Communities

Southover's band of friends ready to shine for Brighton

By Mark Orlovac 12 Jun 2024
Southover Primary School, Premier League Primary Stars, Brighton

Discover how friendships and community have helped one school's journey to Thursday's Premier League Primary Stars football tournament

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Hundreds of children from across the country are gathering at Brentford FC's Gtech Community Stadium this week for a once-in-a-lifetime experience as they compete in the latest Premier League Primary Stars football tournament.

Over the last few months, thousands of children have been competing in regional tournaments for the chance to represent their local Premier League club in Under-11s girls and mixed team competitions.

The tournament is one of the competition elements of the Premier League Primary Stars education programme.

One of those schools taking part is Southover Church of England Primary School in Lewes, who have the honour of representing defending champions Brighton & Hove Albion. This is their story.

Southover CofE Primary School (Lewes)

When the Southover team of Alisa, Edie, Iris, Ivy, Lara, Lexi, Sofija and Vera take to the field on Thursday, it will be a celebration of friendships and bonds that will last for many years to come.

A symbol of that togetherness is shown by how the group has given a sense of community to three of their team members: Sofija, who is from Croatia, and Alisa and Vera, who joined the school as a result of the conflict in Ukraine.

"Coming to the UK from Ukraine was a big step for Vera and Alisa," says Southover headteacher and football coach Noel Fadden. "They came over with their mums and their English was limited.

"I said we'd take them because they needed to be in school, they needed to be learning. It was the least we could do at the time of their crisis.

"They're now a close-knit bunch of eight girls. I'm so pleased with how they've done."

When the trio first arrived at Southover, football and playing in the team helped the girls settle in their new surroundings.

"They hadn't played football before but they came along to the football club with me," Noel says. "I deliberately picked them to play in the early games so it would build their confidence.

"They enjoyed it and being part of that team has cemented friendships, it's given them a sense of pride in what they're doing. For them it means so much.

Alisa and Vera

"We have known each other since nursery. Coming to the UK from Ukraine was made easier because there were two of us, we were together the whole time. At the very start we felt shut off because our English wasn't that good but we made friends with the girls in the football team. We didn't play football and it was hard at first. We've improved a lot. We're going to be a bit nervous playing at Brentford but it's going to be very cool. We're really excited. Our families are very proud of us. It's hard to put into words what being part of a team means to us. They are all our friends and we're not afraid to make mistakes. We feel free and more relaxed because they support us."

Alisa and Vera

"This has helped the parents of the girls get to know each other too. To see this happening makes you feel like you are making a difference."

Having come through qualifying by winning the final in a penalty shootout, Southover will be one of the teams living out their dreams at the Gtech Community Stadium as they experience life as a Premier League footballer for a day.

They will wear their club's kit, play on a top-flight pitch, walk out of the tunnel to the Premier League anthem and will compete in matches refereed by Premier League, EFL and WSL officials.

The significance of seeing the team play on such a big stage is not lost on their headteacher.

"It will be the culmination of four years of work for the team," Noel says. "I'll be so proud of all of them. All the things that you get as a teacher, such as one of the players needing extra reassurance because she has anxiety, it's going to be lovely seeing them in this setting.

"I am proud of what the three newer girls have achieved and the fact that they are a part of this community and team. It's a success for the players and for their families as well.

Sofija

"This team helped me learn English. When I first joined I felt left out, I didn't know how to speak with the team but since joining them, I feel great - they made me feel welcome. It gave me a friendship group. I'd be upset if I didn't have this team because I have so many good memories with them, and this is probably going to be the best one! My team-mates are so nice, we know how to work as a team. They mean everything to me. I'll be speechless when we get to Brentford, I'm not going to believe it. Walking out of the tunnel I'll be nervous but excited at the same time."

Premier League Primary Stars, Sofija, Brighton

"When they walk out they will probably get a tingle down their spine and I'll have a quiet smile about how well they've done. It will probably be something they'll talk about for many, many years to come.

"This tournament will build their confidence going to secondary school. Hopefully it will inspire them to continue to play football there which will help them integrate."

And no matter what happens in the Premier League Primary Stars football tournament, the team's achievements will leave a lasting legacy at Southover School.

"This has raised the profile for girls football," Noel says. "It shows that girls can play football and that they can be successful. We're having lots more younger girls coming to football now.

"There are girls on our field at lunchtime playing football now as a direct consequence of this team's success. They want to be successful too."

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