Morecambe may not be doing battle with Premier League giants on the field but one part of the football club regularly dines at the top table. Adam Lord goes behind the scenes at the Shrimps’ Community Sports arm.
Picture the scene. One of the League 2’s most controversial figures stood at the front of a room reading quiz questions.
The audience for Morecambe striker Kevin Ellison, more famed for taunting opposition fans and feeling the wrath of referees?
A group of over-55s who pay regular visits to a group run by Morecambe FC’s Community Sports arm.
It’s just part of the work going on in the building that rises above one corner of the Shrimps’ Globe Arena pitch.
Sitting in her office overlooking the stadium, Community Sports head Janet Preston admits the work of the ever-expanding and award-winning team she oversees is increasingly hard to explain concisely.
“People think it’s just schools, it isn’t, it’s across a wide range,” says Janet.
“It’s hard to put it under one label.
“But basically we’re trying to engage everyone in the community within a programme that we run.
“At the moment the youngest participant in our scheme is probably four and the oldest is 86.
“So there’s something going on all the time.
“From education in the classroom, to bikeability, the old cycling proficiency, which we now deliver, all the time we’re moving on and expanding to different programmes.
“No longer is it just football.”
As well as the classic school visits, with the team travelling as far as the South Lakes, and birthday parties on match days, newer initiatives from the registered charity include delivering the National Citizenship Service and working to increase female football participation.
NCS sees large groups taken way on residentials, doing team building and also taking part in charity and community endeavours with money recently being raised for the restoration of Morecambe’s Winter Gardens theatre.
One thing that has also gathered momentum is the club’s futsal scheme, an indoor five-a-side game giving 16-year-olds the opportunity to play football in a Football League supported set-up and stay in education.
Although in its infancy it technically offers a route into the Shrimps first team, working alongside the club’s link up with Lancaster and Morecambe College and their Elite Player Performance Pathway, with the latter more like a traditional football club academy.
“There’s maybe some young players who at 16 don’t know what they want to do,” says Janet, who has children Holly and Michael, a former Shrimps player, working alongside her.
“At 16 maybe they don’t want to stay on at school, maybe they don’t want to go to college but they know that they love the sport.
“They get a qualification that’s the equivalent of three A-Levels and they’re around the ground, have the same tracksuit as everybody else, they train every day.
“If we’ve got anybody that’s particularly promising who’s slipped through the net then we’re saying to (Head of Youth) Stewart Drummond, come and have a look.
“It’s a good place to be and from that course they can go on to university or we have trials for scholarships in America.
“And obviously they love the games every other Wednesday when they head to Leeds.”
Whatever the initiative or class the goal is clear.
“Footballers have to be part of the community,” says Janet, who has gone from working one day a week at the Shrimps’ former home Christie Park 10 years ago to overseeing a team of 13 staff, including a qualified teacher and personal trainer, plus part-timers at the Globe.
“If we can’t get the community involved in the football club how are we going to get them through the gates?
“That for us is what it’s about.
“We’re trying to get people to games because a lot won’t have been before.
“Our over 55s have two outings a year one in the summer and one in the winter but we also bring them to a couple of games.
“Some are coming independently on their own and that’s what it’s about.
“Making the football club the hub of the community.”
‘To be on list with big clubs means we’ve already won’
Morecambe FC’s community work has been attracting attention from far and wide.
The club’s charity arm has been nominated for some prestigious awards over the years.
Recent recognition includes being the North West Community Club of the Year at the Football League awards and being finalists in two categories at the North West Football Awards.
Janet Preston, from Community Sports, said: “We won best North West club at the Football League Awards last year.
“We didn’t win overall but they picked three regional award winners and then they chose an overall winner.
“For us just to win the North West when you consider some of the clubs involved, your Burnleys, Wigans, Boltons, clubs who have had massive funding available from the Premier League, just to be able to be recognised amongst that was fantastic.
“And at the North West Football Awards we were directly up against the Premier League clubs.
“For us to be on a shortlist that’s Man United, Man City and Morecambe, we’ve won haven’t we?
“Just to get there is great and we’ve been highly commended the last couple of years.”
The club’s work has also been highlighted by the Professional Footballers Association this year.
The Shrimps were the most active club for players involved in charity and community work.
The team made almost 1,200 visits with players making 222 individual school visits.
Other work included doing fitness instruction for the over-50s and the likes of Tony Diagne, now with Lincoln, assisting French exchange students.
Janet said: “To be top of the PFA league table for the work we do with the players shows we’ve got quite a bit of strength in depth in our programmes.
“Not all the players want to coach but there are other things they can help us with.”
Several players have particular areas with midfielder Andy Wright an ambassador for female football and Ryan Williams an ambassador for futsal having represented England in the sport before joining the Shrimps.
Helping the older generation
One thing that you might not associate with a football club is running a community group for the over 55s.
But the Globe Arena has a growing group of people pay them a visit every Friday morning.
The players regularly get involved themselves with colourful striker Kevin Ellison along with the popular Jack Redshaw recently helping out with a quiz with the pair acting as question masters.
“Some are quite happy to come in have a coffee, do a bit of chair exercise, play dominoes, make it more like a social,” says Janet Preston, head of Community Sports.
“Somebody that’s isolated feels like they can come along too.
“A couple come with carers and on average we get around 26 coming in on a Friday morning.
“We have them in at the same time as the players come in so they come over, play a game of cards with them and have a natter.
“As you can imagine, Kevin Ellison and Jack Redshaw doing a quiz with them the other week was hilarious.
“It’s really good.”