Imagine stepping on to the pitch with the likes of John Barnes, Chris Waddle and Pep Guardiola all shooting in the same direction. Alex Lawson caught up with the charity making that a reality in the name of diabetes research
We’ve all had the dream. Some of us have it twice daily. The ball is lofted in from the halfway line, it comes over your shoulder dropping sweetly on your boot before you volley it into the back of the net. You wheel away in front of the Kop/Shed End/North Bank celebrating by punching the air in front of your elated fans. Football Aid is making this dream happen.
The charity was founded in 2000 by Scottish businessman Craig Paterson as a means of raising money to find a cure for diabetes – a condition his son was diagnosed with at the age of 10. Although a fan himself, he had always been astonished at how much people were prepared to spend on football memorabilia, and he wondered how much they’d pay to live the dream of scoring a goal at Ibrox, Parkhead or Old Trafford.
The concept of Football Aid was born – the experience of a lifetime giving football fans the chance to step into the boots of their heroes and play for their club or country at famous grounds.
Wholly-owned by parent charity Field of Dreams, Football Aid is endorsed and supported by The Scottish FA, The Premier League, The Scottish Premier League, The Football League, The PFA and The League Managers Association using a unique model whereby its board distribute funds equally between projects it selects and participating clubs’ registered charities.
Over £1.7million has been paid out or designated as payable to charities in the 11 years since Field of Dreams was established.
Chief executive David Dale said: “Our events provide an opportunity for the fans to immerse themselves in the ultimate experience by gracing the hallowed turf of the club they support.”
The charity has extended this to include training masterclasses at clubs’ training grounds, celebrity matches, international matches and gala dinners. The events have taken them from Hillsborough to the Nou Camp and the charity hosted its first Festival of Football in Jersey in 2007 and is planning further events in the future.
Participants in the events are treated to the full international star experience – pulling on a personalised shirt, jogging down the tunnel, sweating it out for 90 minutes and even being interviewed before the post-match award presentation.
But making this happen is far from simple. Along with a monumental amount of organisation, Football Aid relies on a strong core of loyal supporters and is tackling the tricky issue of marketing.
“Exposure for our organisation is also a challenge as we do not rely on a specific Marketing/PR budget to achieve this,” David added. “However, with our continued efforts with social media and the excellent response and support we receive from ‘word of mouth’ we will hope to grow our network of participants.”
Dale sees the marketplace for celebrity charity matches already becoming crowded and the charity is having to work hard to maintain its point of difference through being well-connected.
He is working on a ten year strategy for the organisation which will see a further focus on international work and festivals. He added: “We will be looking at taking Football Aid to European clubs, and we are already in process of looking at the overall strategy and delivery of this opportunity.
“It is our aim to continue to provide an unrivalled ‘Live The Dream’ experience for the lifeblood of the game – the supporters, and in turn raise funds charity.”
Tags: Community Matters, Field of Dreams, Football Aid, John Barnes, Pep Guardiola