Over 130 teams descended on the village of Woburn, Milton Keynes, on the weekend of June 24-25 for one of the country’s largest grassroots football events.
McDonald’s are delivering Community Football Days in partnership with the four UK Football Associations and grassroots football clubs, and teams travelled from all over southern England to take part in Woburn & Wavendon F.C’s annual tournament.
The weekend was all about girls’ football with tournaments taking place in each age category from under 8 to under 16, as well as a ladies tournament on Sunday.
With the earliest matches starting at 9am and the finals not taking place until the evening, it was a hectic day in Woburn, a day dedicated to ‘fun, friendship and fantastic football’.
There was much excitement about the appearance of former England and Arsenal defender Martin Keown, the special FA ambassador who had come to support this the event.
Woburn & Wavendon F.C club chairman Robert Hill revealed excitement in the town was at fever pitch prior to the event.
“Everybody’s been very excited, particularly knowing that Martin Keown is on his way – that always helps to have a celebrity,” he said. “McDonald’s supports all the attractions that are here and that really helps. It’s a lovely day and a nice friendly atmosphere, and it shows everything off in the right light.”
With over three million active female players, football is the biggest women’s team sport in England and Hill is keen to see these tournaments increase participation in the women’s game.
“I think they’re key really,” he continued. “It’s very important that we don’t enclose them just for people that are in the clubs. We’ve been trying desperately to get people to come along who are perhaps just interested but haven’t taken the plunge – particularly girls’ football because there’s not the same take-up that there is with boys’ football and we’ve really got to push those boundaries a little bit further to show what it’s all about, what a marvellous day out they can have and what a marvellous season they can have in a girls’ football team.”
There was also a McDonald’s activity area to the side of the pitches which proved a big hit with the girls who could play inside an inflatable pitch, have their shot speed measured and even practice their celebrations in front of a slow motion camera on the ‘knee slider’.
Local parent Margery Williams said her children were champing at the bit ahead of the tournament.
“They’ve been in this event previously, they know it’s always a really good competitive event and there are always some particular teams that they are looking forward to matching themselves against,” she said. “I think the fact we’ve got the McDonald's team here and there are some extra bits and pieces, they were looking forward to what they’d see on the day.”
Played across six pitches, the format for the under 10s and upwards was a group stage, followed by semi-finals and a final.
Local McDonald’s franchisee Ken Tomkins was there to enjoy the action and, like Hill, believes that such tournaments can only help in increasing grassroots participation both locally and nationally.
“I’m hoping that this is a galvanising moment for girls who have obviously travelled great distances to be here, as well as local teams, where they get the thrill of playing in a really strongly organised competition,” he said. “Win or lose, the thought that they are travelling and coming to a big, big tournament, surely that’s going to inspire them and more people to come and join the girls’ game which is really important for us I think.”
Tomkins was delighted to see McDonald’s host another successful Community Football Day and knows how important they are for local communities.
“I think the tournament is a major, major moment for the local area,” he added. “Support for local grassroots football is longstanding in McDonald’s UK – it’s our number one focus.”
Keown himself enjoyed the tournament and praised the club for everything that went into a memorable occasion for children and parents alike.
“It’s great to be here at Woburn & Wavendon FC Community Day helping McDonald’s celebrate 15 years of supporting grassroots football," he said. "It's a pleasure to be invited down to see so many kids and their families coming together to enjoy football. The club have put on a fantastic event and done a great job in organising everything that has gone into the day. You can really see the passion for football shine through in the volunteers and they are a credit to the club.”
The club starts preparing for its annual event a year in advance and relies heavily on the fantastic support of volunteers and parents. With so much great football taking place and the girls clearly having fun, it was most certainly time well spent.