Mansfield Town Football in the Community director Mark Hemingray is proud of the scheme’s success in bringing the Stags closer to the local community as it celebrates its 25th year.
Hemingray, 55, of Shirebrook, has been with Stags’ FITC for 24 of those 25 years and has loved every minute of it.
Over those years, thousands of youngsters have got involved via soccer schools and other holiday sports, trips to big grounds, visits to schools and school visits to the FITC classroom at One Call Stadium, and many other activities that have seen them spark a lifetime love with their local club.
Hemingray has seen some of the youngsters go on to make a career in the game while others have grown up and brought their own children down to him.
“I have got so much out of it,” he said. “I came into it in December 1992, so I’ve been here about 24 years.
“My background before that was that I used to be in the Army. I’ve also worked down the pit so I am quite proud of both of my previous jobs.
“I played a lot of football in the army and local football, but wanted that little bit more out of it.
“I met a gentleman named Dave Bentley (the first FITC boss at Mansfield), he encouraged me to come here and put me through all my coaching badges and this, that and the other. The rest is history.
“Manchester City were the first club in 1987, then it started here in 1990. Then they rolled it out to all 92 clubs.”
He added: “ It’s a good job, I enjoy it. I enjoy seeing the kids come through and growing up. Then having families of their own and bringing them here is good. A few that have come on our courses have gone on to play for the first team.
“I’ve worked with some really good staff over the years and I’ve met some really nice people.
“We have had our problems along the way as well, but overall I’ve enjoyed it and I am still enjoying it. I’m still as enthusiastic now as I was 24 years ago when I started. But it has changed so much. It’s developed into a charity and a business. It is much better.
“I think we do a good job promoting the football club and encouraging the next generation of fans to come along.
“We also supply full-time work for people as well as part-time work and voluntary opportunities.
“We make a lot of kids happy doing the courses, trips, birthday parties, mascot packages, school tournaments, and in-school coaching.
“We help raise a lot of money for local schools, between £10,00 and £16,000 a year.
“The staff are all happy here – no one ever leaves. Gaz (Gary Shaw) has been here since 97. I have a good work force who are loyal, work hard and show a lot of dedication to the club and Football in the Community.”
There have been some significant successes from starry-eyed youngsters, who have turned up for a kickabout at the FITC soccer schools.
“We’ve had quite a few now,” said Hemingray. “Nathan Arnold is one who springs to mind straight away. Jack Thomas was a more recent one.
“But for me it’s about every kid, no matter what ability.
“It’s about introducing them to football and the football club, encouraging them to be Stags fans at the earliest opportunity, and giving them a chance to try other sports they might not otherwise have done.
“We went kayaking last Friday. We’ve done cycling in Derbyshire, rock climbing, orienteering, we play cricket and golf. But it’s mainly football. That will always be our core sport, but we do try to give kids opportunities to try other stuff.”
In 2006 he had to oversee a transfer of the project so it operated with charity status and as a limited company. Now, inancially, FITC is doing well thanks to Stags’ return to the Football League three years ago.
“Now we are back in the Football League we do get help with the funding from the Football League Trust,” said Hemingray.
“We get a core amount of funding and then we get funded by the Premier League for different projects that we run.
“So, at the moment, financially we are quite healthy. But all that could change if the football club got relegated.
“If someone knocked the stall out from under us we could be back to square one. Let’s hope that never happens. We’ve had enough of that and we don’t want any more of it.”
School holidays sees FITC as a godsend to parents as large numbers of children sign up for their courses.
Sai Hemingray: “It varies depending on what time of year it is and what the weather is like or what parents are doing. It can be anything from 15 up to 60. “On matchdays we are very well attended, anything from 30 to 50 kids.
“They come in the morning and play football from 11 to about 1, have a packed lunch. Then we take them into the stadium and watch the game – it’s very popular.
“On a non-matchday when Stags are away we have coaching 10-12 and we just encourage them to play and enjoy themselves and get confidence. Then we’d like to think they’d go away and join a local team or progress into our Academy.”
He added: “Two of my trustees are Paul and Tina Broughton (Stags’ stadium director and operations director respectively) and they are the link from us to the football club, which is good. I have a board of trustees who are very good.
“This summer we will probably be taking a trip to a Premier League ground somewhere and will be doing our normal adventure activities like bike riding in Derbyshire, canoeing, rock climbing, rambling, orienteering – all that kid of thing. And there will be lots and lots of football.
“A big part of our success is our sponsors – our main two being Pentagon Vauxhall, based on Sutton Road, and Teachers UK, who organise supply teachers for schools.
“Then we have a good partnership with the Evolve Trust, who are very supportive to us, they look after the Brunts school and the feeder schools into there.”
For more information on FITC email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: 07977 428147.