A FOOTBALL club founded by a dad in the most tragic of circumstances can feel top of the league after winning a national award.
FOLLO FC – standing for For Our Lost Little Ones – was set up by Gary Berkley a year after son Sam died after being hit by a car as he crossed the M67 motorway near Hyde.
Dads who have experienced the grief of seeing children or close relatives die get together to train or play, using football to help them through their grief.
Now FOLLO FC found itself nominated for a national Football Association award after winning the Manchester FA’s Grassroots Award for Grassroots Project of the Year.
Seeing off competition from Foundation 92, a charity set up by the former Manchester United footballers known as the Class of 92, and the Active Communities Network, the club described themselves as, ‘absolutely over the moon’.
And they were left pinching themselves after coming out on top in the national prizes, meaning they were among the guests of honour for the Community Shield between Manchester City and Liverpool.
A spokesman said: “We only went and flipping won! This is for all our amazing dads – we are bringing it home boys!”
FOLLO’s Manchester win sparked an emotional response both in the room at Manchester’s Midland Hotel and online and Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham led the congratulations after their national win at Wembley.
Foundation 92 said: “It was an honour to be shortlisted alongside you guys, you are an inspiration.”
And Joanne Lee, wife of Follo player Colin, commented: “Cannot believe the outpouring of love and good wishes after the grassroots Awards.
“It is very overwhelming. Nothing can ever take our pain away but this has really lifted us up. Thank you to everyone who has supported us. It truly means the world.”
FOLLO went forward to the national grassroots awards, which were revealed on Sunday, August 4.
However the impact of what they and other volunteers who give up their time for football clubs had not passed senior figures by.
Rachel Yankey OBE, who became the first English female professional footballer in 2000, said: “Without volunteers, grassroots football would not happen and I certainly would not have had the career I have had without volunteer support.”
Manchester City women’s manager Nick Cushing added: “Through my work at Manchester City, I regularly see the fantastic work done by volunteers in the grassroots game in the local area.
“Future professional players are currently playing at grassroots clubs just like the ones we celebrated.”
Colin Bridgford, Manchester FA chief executive officer, said: “Without the passionate, committed and inspiring volunteers within grassroots football, the game wouldn’t happen and so we are honoured to have been able to put these individuals in the spotlight.”