday remark, to strike up a conversation and find common interest, to now involving school children in a ‘design a shirt’ competition; this is the story of CYFC, one year on. George Jones writes…

City Year football club
As so often is the way in life, great ideas start off as mere simple ideas. A passing thought that may be greeted with some approval. This was the case during an uneventful Friday lunch hour at the Edgbaston Community Centre during early October, at which time many of us were still getting to know one another in the West Midlands cohort. The idea of a group of us, who appeared to all share an interest in football, having a “kickabout sometime”, with the possibility of hosting a game between one another, was met with initial interest. As phone numbers were exchanged and a WhatsApp group formed, the seed was sown for the turn of events that now leads me to penning this article twelve months later.

After much deliberation, regarding time, schedule, who was available and when, another suggestion was flouted- this time on an evening discussion via the aforementioned (and soon to be historical reference point) WhatsApp group. “Wouldn’t it be easier if we looked into joining a midweek league?” But of course. That requires less numbers; we would need just one team instead of two. Good idea. Additionally, it will allow us to share regular time together, as by this stage friendships were beginning to take root. Fantastic. But where?

This presented us with our next obstacle: geography. With the members of our proposed team spread across the boundaries of Birmingham and Coventry, finding somewhere geographically suited for us all posed the next concern. Further deliberation ensued before eventually finding a suitable location. As for a time, Thursday evening was agreed…due in no small part to the fact that Friday gatherings as a cohort had a later start; to which we must thank the powers-that-be at City Year for such ingenious foresight.

And so, on Thursday 31st October 2019, City Year Football Club made its first official steps, joining a Thursday night league in the Birmingham region of Yardley, where a group of mentors, led by manager, goalkeeper, (and when he finds the time — Impact Officer) Oliver Wheeler. soon developed into a close-knit team. During our time in the brisk winter nights of Yardley, we learnt valuable lessons as a side, which would stand us in good stead, whilst obtaining some memorable victories along the way, before making the move to the Solihull Thursday night league at the turn of the calendar year.

By the time we had reached our new place of competition, CYFC had become a considerable force both on and off the field. As well as taking delight in sharing our latest exploits from the night before with the cohort every Friday, word had also spread south, as London sought to emulate the establishment of our new City Year UK representation. Emails and ideas were exchanged, which included the ambitious plan to host an annual charity day for all cohorts across the UK, with the box office event being the grudge match between the Midlands and London sides. This coincided with the wider idea to host charity games between City Year UK’s corporate partners, including the likes of National Grid and DHL. Plans were drawn up, meetings were held, and it appeared that the wheels were firmly in motion. The forthcoming spring and summer of 2020 sounded very exciting.

Now…you all are aware of the next twist in the unfortunate chapter of this tale, so I shall not dwell on something that we are all sick of hearing about. In brief, we all locked ourselves away, with the regular utterances of: “Who are we playing this week?” and “What time’s kick off?, being replaced by some new buzz-words: ‘Zoom call’ and ‘Google Hangout’.

The curtailment of the league season struck a huge blow for CYFC, at a time when plans were being made to showcase the talent and innovation of the cohort. Despite such setbacks, it was never disputed that CYFC would survive post-lockdown, as the original members of the team (now CYUK alumni), were keen to oversee the transition of welcoming new players to the club, remaining committed to representing City Year UK and building on the work that we began. We are delighted that the team now has new players from this year’s cohort who share the same enthusiasm for our project.

We would also like to extend our gratitude to friend of City Year UK, Patrick Flaherty, for his generous offer to fund our new football shirt and for seeing the value in what we are trying to create. The support of people like Patrick is invaluable to us and helps cement the aims of the club in remaining a part of the furniture at City Year for the foreseeable future.

We hope CYFC marks the beginning of a greater sporting project within the institution, sparking the imaginations of more Volunteer Mentors to organise clubs and communicative practices that can showcase the best of City Year UK. We see the club as an instrument to further extol the values of City Year UK and have sought from the beginning to mirror the charity’s ethos. A club based on the principles of determination, spirit, and teamwork, with young adults growing as individuals in a social setting, forming lasting friendships and harnessing new leadership skills.

CY volunteer mentors on the football field
Despite the CYFC Wishlist having a few more items ticked off its agenda, with funding, new cohort involvement, a badge, and a bespoke shirt all accounted for, our imagination continues to aspire further — and with that we extend an invitation to welcome new voices with innovative ideas. The club does not want to ever be viewed upon as a closed shop for those who have a love of football and enjoy playing the game. Rather we see CYFC as a club of inclusivity and entirely open to engaging with everyone. To have an idea is to hold a place at this club. This is illustrated by the fact that our majestic round badge was created by a non-playing member of the cohort. Moreover, the pre-covid discussions of hosting charity events was to be led by, again, non-playing members of the club. Furthermore, it has been fantastic to see Impact Officers and Volunteer Mentors attending our games, in at times very trying conditions. As ever, we are grateful for your continued support. It provides a great source of motivation to the team with having recently boasted attendances as high as 6, far exceeding that of any of the current crowds in the Premier League.

Reflecting on CYFC’s one-year anniversary is a lesson for everyone involved in the organisation. The limits of what you want to achieve at City Year UK, is merely the limits of your imagination. From the club’s inception, City Year UK has encouraged and supported us along our journey, never deterring us from our bold ideas. It is an organisation that encourages VM-led initiatives, and we hope that in years to follow, CYFC will be regarded as a signpost for what you can aspire to be involved in during your time at City Year UK.

If you like the values and ideas of CYFC but either do not have the same passion for playing the sport or would rather do something outside of sport altogether, then find other like-minded people, organise, search and discover. It would be fantastic to see a future where a wide variety of clubs and societies are established, that transcends beyond your own time at City Year UK. As you become part of an alumni, these sport clubs and/or societies can keep you in touch with the friends you made during your placement year as well as welcoming new members to the CYUK family.

Imagine a future in ten years time; City Year UK is celebrating its 20th anniversary in the UK and has a wide range of sports clubs from netball, cricket, athletics, CYFC football/soccer teams replicated across the UK, America and South Africa, and societies ranging from film club to baking. If this sounds all just a tad far-fetched, then imagine the scoffs and side-eyed looks you would have been met with if you had told a group of mentors on a Friday in October 2019, that this proposed ‘kickabout’ would lead to a club, with its own badge, competing in a league, and the funding for its own kit, designed by the children that they work with.

Perhaps what we may envisage will not come to pass, but what is certain is that time stands still for no one, and City Year UK will undoubtedly look a very different organisation in ten years time, with different cultural practices and different people leading the discussion. The opportunity for you now is to mould its future and leave behind a legacy. We guarantee that your voice will be met with attentive ears.

¡Viva CYFC!

Make sure to stay informed with all the latest goings on at CYFC by following the club’s Twitter @CityYearFC — complete with the latest team news and scores, as well as the suspect witticisms of Club Manager/Goalkeeper/Impact Officer (in that order), Oliver Wheeler. But do not let that put you off, it is by all accounts something to look out for every Thursday. Up the CY!

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