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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Rehabilitation of Offenders

Question agreed to.


Parish Councils


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Community Football

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McNulty.]

8.13 pm

Colin Burgon (Elmet): I am happy to have secured a debate on a subject that is of such interest to me and, I hope, to millions of other people.

As a keen student of American politics, I know that the Gettysburg address lasted two and a half minutes. I think that my address will last slightly longer, and I hope that it will buy me a place in history.

Let me begin by quoting what Nelson Mandela said to Leeds United footballer Lucas Radebe when they met in South Africa:

That is a powerful statement with important implications, and it sets my agenda for this evening. The context of the statement is very pertinent, and I will return to it later.

As recently as 30 January my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) initiated a wide-ranging and informative debate in Westminster Hall on football club funding. Tonight, I want to concentrate on football in the community, and although this debate will be less wide ranging I hope it will be at least as informative.

Let me praise the role of the Football Foundation, launched in July 2000 under the excellent chairmanship of Lord Pendry. It is a unique partnership, consisting of the Football Association, the premier league, Sport England and the Government. Its aims include establishing a new generation of modern football facilities in parks, local leagues and schools, the provision of capital and revenue support for the running of "grass-roots" football, and strengthening the links between football and the community to harness the potential of football as a force for good in society. Football is seen as a means by which we can achieve social cohesion, and as a vehicle for education in the community throughout the country. That is the aspect that I want to discuss.

Professional football clubs today are big business. I first started attending games with my father in the late 1950s—I hope I am not giving my age away—and I have witnessed at first hand the tremendous changes, not all of them positive, that have taken place. In those days, clubs were run by a prominent local business man, with the emphasis on "local". When I first went to matches, the chairman of Leeds United was a man called Harry Reynolds, a scrap-metal merchant who made urgent half-time appeals to people not to throw their lighted cigarette ends into the straw piled on the edge of the pitch to protect the playing surface from frost. Today we have under-soil heating to protect the pitch. That small detail encapsulates the way in which clubs have been transformed.

Make no mistake: clubs have indeed been transformed. The main stakeholders are the shareholders, and the bigger the individual shareholding, the bigger the influence. That is a reflection of the world of modern business. Football clubs, however, are a very special kind of business. The stakeholders include the supporters,

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who feel that such clubs are truly their clubs, and the wider community, who identify with their local football clubs. In that sense football is a business, but it is certainly unique.

It would be hard to argue with the view that there is almost a perfect word association between the cities and towns of our country and their football clubs. It is impossible to think of one without picturing the other. Who could think of Colchester without thinking of Colchester United?

The world of football is a world of excitement. It is a magnet for young people who hold their favourite clubs and football heroes in great esteem. The question now asked by a growing number of professional clubs is how that power can be harnessed and used to the benefit of the community. I am very pleased that my home-city club, Leeds United, is at the forefront of that move.

As long ago as 1998 the Leeds United chairman Peter Ridsdale—a man of vision and energy—and his board of directors made a commitment that, while planning to make Leeds one of the top clubs in Europe, they would also work to make a similar impact in the area of community development. As a result, Community United was launched. Resources were put into the club. I am now informed that they are running at £750,000 a year, which attracts additional funding from both the public and the private sectors.

After four years of effort, and thanks to the imagination and commitment of Emma Stanford, the head of community affairs, the community department has 30 full-time staff, 35 part-time staff and more than 100 volunteers. By my reading, that makes it the biggest community football team in the country. Interestingly, the department is bigger than Leeds United's commercial department.

The work of Community United can be divided roughly into three areas: football in the community, community affairs and education and learning. The first area, football in the community, revolves principally around grass-roots football coaching for girls and boys of all abilities from the ages of five to 14. I am pleased that provision is also made for children with disabilities in the ability counts programme.

Almost 50,000 children are involved in the coaching programme, with the emphasis, I am pleased to say, on enjoyment as much as skill. Rewards are based on attitude and improvement rather than talent; in that sense, I would be a gifted pupil.

The second area covers community affairs—it is truly wide ranging. It encompasses such things as the fans forum, which attempts to give the ordinary fan real influence in elements of the way in which the club operates; the organising of creche and playgroups; and support for various charities.

The club has, for example, supported the well known St. Gemma's hospice in Leeds. It has worked with the Royal National Institute for the Blind to produce a pioneering large print programme, and it is currently working closely with Macmillan Cancer Relief on a badge appeal. Leeds United has donated £7,000 to produce 50,000 replica blue away kit shirt lapel badges. So far, more than 33,000 badges have been distributed, and at a cost of £1 they will give Macmillan Cancer Relief a significant financial boost. That hands-on approach to

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supporting charities extends beyond the domestic front. For example, the club gives financial assistance to a children's AIDS orphanage in Malawi.

Carrying on the international theme, it is a source of pride at the club that when the British Council organised a one-day seminar as part of its football nation initiative in South Africa's soccer expo in Johannesburg, it chose Leeds United to make the presentation. Emma Stanford and Steve Smith, the club's education manager, were asked to explain how the education programme runs at Elland Road and to investigate the practicalities of South African clubs launching similar schemes. It was at that time that the comments I quoted earlier from Nelson Mandela were made to Leeds United and South Africa captain Lucas Radebe, whose life was partly lived in Soweto, under the shadow of apartheid.

Lucas Radebe has been centrally involved with the Leeds United against racism campaign. Along with fellow players such as Olivier Dacourt, Mark Viduka and Rio Ferdinand, he has visited schools to talk about the need to combat racism. In the past few weeks, certificates have been presented, in partnership with the Yorkshire Evening Post, to several primary schools in the south Leeds area for raising awareness of racism. The Leeds United against racism campaign has recently distributed 30,000 team photos to school children throughout the city and surrounding areas.

As stated in a recent match programme, the club is conscious that working alone it cannot get rid of racism—a problem that faces the whole of society. However, the club has made it clear that it will do whatever is in its power to combat racism.

That intent is particularly significant in the case of a club such as Leeds, which in the past has been bedevilled by the problem of racist groups attaching themselves to the club and tarnishing its image and, indeed, that of the city. I remember when a black goalkeeper playing for Manchester City—the Minister will probably remember him—was bombarded by the crowd with bananas. The response of the management at that time was to say, "It is just high spirits. There is nothing in it." I also saw the crowd at Elland Road endlessly bait Justin Fashanu, who played for Norwich City and who is unfortunately now dead. It was enough to turn my stomach. It was probably the only time in my life that I have cheered when an opponent, Justin Fashanu, put the ball in the back of the Leeds United net. Progress has been made.

The third area of Community United's work is education and learning. As an ex-school teacher, I am particularly interested in that aspect. I have visited the learning centre at Elland Road with Emma Stanford to see at first hand the type of work in which Steve Smith and his colleagues are engaged. Their work encompasses all the 23 primary schools and four high schools in what is called the local family of schools. It is worth noting that some 47 clubs from the premier league and Nationwide division one are involved in the playing for success programme and that Leeds was one of the three original pilots, along with Newcastle United and the Minister's second favourite team, Sheffield Wednesday.

The playing for success initiative established by the Department for Education and Skills has proved very popular with pupils, parents and schools, and nowhere

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more so than at Leeds United. Great work has been done in the learning centre, which is based beneath the south stand and occupies an area the full width of the football pitch. The staff at the learning centre set themselves five objectives: to raise pupil achievement; to develop pupils' skills in literacy, numeracy and information and communication technology; to develop pupils' confidence and self-esteem; to increase pupil motivation; and to develop positive links with parents. By any subjective or objective measure, the staff are achieving real progress.

The parental feedback collected by the learning centre revealed that all parents were very pleased that their child had attended the Leeds United study support centre. The vast majority—more than 95 per cent.—agreed that the centre had helped their child to get better at reading, writing, maths and computer use. Many identified the fact that their child was more willing to go to school and had a wider circle of friends, and some believed that their child had a better chance of getting a job when they left school as a result. About 70 per cent. of parents commented that their child's confidence had also increased.

The feedback from pupils was also very positive. The playing for success sessions operated outside school hours each evening from 3.30 to 7.30 and on Saturday mornings. On top of that, children spent up to an extra hour and a half travelling to and from the centre in all weathers. To bear testimony to the popularity of the project, an impressive 40 per cent. of pupils received 100 per cent. attendance awards. The vast majority of pupils recognised that they had developed their skills in literacy, numeracy and particularly ICT. Attitudes to learning had become more positive and their confidence had increased. The only doubt that pupils seemed to have was about the quality of the orange juice on offer.

The evaluation done by the National Foundation for Educational Research also makes very positive reading. Its findings at national level can be applied to the success achieved by the Leeds United learning centre. The first key finding of the NFER report was that pupils made substantial and significant progress in numeracy. On average, primary pupils improved their numeracy scores by about 21 months, and secondary pupils improved theirs by about eight months. Secondary pupils' reading comprehension scores improved significantly—by the equivalent of about six months. Teachers also noticed particular improvements in pupils' self-confidence and ICT skills.

To underpin all those findings, the report said:

That is further proof of the power and far-reaching influence of our national game and the way in which it has been harnessed to achieve positive outcomes for the community.

In drawing my remarks to a conclusion, I would be copping out—to use a Yorkshire phrase—if I failed to mention the Bowyer-Woodgate case that has generated such negative publicity for Leeds United. I agree with the comments recently made by chairman Peter Ridsdale in a match programme. He said that, due to the case

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Peter Ridsdale is a man with both his feet firmly on the ground. He is intelligent and perceptive enough to acknowledge the gravity of the case and its wide-ranging repercussions.

In acknowledging and highlighting the work done in the community by Leeds United football club, I hope that I can help to ensure a balanced, accurate and informed debate about the part played by football clubs and players in the community. I look forward to my right hon. Friend the Minister reaffirming his support for the Football Foundation and its valuable work in promoting football in the community, and recognising the work of Leeds United in the community. In many respects, it is a leader in this field. It is also an example to other large companies and organisations of the need to get involved in their communities.

Finally, will my right hon. Friend also use his considerable influence in discussions with the football authorities and the Professional Footballers Association to raise the issue of highly paid players acknowledging in their contracts the need to help develop football in the community? It is only right and proper that clubs and players recognise the debt that they owe to the community that in turn supports them.

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