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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Benjamin Roberts-Haslam

Community football club that's holding its ground against Liverpool and Everton

On a wet and windy Thursday evening, people are coming in and out as Bootle FC train on the saturated grass at the Berry Street Garage Stadium.

The non-league football ground is welcoming and not just home to the Bucks, it's also home to Bootle Bucks Inclusion FC, a team making waves across the country for its grip on inclusivity. The CIC (community interest company) has managed to not just rub shoulders with Liverpool and Everton, but it is now at the point where it is ahead of the Premier League clubs in terms of the number of people the club helps inclusively.

Bootle Bucks Inclusion FC was formed in April 2018 by friends, John Doran, John Callaghan, John Rice, Keith Woodhouse and Gareth Ace. Despite the side's rapid growth over the last four years, its future has been in doubt.

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Last week the side's coaches and founders calling a meeting to discuss whether they would be able to continue using the club's facilities after they moved to the Netherton Activity Centre due to the pitch being "overused".

Thankfully, John Doran, one of the side's founders, along with the higher-ups of Bootle FC, ironed out any potential problems; with the Bucks having 170 registered members, it would have been a large-scale rehoming project. The idea of the Bucks is to involve as many people as possible in football, using the sport as an escape from any struggles.

John Durham told the ECHO: "Tonight, we've just come back from a six-week break, the Liverpool Counties North West leagues are set to start up again and we've just had an influx of players. I'll give you an example, we were contacted by a local agency who are looking after single travelling asylum seekers aged 16-24 and they said that there were two separate lads, Jonathan and Rezza.

"Jonathan has come all the way from Eritrea and has ended up in Bootle on his own. He spent six months in Calais and he just loves football. He was put in sheltered accommodation in Litherland and he was getting himself into trouble because he was knocking on people's doors with a football asking 'do you want to play footy?', he and another lad, Rezza, who has come from Afghanistan whose dad, who was an interpreter for the British, was killed by the Taliban when we pulled out.

"His mum and his younger brother are still in Afghanistan but he's only 17, a very clever lad, wants to be an engineer and his mum just sent him on his way. He travelled on his own to Bootle, he's now studying to be an engineer and is playing football for us.

Coaches meeting for Bootle Bucks Inclusion FC (Liverpool Echo)

"Now, because we've had an influx of these players, we've got to plan our football. Tonight, it's back to football, we're putting team lists on the board and figuring out who's playing where. It's Sky Sports deadline day here."

The inclusivity also covers age, with children as young as four taking part in training as well as people as old as 64. John also revealed the league the under-13s side competes in, is largely filled with teams they have formed.

John said Bootle Bucks Inclusion FC managed to field six teams with different names in just one league last season, with Liverpool and Everton both entering two. The success of the sides isn't just an achievement for the players, it's also an achievement for the coaches, with many of them having never coached football before.

One rookie, Keith Roberts, only joined Inclusion six months ago, with the Netherton-born teacher on the verge of moving out of the country. Since joining the club, and starting a new job, he's fallen in love with the area again, with Keith now committed more than ever to giving back.

Alfie Butler, one of the first-ever players for Bootle Bucks Inclusion FC, playing pool (Liverpool Echo)

Sitting in the function bar at the football ground, Keith sipped a pint of Guinness and struggled to hide the passion and excitement that comes with being involved in coaching and playing football with those who would otherwise struggle. He said: "I don't want to be dead cliché but I will, it's sort of changed my life in a weird way. It's given me context.

"I was so close to leaving, I was on my way six months ago. I was sick of everything. But now I've got something really important going on on my doorstep that I can't find anywhere else in the world.

"I love this place. There's no agendas, no egos, no one gets paid. I was told this when I was younger and I was brought up with this ethos, 'if you can help somebody, you should help somebody'. That is exactly what I see at Bootle Bucks Inclusion FC."

Bootle FC's training session at the Berry Street Garage Stadium (Liverpool Echo)

Football is a sport that brings people of all backgrounds together, a sport that has always encouraged inclusivity, which non-league football has always thrived at. The Bucks bring that sense of family and togetherness from the stands and onto the pitch.

The CIC also exclusively sponsors one of the stands at the Berry Street Garage Stadium, with fans of all ages going to watch Bootle FC week in, week out, often giving people their first experience of live football, as well as being able to bring money into the community football club. Financially, the Bucks manage to get by, but almost all of that is down to the goodwill of those who volunteer.

As the rain continued to pour down on the wet September evening, a dozen coaches and chairmen of the club took to a table in the bar area of the stadium to discuss the plans for the upcoming season. With pints of lager littering the table, the volunteers, for the fourth year running, came together to see how they could help change the lives of each and every person involved in the club.


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