Wednesday 09 May 2012
Barclays Premier League club Queens Park Rangers is leading the way in promoting football among Gypsy, Roma and Travelling communities.
To underline its role as a shining light in the field, QPR hosted a conference at its Loftus Road ground with the equality and inclusion campaign Kick It Out, to show other clubs across the country how to engage Travelling communities in their local areas.
"We can help to open the doors for people to listen, to be more open minded, to open the doors so your voices can be heard, Kick It Out chairman Lord Herman Ouseley told the conference.
"We're not scared of working with anybody, we pride ourselves on our inclusion work"
- QPR's Gareth Dixon
QPR established Moving The Goalposts in 2006 in partnership with the Football Foundation and Ealing's Gypsy Roma and Travellers Achievement Service. The project's aim is to give GRT communities better access to football.
"At QPR, we like to think we're quite innovative with what we do," says Gareth Dixon, who leads the Moving The Goalposts project for the QPR In The Community Trust.
"We're not scared of working with anybody, we pride ourselves on our inclusion work."
Through the project, Jason McCarthy, a member of the Travelling community, became an FA Level 2 qualified coach. The project now runs three adult coaching sessions a week, has a Sunday five-a-side team and works with young GRTs, too.
McCarthy, who grew up in Southall, west London, says he felt excluded when he was turned away from local football teams as a child.
"The excuse was they were full, they had enough players. As a kid, when you hear that, it feels very disappointing, it feels like you're being left out of stuff," he said.
"I reckon it could have been they were worried that as a traveller, I might get into fights or cause trouble, cause problems for the team."
Football is not a sport that GRT communities would naturally turn to, with boxing proving far more popular.
Billy Joe Saunders, who hails from a Travellers' community near Hatfield in Hertfordshire, was Britain's youngest competitor at the 2008 Olympics and won the Commonwealth middlewight title in just 30 seconds last month.
"I hope eventually it's not even about being a traveller"
- Jason McCarthy
Of current players in the English football league, only Tottenham playmaker Rafael van der Vaart, who grew up on a caravan park in northern Holland, and Southend striker Freddy Eastwood, have Traveller roots.
Dixon says that for the moment, the focus of Moving The Goalposts is about inclusion and engagement, rather than rooting out future first-team players.
"It's not a perfect world but if we can give travellers the same opportunities and the same access to football, then it will only grow through communities and through generations as well."
McCarthy, though, would love to discover the "next Wayne Rooney" from his community - and when he does, he hopes their background is no longer an issue.
"I hope eventually it's not even about being a traveller, that it's just not a big deal by then."