Belfast Telegraph

Best Project - Midnight Street Soccer

Sponsored by bmibaby

The dedicated organisers behind the innovative Midnight Street Soccer sport project have been recognised for the great work they do to help young people in Northern Ireland through football. Managed by the North Belfast Play Forum, tireless work goes on to help kick racism and sectarianism out of divided communities.

To accept their award, Stafford Ward, the coordinator of the Tullycarnett branch of Midnight Street Soccer, was joined on stage by two teenagers who take part in the crosscommunity scheme for boys and girls, which also runs anti-sectarian workshops.

Stafford said: “We are delighted to win. From one, our founder member Billy Wylie has been allowed to expand to at least 20 throughout Belfast and Northern Ireland, which achieves a lot of community work.

“On a Saturday night we are out from 9pm to midnight. What we do is keep kids off drink, drugs and stop anti-social behaviour.

“We also have a competition which is held at the end of every 10-week cycle, which allows the kids to go to Dundalk to the finals and play against teams from southern Ireland in the JJB stadium.

“It has led to great friendships and cross-community work throughout the whole of Ireland. People don't get to see what we do, so it’s lovely that what we are doing has been noticed.

“It’s a great achievement for us, for the boys and everyone at Midnight Soccer. We are over the moon.”

Project Manager Billy Wylie said they are delighted by how big an impact it has had on communities in the area.

“This started off as a pilot project in 2004. Nobody could have envisaged how successful this would be,” he said.

“It initally started off as a crime prevention project, and we quickly achieved our goal.

“It reached out to both communities as neither ‘owned football’ it belonged to everyone, and I think that is what attracted so many people to getting involved.”

Mr Wylie, said the impact has been inspirational, and now over 700 children are involved in Midnight Street Soccer in communities throughout the province.

“It aims to challenge sectarian attitudes and create an understanding of cultures and identities for the young people involved,” he said.

William Gorman (15) said it is a “great way to spend a Saturday night”.

His friend Craig Kernaghan (14) agrees.

“It’s really good,” he said.

“It helps improve my football and I get to make new friends.” I get to run about with different people and play football with them even when Midnight Soccer isn’t on.”

Julian Carr from bmibaby said the company were honoured to sponsor such a worthwhile award.

“We are very proud of our association with Northern Ireland, so to be able to be involved with this sort of event, and to be involved with projects that actually receive the recognition makes us very happy,” he said.

“Anything that takes the kids away from the difficulties and strains of being out on the streets with not much else to do is brilliant. From my point of view, it would have been a fabulous thing to do growing up.”

Belfast Telegraph

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