Community football team Darnall United is going from strength to strength as it celebrates its third successful season at the same time as Meadowhall Shopping Centre marks 25 years of opening its doors.
Three years of funding from Meadowhall has allowed more than 70 local youngsters from across a variety of different communities and ethnic backgrounds to register with the team.
Launched by the Darnall and Tinsley Safer Neighbourhood Team, the boys take part in weekly training sessions and friendly games of football.
So far, Meadowhall and its owners British Land have given £19,000 to Darnall United, paying for pitch hire, equipment, new kits, staff and tuition.
Some regular players have been so dedicated that they have been scouted by professional clubs and signed up to academies such as at Sheffield United Football Club.
But the success of the club is apparent off the pitch too, with figures showing that anti-social behaviour plummeted by more than 50% on Friday evenings when the training sessions take place, contributing to an overall reduction in levels of crime and youth-related anti-social behaviour in the Darnall area, year on year.
Mick Osborne, head of security for Meadowhall and key co-ordinator in the Darnall United project, said: “The scheme was one of the first of its kind in the country but it shows what you can achieve when you have strong partnership with the local communities, no matter how disadvantaged the area may be.
“It has been a lot of hard work and commitment from the Meadowhall team, the police and the community – and not least the kids themselves.
“They have turned up in all weathers and have showed true spirit, which is why we are all proud to still be working with them.
“It has also helped bring barriers down between communities and cultures which have very different outlooks and experience on life.”
South Yorkshire Police Inspector Paul Ferguson said: “Darnall United’s achievements for the young people and the wider community are significant.
“Every week, a group of committed youngsters from the area’s differing ethnic backgrounds come together through football.
“Cultural and ethnic barriers are being broken down and friendships made. The added benefits of reduced levels of crimes in the community and anti-social behaviour speak for themselves.”