More Than A Club

Sophie Zermatten
6 min readNov 28, 2020

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Caerau Ely juniors, a football club based in Cardiff, has just won the title of Community Club of the Year for Wales. A closer look at the ways in which they participate in their community reveals the important role that sports clubs play in children’s lives.

Last year, according to tradition, winners were announced prior to a national game and brought onto the pitch to receive the title awarded by the Football Association of Wales (FAW), in partnership with McDonald’s. Gareth Wales, who is the manager of Caerau Ely juniors as well as a passionate coach, was at the event. “We all told each other that we would win the community club award the following year.”

And indeed they did, not without first receiving the same title in the South Wales region earlier this year. This victory is in many ways a symbol of the club members’ perseverance and hard work, which are some of the values that they try to instil in the children they train.

Although the event couldn’t take place the same way this year because of restrictions related to COVID-19 and Gareth had to accept the award via an online platform, the pandemic has yet to take away Caerau Ely juniors’ determination to provide a supportive community where anyone is welcome to come and share their love for the most popular sport in the world.

While the adult division of the Young Guns — a popular nickname for the club — has been around since 1955, its junior section was launched four and a half years ago, and has kept gaining in popularity ever since. Today, it has around 220 players, and the numbers keep growing.

The club is run on an entirely voluntary basis, and its many activities are thus made possible thanks to the commitment of over 50 coaches, who put in countless hours to allow kids in their community to play their favourite sport. To ensure everyone’s safety, and in order for the kids to get the most out of their experience at Caerau Ely, coaches must not only get a DBS check, they also go through several FAW trainings, including a football leaders, a first aid and a safeguarding course.

But Caerau Ely juniors does much more than solely provide football training at high standards. The club is involved in many different community-based projects, including the FAW’s “More than a Club” programme. Through this initiative, the FAW seeks to encourage football clubs to become community hubs, for example by helping them better their environment or increase their outreach. By cultivating a space where youngsters from various backgrounds can get physical exercise, make new friends, and feel free to be themselves, sports clubs can play a crucial role in a child’s development.

For Gareth, who grew up in area that he describes as ‘quite deprived’, football is what gave him focus and kept his life from taking another direction as he was growing up. He believes everyone needs guidance at some point in their life, and that’s what places like Caerau Ely or the youth club provide.

“Football breaks down barriers, as do sports in general. You can have twenty people who speak different languages, put them on a football pitch and suddenly they all speak the same language. It’s very powerful. I don’t think governments or schools recognise enough what it does.”

The club aims to provide an opportunity for anyone to practice football and be a part of the community, whatever their personal circumstances might be. This is why every Sunday, it holds a free session open to any children between the ages 4 and 12; to cater both to kids whose families cannot commit to the weekly training because of busy timetables or financial difficulties, and those that simply just want to play now and again. The success of these sessions is undeniable: 90 participants benefit from them.

This commitment to making football accessible to all and ensuring high standards of practice has already helped Caerau Ely juniors gain the title of Super Club, a status awarded by Sport Cardiff, as well as a Ribbon award from Disability Sport Wales. Indeed, the club works closely with the local youth service to hold weekly sessions for children with disabilities, although these have had to be suspended temporarily because of the pandemic, as they would usually be held indoors, which would put an already vulnerable part of the population at particular risk of being exposed to COVID-19. “We hope to pick up as soon as we can”, says Gareth.

Despite these setbacks, after an initial period in March where all of the club’s activities ceased during the first wave of the pandemic, the club has been working hard to be able to now maintain its training sessions, provided it follows safety measures such as providing hand sanitizer at each of their venues. All the official league matches have been cancelled for the season to avoid propagation of the virus, but some friendlies have been allowed by the FAW. The club also tries to maintain an online presence in order to keep the spirit of the community alive, for instance by organising events such as a recent Halloween competition.

Although some kids have left the club since the beginning of the crisis, Caerau Ely juniors have mostly been gaining new members, as parents realise the importance of their children spending time outdoors, exercising and continuing to socialise with other kids.

Ultimately, Caerau Ely is a place that encourages growth and seeks to provide equal opportunities for everybody. Khalid Abbas, a Sudanese man who arrived in Cardiff several years ago, remembers his time at the club fondly. It was Gareth who approached him and offered him a position as the youngest coach of the team, and the support and encouragement he found in this community far exceeded his expectations.

He has since gone on to coach for Chelsea, and is now studying football coaching and development at St Mary’s University in London. He has even founded his own coaching company, Can you Challenge, that seeks to encourage kids to lead a healthy lifestyle and equip them with personal skills that will support their future, by combining the teaching of football with values such as empathy and perseverance.

Khalid with the kids he train at CYC

And it all started with his local juniors football club. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Caerau Ely. They believed in me and gave me an opportunity to coach when I had no prior experience, and it gave my life purpose.”

In these challenging and isolating times, the importance of community clubs such as Caerau Ely appears clearer than ever. Members don’t only learn to play football, they create bonds with others and grow as people. Their experiences shape the adults they become, and the power this holds is not to be underestimated.

Careau Ely certainly doesn’t underestimate it, and the people who keep the community alive work tirelessly to continuously reinvent themselves. There are plans to expand the training fields, working with architecture students to design new pavilions, as well as a project being put in place with the youth service to support the reinsertion of what would have previously been know as the “youth offending team”, which is to be renamed the “youth reparation team” as a way to move past the stigma associated to the former label.

Because Caerau Ely juniors is all about looking towards the future and seeing all the potential that young people have to offer.

And this is one of the many reasons why it has earned the well-deserved title of Community Club of the Year for Wales.

Congratulations ! 🥳

If you are interested in learning more about the club’s activities, find them on Facebook, Instagram and their official website.

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Sophie Zermatten

Writer, Journalist, Filmmaker