Friday 20 September 2013
"My dad said you would meet some wonderful people through football and here I am, meeting wonderful people who aren't just thinking about themselves but about other people. My dad was right. This game heals all sorts of wounds. It teaches you how can't achieve something on your own, you can be part of team, you need someone around you, a community, and that's what we can do – we can reach out to people who haven't got what we've got and make them shine and believe in themselves."
With these words Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway summed up the impact that his club’s Foundation has been having on the local community and South London. Holloway was speaking as the CPFC Foundation launched its three-year community strategy at Croydon Town Hall.
"Palace has supported me through all the tough times and stuck by me. They have saved my life"
The launch, which was hosted by Sky Sports presenter Vicky Gomersall, also celebrated the club's new Barclays Premier League status under Holloway's management after promotion from the Championship via the play-offs last season. Attendees were serenaded to the club's anthem, "Glad All Over", by the Croydon Seventh-Day Adventist Gospel Choir before hearing about the Foundation's plans for the next three years.
David Groves, the Foundation’s chairman, and Donald Forde, its head, outlined the five key aims to the new strategy: Growing the Game, Childhood Support, Youth and Community Development, Education, Employment and Business and Health and Wellbeing.
There was also a chance for those attending to hear from the young people the Foundation has helped.
Aaron McGrath was a young troublemaker who ended up in prison through a spiral of alcohol, drugs and depression and credits the Foundation with saving his life.
"I would probably still be in prison, or not alive by now," said McGrath, who was introduced to the Foundation as a volunteer by the Prince's Trust on his release from prison. "Football has always been my love, the one thing I’ve been passionate about and every single person at Palace has supported me through all the tough times and stuck by me. They have saved my life."
Deborah King was the only football-mad person in a family of five girls, but was devastated to be told at 16 that she could never play again after suffering severe ligament damage in both knees. But the Foundation offered her the chance to train for free to become a Level 1 FA coach and she is using these skills at 18 to support other girls into the game while going to university to study biomedical science.
"My heart was broken because playing football was the only way to express my passion," King said. "I will be grateful to the Foundation for that training as long as I live as it gave me a platform to be a part of their institution and to pursue a passion of mine that will not go away."
The auditorium also heard about Mark Heritage, who as an autistic child first attending school at the age of five, stood on the edge of the playground finding it hard to join in games and make friends. But thanks to regular coaching sessions provided by CPFC Foundation at his school his life was changed and, now aged 12, Heritage is Sutton Little League's Player of the Year and a respected, confident team player with a wide circle of friends.
"This is a club with a heart beating so loud I want the rest of London to remember it"
"When I first met Mark he was a little boy who had a barrier against the world – he had no self-belief and didn’t know how to like himself," Violet D'Sauza, his teaching assistant, said, fighting back tears of joy at how the little boy had blossomed. "But that one little thing, the football coaching, made a massive difference to this boy's life. It taught him to believe in himself, to like himself and that he could achieve anything he wanted."
For Holloway, the work he had witnessed at Palace was testament to the words of advice his father had given.
"I am so proud of what Crystal Palace does in the community," said Holloway, who said he felt like coming to Croydon was "like coming home" revealing that he had lived there with his future wife. "To me this is a club with a heart beating so loud I want the rest of London to remember it.
"I wish everyone could be touched by Palace. You won't ever forget this place because it's absolutely sensational."