Northern Irish grassroots football club St Oliver Plunkett have won the gold award for Best Club in the 2017 UEFA Grassroots Awards.
The youth-based club uses football as a medium to develop young people from a disadvantaged community in Northern Ireland.
Promoting key values such as respect and fair play, the Belfast club has given over 500 boys and girls from different backgrounds from the age of four upwards the opportunity to play football together.
“As far as we’re concerned, everybody’s welcome through that door. We just want to get our message out that it doesn’t matter what ability you have, it doesn’t matter what box somebody wants to put you in, you’re more than welcome at our club,” club secretary Neil McKee told Uefa.com.
“The young people take great pride in the jersey and they’re proud putting it on every single week. It’s not just about the football. There’s that sense of belonging, the pride in the jersey, the camaraderie, the teamwork. Everything comes together and strengthens those bonds. I’ve known a lot of the coaches at the club since primary school; we’ve been friends for life. And it’s vitally important that we offer those opportunities for the young people of today.”
Michael Boyd, Director of Football Development at the Irish Football Association (IFA), added: “We’re trying to grow our participation rates to 100,000 young people involved in football, and the best way to do that is to have big, strong, inclusive clubs that are at the heart of the community. So we’re very focused on trying to support clubs in the mould of St Oliver Plunkett. It’s a great, community focused club. It just shines through in everybody you speak to here.”