Young South Yorkshire footballers are using sport to help unite communities and bring direction to people’s lives.
The ladies’ team at Millmoor Juniors, based at Grange Park in Rotherham, reformed this summer after a break of several years.
Coach Tarrick Saleh, who originally transformed a team of young players lacking confidence into a winning side, is back at the helm and has lofty ambitions for the whole club.
“We’ve got fantastic facilities but it only gets used for men’s football and predominantly on a Saturday and Sunday,” he said.
“It’s here all day and no-one is using it. I left and came back and nothing has changed.”
Developing the skills of his players is important, but for Tarrick and the young people he coaches, the role of the club is much bigger.
This is more true today than ever before, he says, in light of the child sex abuse scandal that has tarnished Rotherham’s reputation and done little to ease tensions between different communities in the town.
“What I’m trying to do is be the connection between all our communities,” he said.
“There always has been a divide. But because people trust me they will send their kids here.
“I know if I start it off, it will grow. If I can just get the elders from the community to come up and be a part of it, maybe help out. We can make it part of the community instead of there being no-one here.”
Tarrick’s daughter Tara, now aged 23, first joined Millmoor Juniors over a decade ago. She has grown up with her team, many of whom still play together. And the support the players offer each other has been invaluable as they have all grown up.
“We formed a really close bond,” she said. “I would be reluctant to play with anyone else now. And because we have seen each other grow, we have gone through all the stress of school, college and university. Getting our first jobs.
“It’s really close. You know if something is wrong with someone.”
The support of the team allows players to deal with major life events as they go through their teenage years. Several of the players are lesbians, for instance, and were able to explain their sexuality to their parents with the help of their teammates and coach.
Tarrick said: “It was so difficult for them to come out. I would have to take them home so they could tell their mum and dad. But now they have flourished. To see their personalities changed from when they were hiding it is great.
“Race, sexuality, background – all that becomes irrelevant when you are on the pitch. People know they have someone to talk to and to help.”
Tara is fully behind her father’s vision to bring more of Rotherham’s young people to the club and break down the barriers that can often cause tension in the town.
She said: “When the younger ones came through and needed advice we gave it. Football is amazing but you have to have other things in your life and that’s where we help.
“Having somewhere like this to come is important. First for a release – it’s a different environment and form a new set of friends. And it’s somewhere positive, where people can come to relax and enjoy themselves.”
Millmoor has a full range of boys’ and men’s teams, plus a ladies’ and under-14s girls’ side, but more players are always welcome.
Tarrick said: “We need to fix our town. If anyone wants to associated with something special and help please get in touch.”
Contact details for each team are online at www.pitchero.com/clubs/millmoorjuniorsfootballclub.