One aspect of Premier League clubs that the PRESS casually ignore

Whilst on a European trip, the team met a group of local children suffering from cancer. Presents were given out, photos taken, autographs signed. On a pre-season tour, time was spent with local children at a school that had a rooftop pitch bought by the club, saving the children endless trips across the city to play football, a move that reduced the headmaster to tears.

The club backs a charity that promotes facilities for children with disabilities to exercise together. It has also raised money for children with autism and learning difficulties. Its five chosen charities this season received up to £25,000 each to help reach their aims.

One player recently explained on the club website about his work in The Congo with orphaned and abandoned children. The club’s senior goalkeeper has an annual charity fundraiser with his wife in aid of cancer charities. This is not a PR stunt for one football club, my football club, the one that have killed football, the one that sent a wreath to my friend‘s funeral a couple of months ago. Didier Drogba campaigns on health issues in his home city of Abidjan, and intends to build a hospital as the first major project for his foundation. Many footballers have used their influence to great effect in their home country, whether by sponsoring a charity or by linking their names to a project, but none has ever stopped a country tearing itself apart as many argue Didier Drogba did for Ivory Coast.

Drogba, by requesting that the 2008 African Cup of Nations qualifiers match against Madagascar be played in Bouake, the stronghold of rebel forces, may well have played a pivotal role in bringing about peace in the country.

In 2005, Paul Fletcher wrote an article on the BBC website about the power of football in Africa. He commented on how football has the power to create unity out of division, joy from sadness and bring welcome respite from a continent bursting with life but burdened by problems.

After Senegal reached the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup skipper Aliou Cisse reflected: “During the tournament our people lived through some wonderful times, despite the social, economic and political problems in our country.

“During the World Cup there were no more religious or ethnic problems, everyone was pulling in the same direction.”

Months later Cisse lost 12 members of his family in the Joola ferry disaster that killed 1,000 people.

What’s more, football is a source of pleasure and entertainment for millions unable to indulge in leisure pursuits out of the financial reach of many in Africa.

And on and on. Closer to home, Stephen Ireland and many others work closely with the Francis House Children’s Hospice.

Simon Taylor, head of corporate social responsibility at Chelsea once said “every club experiences the same thing that we do, in that their projects are not given the coverage they deserve – but that’s not why we do it.”

Chelsea recently launched the Chelsea Foundation, an independent charity which it estimates already reached more than 800,000 people a season. Chelsea helps to raise more than £1.5m a season for charity. Almost every Premiership club has a foundation, and all have at least one charity partner. Birmingham City for example have a partnership with two cancer trusts, while Arsenal helped raise £820,000 for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

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In 2007, the Premier League launched Creating Chances, an initiative that supports the work clubs do for good causes. Their audit shows the Premier League and its clubs have invested £111.6m into charitable projects over the past three years.

Rob Green climbed Kilimanjaro. Craig Bellamy’s work in Sierra Leone has finally received some coverage, and £650,000 of his own money. Mikael Silvestre set up a foundation that builds schools in impoverished parts of the world. Ryan Giggs is a Unicef UK ambassador. The FA has done extensive work in Africa. And on, and on, and on. I could go on for days listing the good work clubs do – not just the charity work, but how they benefit the wider community. I’m sure you get the picture.

The work I have mentioned is the tip of the iceberg. Merely a grain of sand on a very large beach. In 2007, there were in total 210,867 teams registered in the U.K. This number includes pub teams, Sunday League, etc., but charity drives reach right to the lowest levels. God knows how many professional football clubs there are globally, all an integral part of the community they serve.

But this wouldn’t be a blog of mine without me bringing it round to attacking those nasty journalists. And that’s essentially what made me write this. The normal news is depressing enough – war, famine, global warming, hosepipe bans, Robbie Williams re-joining Take That. Where will it all end?

Perhaps sport coverage could cheer us up. Here’s a thought – instead of writing knee-jerk reaction columns and made up transfer speculation with huge headlines so that they don’t have to write as much or mention as many unnamed sources, why don’t the likes of Custis, Woolnough, Howard, the other Custis, McDonnell and co. get off their arses, do some actual research, and write just for once about the good side of football, for there is so much good created by football off the pitch. So instead of endless dreary rhetoric about football being dead, of Wayne Rooney HAVING A CIGARETTE, Yaya Toure’s wage details or Peter Crouch’s stag-do itinerary, tell us about the good work going on around the world because of English clubs, tell us more about.

But I guess it isn’t sensationalist to report on a charity set up for refugees in Somalia – so what’s the point eh? You see, one of the many benefits of sport is that it gives vulnerable children a concrete alternative to drugs and violent crime – two issues that Honduras struggles with, where 25,000 children have gone through a successful childrens league, helping them better their lives.

But to be callous, so what, to the man in the street? I mean, there’s a reason I know so much more about Wayne Rooney’s nocturnal activities than Jamie Carragher raising £1 million for charity via his testimonial last week. But do we want to read about charity and good deeds on our morning break, or read about a footballer wrapping his car round a lamp post? I am being naïve of course, in my idealistic little world – people want the second option – to read the sensationalist stuff, and the papers provide the service. As Sir Humphrey Appleby said in Yes Prime Minister…………. “The only way to understand the Press is to remember that they pander to their readers’ prejudices.”

The readers want to see a couple of tits at the front, and read a couple at the back.

But maybe I am doing tabloid readers a disservice – maybe they do want more from the newspaper, and maybe they would embrace more diverse articles, and a bit more depth. And maybe, just maybe, they might actually like to read stuff that’s actually true.

Written By Howard Hockin

 


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