More than a game

Teamwork and camaraderie: Doncaster's journey to the PL Kicks Cup

By Mark Orlovac 3 Oct 2023
Premier League Kicks, Doncaster Rovers

How one team came together to defy the odds at the national PL Kicks finals and create unforgettable memories

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Doncaster Rovers' journey to the Premier League Kicks Cup is not just a story of football skill and resilience, it's a tale of camaraderie, friendship and creating opportunities.

For this year's competition, Club Doncaster Foundation had a unique way of picking their squad - selecting a player from different PL Kicks sessions across the city.

The team were made up of disability players and refugee participants as well as those from mainstream PL Kicks.

"We've been to previous tournaments and we've been taking the same kids," says Sam Hickman, Club Doncaster Foundation community coach.

Premier League Kicks, Doncaster Rovers v2

"We didn't want to just pick the best players. We wanted to make it inclusive and give the chance to young people we thought would benefit most in terms of making new friends and having the experience of a good day out.

"This was for those young people who wouldn't normally get the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and push themselves - a lot of the players haven't been out of Doncaster."

The team came together for the first time at the PL Kicks Cup regional qualifiers where their impressive attitude and behaviour led to them winning the Fair Play Award and a place at the national tournament at Warwick University over the summer.

In Warwick, Doncaster Rovers came up against players from across the country and they defied the odds, coming through their group and only losing their quarter-final on penalties against eventual finalists Arsenal.

"The team spirit was probably better than I've ever seen," Hickman says. "If someone made a mistake, they all supported eachother. Their sportsmanship and togetherness were off the charts.

"They've seen what it's like to get out of Doncaster and realise that it's not all about winning. We got beaten on penalties and they're still happy. They have said to me that this is the best day they've ever had."

And for this Doncaster team, the impact of being involved in the PL Kicks Cup will last long into the future.

 "I'm sure they'll all go back to their sessions and tell everyone about the tournament," Hickman says. "They'll be the leaders of their group now.

Premier League Kicks, Doncaster Rovers v Arsenal

"I was so proud seeing them playing and speaking with others. On the coach, everyone was laughing and having a good time. Previously they weren't confident lads, they didn't talk much, but they have come out of their shells. That's a massive thing.

"It's about giving them opportunities to meet other people, gain confidence and to learn skills that they can take away.

"It will be in the days and weeks to come when they realise what they have achieved. We might not have been the best team but what we've created is far more important."

The Premier League Kicks Cup is just one part of a programme that is delivered by 89 professional football clubs throughout the year.

Premier League Kicks, funded by the Premier League through the Premier League Charitable Fund, uses the power of football and sport to inspire young people to reach their potential, in some of the most high-need areas in England and Wales.

More than half a million people have benefited to date.

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