AFC Leyton and Manchester Laces on the return of grassroots football With coronavirus disrupting football up and down the country over the past year, the 29th of March was seen as a huge return to normality for clubs across the grassroots game. We spoke to two clubs, AFC Leyton and Manchester Laces, about how they prepared for the return of grassroots football and how they are finding it now they’re back. Louise McGing is Club Secretary at AFC Leyton. When the government announced the easing of restrictions she, like many of us have being doing in the last 12 months, jumped into online meetings to discuss how to ensure a safe return to football. Louise adds: ‘The first phase was a return to online sessions throughout the month of March, delivering big participation club wide live sessions: Tuesdays were fitness, Wednesdays technical skills and Thursdays Strength and conditioning.’ ‘Then from 29th March it was back to real in-person sessions. We already had robust systems in place, from track and trace to temperature scans and sanitising bays. So, it was relatively easy process to re-open again.’ Helen Hardy of Manchester Laces was also straight into online meetings: ‘We had a lot of communication set up with the players to make sure they were happy and comfortable.’ ‘And of course we spent a lot of time pumping up footballs and putting bibs through the wash to make sure they were ready to go!’ As the weekend following the 29th of March came around, those freshly pumped up footballs were put to good use again across the country. Both clubs we spoke to couldn’t have been more excited about the return. After being in and out of lockdowns for over a year, Helen was most looking forward to the fresh air, adding that football is ‘such a great excuse to get outside after work and meet new people’. It was a similar feeling for Louise, who couldn’t wait to see ‘nothing but hundreds of smiles’. ‘Definitely having all the players in is the best thing about being back – adults and youth players. Our coaching team is a lively like-minded community and we’d kept in regular touch, but it was so good to just to see everyone again.’ Both of the clubs we spoke to have signed up to our Grassroots Equality Charter and are taking active steps to promote equality and fight discrimination. For Helen, that is about ‘listening and openly starting conversations and communicating about inclusivity.’ At AFC Leyton, a female only football club with just under 700 active players, players are told from the outset that there is a zero tolerance of racism or any form of discrimination. Louise adds to this that ‘tolerance and understanding is embedded in all our processes, and all our members pledge to act on discrimination when they see or hear it.’ It is pledges like this that we have been asking people across the football community to make as part of our Take A Stand campaign. Find out more about the campaign and how you can make your own pledge to tackle discrimination. AFC Leyton are a fully independent girls only football club operating in East London. You can find out more about them on their website or follow them on Twitter @AFCLeytonWomen. Manchester Laces launched in 2021 as Manchester’s first ever inclusive women’s and non-binary football club in Manchester. You can find them online here or follow them on Twitter @ManchesterLaces.