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Thriving Bootle Bucks Inclusion FC set out exciting vision after 'amazing' Festival of Football event

By Connor O'Neill

It was another weekend to remember for all those involved with Bootle Bucks Inclusion FC as the club hosted its second annual football festival.

Less than a year on from their first event, around 600 players from 64 teams took part in what has fast become the country's largest inclusion football festival. Players, coaches and supporters from across the UK arrived en masse to the club’s Berry Street Garage Stadium base, home of Bootle FC of the Northern Premier League.

Such was the demand to take part in the event, the club were forced to make the tournament a two day event this year. The youngsters took centre-stage on the Saturday, before the adults got their chance to shine the following day.

READ MORE: Bootle inclusion scheme already beating Everton and Liverpool

READ MORE: Liverpool dad taking football podcast world by storm after Jamie Carragher appearance

“Over the two days we had about 64 teams competing, unfortunately three or four had to pull out just before, as it was close to 70 on the original list,” club chairman John Rice tells the ECHO.

“Then, in terms of players, you are probably looking at around 10 per team so around 600 players took part in the tournament across the two days.

“Saturday was under-10s, under-13s and under-16s, and Sunday was adults. We had around 34 teams on Saturday and 30 teams on Sunday. So that was split across the two days.

“All in all there was probably around 1600 to 1700 people at Bootle Football Club, playing or spectating. It was absolutely amazing.”

Rice then continued: “The biggest reason was putting everyone together on the same day... it was crammed last year. All of them people on the same day means space would be at a premium.

“It wouldn’t have had the same feeling either. On the Saturday at the kids tournament there was a more of a good feeling vibe about it.

Action from Bootle Bucks Inclusion's Festival of Football event ((Paul Moran))

“All the kids are having a good time and playing football, some for the very first time. And then on Sunday the adults are a lot more competitive and a lot of them come to win.

“The adults have obviously played the game a lot longer and are playing to win and have played in a lot more tournaments. The two days were like chalk and cheese in that sense. But both of them were thoroughly enjoyable in their own way.

“And we couldn’t really have had all that on the same day, so that was the biggest need for the two days. It also gives people the chance, especially those coming over from Northern Ireland or Wales, to have a couple of days in Liverpool to see the sites.”

Set up in April 2018, Bootle Bucks Inclusion was started with a view to offering coaching to local, challenged children who had little or no access to organised football sessions. From an initial membership of 16 people the Bootle-based club now has over 200 active members aged from 4 years-old to 41.

Originally based in the King's Leadership Academy, the club relocated their weekly Saturday sessions to Bootle FC’s Berry Street Garage Stadium two years ago. And Rice believes not only are his club lucky to be able to use such a great facility, but that big tournaments will now be the norm for his club.

He said: “I think having Bootle Football Club as a partner and a facility... I don’t think anyone could come to Bootle and not be impressed with the ground or the pitch.

“The clubhouse and facility is fantastic. Most tournaments you go to are on a field with a vending machine and toilets in the sports centre and that is about it.

“We are lucky that we have that facility to use. The club has just grown so much since we started four years ago and I think we are now at a point where what we saw at the weekend is about normal for us now.

“We are not going to put little tournaments on anymore, we are too big. We had 19 teams in the tournament across the two days, and there is no other club who got anywhere near that number.

“So as we grow and grow, the tournaments are probably going to get bigger. The organisational side will get bigger as well with it.”

But it is not just Bootle FC who the club has such a strong bond with. Local business EMR has supported the club from the offset, along with a number of other companies and individuals. But such is the close relationship the club has with EMR, the metal recycling company recently helped fund the club's very own community stand at the Berry Street Garage Stadium.

“Across the four years we have had a fantastic partnership with EMR, who have financially supported and helped up with bodies at events and stuff,” Rice explained.

“They are always there on hand to help us out and made a massive investment in the stand at Bootle FC with our name on which is brilliant for Bootle Bucks Inclusion.

The Bootle Bucks Inclusion stand at Bootle FC's Berry Street Garage Stadium ((Paul Moran))

“We also have Julie Lawson, a local fundraiser in the Crosby area, who has been an amazing supporter of us. While this year we have had two new sponsors, the Carpenters Group, and Abbey Logistics, who both kindly donated money towards the cost of the tournament.

“We also had some individuals as well as it wasn’t just companies. The likes of a good friend of mine Kevin Harris and a good friend of one of our coaches, Tommy Webb. They both put money in out of their own pockets just because they see what goes on and are fully behind the ethos of the club.

“There are loads out there, Liverpool CHICS cancer charity, CalaDore, John Callaghan’s own firm, Paul Carlin, one of our coaches, has got a decorating firm, they were all helping out to cover the cost of the tournament. There are numerous others as well, and anyone who has helped us, I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

Less than one year after their official launch, the Bucks claimed the prestigious North West Football Award for 'Promoting Inclusion' after overcoming a final four shortlist including Everton, Manchester United and Wigan Athletic.

Another North West Football Award football award followed a year later, before the club was named Sports Team of the Year at the Liverpool ECHO’s yearly awards ceremony two years ago. And Rice can’t help but look back on what his club have achieved in such a short space of time with a huge sense of pride.

“It is hard to believe really. The original idea was to get one or two five-a-side teams and have a bit of fun,” he tells the ECHO when recalling the club’s rise.

“But it just snowballed so quickly. Considering we lost around the best part of two years because of Covid it is scary to think where we possibly could have been now.

“As the kids come through the door we do need coaches all the time. That is the biggest sort of task really. Getting good people with the dedication and commitment that the committee, the coaches and volunteers have got now.

“It is not just the Saturday mornings when we get together. It is a very busy club. So growing is not just the kids growing, it is obviously the backroom staff as well. But to get here now is just truly amazing.”

A return to their bread and butter of the Liverpool County FA Ability Counts League is next on the agenda for the club, before they get ready to head to Scotland for a tournament at the end of June, having already competed in the George Best International Disability Tournament back in the summer of 2019 in Belfast.

“We are having a couple of weeks break following the weekend’s events then we have a tournament in Scotland, starting on June 24 until June 26, at Stirling University,” Rice said when asked what was up next for the club.

“We obviously went to Belfast a few years ago and this is going to be our next big trip. I think there are about 110 people going to that.

“We have put on a couple of coaches and a few people are driving. I think we have about six teams involved and some of our friends, Margam Stags, Wrexham Inclusion, are both going up there.

“It will be another fantastic weekend for us and something to look forward to. Then we also have the conclusion of the Liverpool County FA Ability Counts League.

“I know I always say it is not about winning, but, it is nice to win, and it is especially nice for the kids to pick trophies up. So, at the moment, we have got three teams at the top of their respective leagues, so there is a good chance of bringing a few cups back to Bootle as if some is going to win them then it might as well be us.”

Festival number three is already on the agenda, and Rice is confident that things are only going to get bigger and better for all those associated with the tournament and his club.

“Definitely. Now we have a very good skeleton of a tournament, certainly on the organisational side of things,” he replied when asked if we can expect a third tournament next year.

“Last year was manic. The first time we did it and we made a few little mistakes. A few things we got wrong on the day and leading up to it.

“But for this one, we tweaked all that to make sure it was a better event. Now the skeleton of the tournament is there, it is just about filling spaces really.

“And to be honest, probably 90 percent of the teams in this year’s one will be back again. But plans are definitely on for another two day event because it was such a success.

“It was hard work, but to get the feedback we have got and to see the faces on the players make it all worthwhile. It is here to say. The Bootle Bucks Inclusion Festival of Football is here to stay and we will only get bigger!”

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