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More than football
Most people will have heard of Oxford City Football Club and followers of the game will be aware that it is far older than its more illustrious neighbour, Oxford United.
But what many will be unaware of is that City, founded in the early 1880s, is a charity and, as well as the first team, operates boys’, girls’ womens’ and veterans’ teams, along with sides for players with learning disorders and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In fact, it is the largest participation club in Oxfordshire, with more than 30 teams across all sectors of the community, all run by unpaid volunteer staff, coaches, committee members and directors.
And recently the club has been running a massive fundraising campaign to help raise cash for its £2m new Community Arena development, including a full-size artificial grass pitch, pavilion and new car park, together with six floodlit netball courts.
Work has now started on the scheme which is being built alongside the stadium at Court Place Farm, Marston, and is expected to be completed by October.
Seeing the buiilders move in is enormously satisfying for managing director Colin Taylor, and to have reached the cash total gives him a real sense of achievement for all the hours put in by him and the 150 volunteers at the club.
He said: “We are really looking forward to using the new facilities — the world will change for Oxford City in terms of our activities.
“They will be open for schools, colleges and other clubs to use and are generally there for the community.
“It will also be the first central venue for netball and we have been working closely with Oxfordshire Netball to develop it. It will mean the netball league can take place on one site.”
The club’s four ladies’ teams will be making full use of the new pitch to continue their progress.The ladies’ first team plays at a higher level than any other side in the county.
And there are now more than 80 members of Oxford City Casuals, players with learning disabilities, and the number is growing all the time. Mr Taylor said: “The team environment has clearly provided these special players with additional confidence and social benefits in so many ways.”
The club did have funding contributions from Sport England and the Football Foundation to develop the new facilities, but the rest has come from fundraising, sponsorship and donations, so it is all the more remarkable that it has been achieved during the recession.
Another area of development will be the focus on education which has been expanded by the launch of the Oxford Football Partnership with Oxford and Cherwell Valley College and the Premier Sports Group.
It provides full-time educational courses linked with football coaching, and more than 50 students are now based at the club.
A pilot for the scheme has been run with Meadowbrook College, which specialises in accommodating students who have been excluded from other schools, and the results were highly encouraging.
Mr Taylor said: “The sense of involvment brings out the best in them.”
In fact, once the new facilities are built, Mr Taylor will be embarking on ‘phase two’ which will be the installation of new classrooms.
So the fundraising is continuous, as is the reliance on club members who have bricklaying and plastering skills to offer.
Of course, at the ‘front end’ of the business, City’s first team in the Zamaretto Southern League Premier Division have had a mixed season, but there have been some encouraging signs recently, not least in the form of 18-year-old Felipe Barcelos, a product of the club’s academy structure.
“Felipe will make it in football because he has the right attitude off the field as well as on it,” said Mr Taylor.
“It is really encouraging to see youngsters coming through and it means our investment in the community set-up is paying dividends already.”
As for winning an Oxfordshire Business Award, Mr Taylor said it had given the club and everyone associated with it a huge confidence boost.
He said: “Even being shortlisted was a big shot in the arm and winning has been great for everyone.”
n Contact: Oxford City Football Club, 01865 744493.