Dale In The Community Sports Trust is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
The Trust has been a huge part of Rochdale Football Club since its inception, helping to forge strong links between the Club and the local community.
They hold a variety of sessions and activities for the young and the old, promoting participation and social inclusion throughout the Borough.
The scheme was originally set up in September 1987, under the guise of Football In The Community (FITC), by Mickey Burns of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
Keith Hicks was appointed Head of Community three weeks later, a position he still holds to this day.
A former Dale player, he has overseen a huge transformation of the Trust in the last 30 years.
“It’s an honour to have been leading the Community Trust for almost 30 years now,” said Hicks.
“From where it was back then, to where it is today, is a huge difference. It’s vitally important for the Club to be a strong part of the community, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.
“When we first started out there was a supervisor that overlooked two local Clubs, myself as Head of Community, two part-time staff working mornings and two more working afternoons.
“Now there’s that much going on that we’ve got ten staff working for us, made up of full-time, part-time and volunteer staff, and we’re always looking to grow.”
“We’ve had a fantastic 30 years which has seen us expand beyond belief, but here’s the next 30 years as we continue to grow.”
At its inception, the Trust was wholly holding sessions in local schools. Still a big part of what the they do, there are more school visits than ever before. However, that is now just one of a whole host of activities the Trust carry out.
Sessions start for those as young as four years old with the Tiny Tots coaching, varying right up to Walking Football for those aged over 55. Sessions are delivered seven days a week.
“We were just visiting local schools for a few months at the beginning, but we followed the lead of other Clubs such as Manchester City and Manchester United in branching out to other events.
As we do here at Rochdale, anything that comes along, we like to have a go at it.”
The Trust also play a huge part on matchdays at the Crown Oil Arena. The Junior Matchday Club welcomes youngsters for training sessions prior to the match, before watching the Dale game from the Pearl Street stand.
They also host birthday parties at the Club, and ensure the matchday mascot has an enjoyable experience meeting the players and staff, and leading the team out before kick-off.
Two lucky local teams also get the chance to grace the hallowed turf at each fixture throughout the season thanks to the ‘Clubs of the Day’ initiative.
“The matchday for us is when everything comes together. We try to get groups on the pitch at every half-time. For some people, playing on the pitch at the Crown Oil Arena is the stuff dreams are made of. It means everything to them.
“From the Club’s perspective, when it’s a local school or junior football club on the pitch at half-time, we issue 100’s of junior tickets so those on the pitch have that support.
“It’s so important for the Club to have these children coming to the matches, because they are the next generation. Hopefully, some of those that do attend become fans for life.”
The aims and objectives of the Trust are to encourage more people (especially children) to play football, to encourage more people to support Rochdale AFC by forging closer links between the club and the local community, and to promote the issue of social inclusion by offering opportunities to young people who may be prevented from fully participating in mainstream activities.
Those aims and objectives have been the same since the Trust was founded, remaining to this day. The sessions and events the Trust hold mean many different things to a lot of different people.
Whether it’s making new friends for youngsters, or giving a new lease of life to the older generation, as with Dale’s walking footballers, the Trust provide a host of varying sessions to encourage participation.
For Hicks, personal accounts of what the Trust has done for those participating make all the hard work worthwhile.
“One of our walking footballers, who is 72 years of age, has lost two stone in the last three months since he took up walking football. The walking football team do three sessions a week now, and it has motivated him to take up a more active lifestyle.
“People of that age believe they’ll never play football again after retirement, so it’s huge for them to be active and playing the game they love.
“At times in life, we can take things for granted. When people come to me and say our sessions mean the World to them, it does strike a chord with me and make everything worthwhile. That is why we try to get to as many different groups in the Community.”
For more information on the Dale In The Community Sports Trust, including a schedule of their activities for you to get involved in, visit https://www.rochdaleafc.co.uk/community/ or contact Keith Hicks on 01706 643836 or 07958593121.