Jason McCarthy, from the QPR ‘Moving The Goalposts’ project, putting the lads through their paces.
Queens Park Rangers have been successfully running ‘Moving The Goalposts’, a project providing coaching opportunities for the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller (GRT) community, since June 2006. Kick It Out attended the club’s inaugural development day at Loftus Road to gain a closer insight into the work being done to integrate the GRT community in football:
Queens Park Rangers are blazing a trail. Teaming up with Ealing’s Gypsy Roma and Traveller Achievement Service (GRTAS), the newly promoted Premier League side has taken the lead in establishing valuable links to its local GRT community.
Drawing on the experience they’ve gained through setting up the ‘Moving The Goalposts’ initiative, QPR held a development day to advise County Football Associations and fellow professional clubs on how to work more closely with the Traveller community.
Introducing the event, QPR’s Inclusion and Diversity Officer, Gareth Dixon, stressed the important role played by football in engaging the GRT community: “Football is a very powerful tool. It isn’t particularly accessible for the GRT community and we are trying to bridge that gap. The project is expanding rapidly and I believe this can be mirrored across the rest of the country.”
There is a very small amount of role models to inspire the GRT community. Currently, just two players, Tottenham Hotspur star Rafael van der Vaart and Coventry City striker Freddy Eastwood, in the English game hail from Traveller backgrounds. Looking across the industry as a whole, representation from the community is sparse. This is something which ‘Moving The Goalposts’ is actively addressing. Not only does the initiative give both males and females the chance to take part in the game, but the opportunity to achieve qualifications in coaching and refereeing too.
Jason McCarthy, a Traveller who lives in Southall, has recently received his FA level 2 coaching badge. The 22-year-old took a training session in the afternoon, displaying the skills he had learnt through being involved in the project. He reflected: "I always loved football but wasn't allowed to play at any serious level until I was nearly 16. Clubs would often tell you that they were fully booked. With the team I play for now, we have black lads, Asian lads and Travellers all on the same side.”
The initiative allows the next generation of Travellers the chance to gain the access Jason wasn’t able to during his childhood. Links set up with Ealing’s GRTAS play a vital part in the project’s success, and in ensuring these opportunities are available. The service’s main focus is on advising and supporting schools and other agencies concerned with the inclusion of the Traveller community in all levels of education within the borough.
'Real high quality provision'
Jake George, co-manager at Ealing’s GRTAS, discussed the relationship built up with QPR: “We wanted to make sure that young people who were experiencing a great deal of disadvantage could access real high quality provision, and that’s why we work with QPR.
"What we couldn’t really have imagined back then, was the sort of potential the football would have with regards to addressing other issues such as health and employment. Having the pull of a professional football club, with the structure and links it has, enables us to work with other organisations we may not have been able to reach previously.”
This ‘pull’ held by professional football clubs was emphasised throughout the day. Peter Dacres, co-ordinator of Millwall’s Positive Futures initiative, found the numerous workshops, including those on existing stereotypes, cultural awareness, best practice engagement and employment, extremely beneficial.
He said: “I have learnt a lot about the different ways we’ll be able to work with the GRT community on our own project and the organisations which can be tapped into locally. It’s important that we get the GRT community involved in what we do, as a lot of them feel as though they are being left out. If I, and the young people I work with, learn more about the community, then maybe we can open it up and take away a lot of the stigma surrounding them.”
With the event culminating in a group discussion, participants were given a better understanding of the GRT community from their more experienced counterparts, and what is necessary to launch a project similar to that of QPR’s.
Another attendee, Rob Burton, from the Disablement Association Hillingdon (DASH), who already has experience of working with the GRT community, said: “We want to see the people who attended this session to go away from here and have the confidence to engage with the GRT community. QPR are the perfect role model, showing that it can work effectively, by getting young Travellers employed in football coaching.”
Kick It Out’s Kevin Coleman concluded proceedings, saying: “If initiatives like this can foster better relations, and unearth some talent at the same time, then we’ll see it as a sign of progress.”