We have a date. Finally, a date. Apart from a fleeting two-week reverse circuit breaker, grassroots footballers haven’t kicked a ball in anger for the best part of six months now. Football is returning to Northern Ireland on April 12. Yes, in the short term the numbers will be smaller and it will probably be non-contact for a while but it’ll be better than yet another Zoom session.
It’s not just grassroots guys that have missed out. There hasn’t been any activity below the Irish Premier League either. It makes me wonder how the guys that are signed professionals in the NIFL Championship feel about being deemed non-elite. How’s that for an oxymoron? And where does that leave the few non-professional players that are with Premier League clubs?
What does it mean at Club Sport NI? Everything, actually. There is one golden rule when you come to work for us. In fact, it’s the main credential for a job – you have to love the game. I think that aspect of our workforce is our biggest strength and contributes more than anything to our success in the marketplace. We recognise the importance of our products, customer service, value for money and all of the commercial requirements, but ultimately, we connect most with our customer because we are exactly like them.
I’ve spent most of my 45 years immersed in football. My fondest memories from childhood are wrapped up in it: playing on our housing estate in Saintfield until the street lamps came on, sticking stickers into a Panini album, sitting down with Roy of the Rovers on a Friday night with the faint trace of dubbin still stuck to my hands. Saturday was match day, jumping into my dad’s overcrowded car with the sun barely up before lining out in the Downpatrick, South Belfast or Dundonald football leagues. That was when the chance to try out those new skills I’d practised in the street outside my house came. Later on, Saturday night meant the chance to watch Match of the Day with a bar of chocolate.
Even before the pandemic it was all so different to when I was growing up. We didn’t train every week – those games in the street took care of that – there were few soccer camps, 4G was called AstroTurf and was something QPR and Luton played on – now, it is everywhere. But for all those changes there are some things that remain the same.
Being given a date allows me to get my boots back on. It gives me the chance to coach my son’s under-12 team at Rosario again just as my dad coached me. Saturdays will start to feel like Saturdays again. I feel for those kids that have lost a year of that journey – stop and think about it. That’s a year of development, a year of laughter and joy and sometimes tears but, most importantly of all, a year of memories that will still be recalled and retold to children and grandchildren.
It’s time to start smiling again and we aim to do that with our Back In The Badge campaign.
We want to support clubs as they get ready to play again. We want to encourage everyone to get back out onto the pitch, and we want to excite everyone about the prospect of what that return means to them.
And, we’ll be giving some goodies away to celebrate the return of football for everyone. Keep an eye out on our social channels for details of how to enter and our exciting plans for our Back In The Badge campaign.
There will be Nike branded Club Sport t-shirts to be had for those out enjoying their daily walks in preparation for the return – we are giving away one every day at different locations. Note the locations that the t-shirts are left at and you’re ready to enter out big competition to win, either a completely new match kit, or a £500 worth of training equipment
We’ll be shouting out every day about how we are backin’ the badge in our quest to play, train and coach again. Personally, I can’t wait to see happy faces enjoying the game, our kids building friendships, scoring and celebrating goals. How good will all that be? I can’t wait
Football fan and owner of Club Sport NI