The Inclusion Cup: Tackling social exclusion through football

10 mins read
Credit: Harry Williamson

Recently, five students aimed to tackle social exclusion by setting up a football tournament, featuring teams that have worked to tackle exclusion and make football more accessible and inclusive.

The tournament, named the Inclusion Cup, took place on Saturday, March 30 at the sport centre pitches.

The teams assembled in the Pathfoot Lecture Theatre where they gave presentations about their teams and the work that they do in their communities.

Every team spoke about tackling different issues and making sure that they can help people through football and hopefully address issues regarding racism, LGBT rights, disabilities and substance abuse.

12 teams took part and played in two groups of six for the group stages, before four teams advanced to the semi finals and then the final.

The final took place between the Newcastle Panthers and Saltire Thistle, with Saltire winning and taking home the cup.

The tournament was organised by students Kieran McMillan, Robert Biggart, Jack Sheridan, Panagiotis Papagergiou and Zijian Yin.

The Inclusion Cup was praised by those who took part.

Michael Dickerson attended the event from Forth Valley Recovery Community, an organisation that helps people recover from addiction.

“We aim to breakdown the stigma of those who have been affected by substance abuse.

“You always hear how a leopard never changes its spots, well all of these people have.”

“We’ve been noticed nationally for making recovery visible.”

“I feel like those with alcohol and addiction problems are some of the most marginalised in society, and we are working to help them.”

Dickerson praised the tournament, calling it a “really good idea.”

He also said that the inclusion cup was a great way to tackle social exclusion by “getting communities together to have a great day out.”

Calton Athletic is a another recovery group based in Glasgow that aims to help people overcome addiction.

Colin Martin is a member of the recovery group, he spoke about the work that Calton Athletic carry out; “We deal with both the physical and mental side of addiction.” Adding that they “set out to bring people in off the street who are suffering from drink and drug addiction.”

He spoke more on the particulars of the group, stating that, “Cocaine seems to becoming more prominent, and we have 20 solid members at our meetings every week.”

Calton Athletic got involved through the Inclusion Cup after working with one of the organisers on another project last year. Colin spoke about the variety of issues that the tournament aimed to address, and the sense of unity that it represented;

“Mingling with all types of people who are facing many different issues, whether it’s drink, drugs, mental health or racism. End of the day we’re all in the same boat and that is something that we all share in common.”

Calton Athletic members at Mount Everest Base Camp Credit: Calton Athletic

One local organisation that attended was the Stirling City All Stars FC, a team composed of players with disabilities.

Fred Smith, one of the team’s coaches and University of Stirling alumni and expressed how the tournament was a good opportunity for their players.

“I think today has been great. Our players play exclusively in disability leagues and this was a good opportunity for them to play in a mainstream tournament, it has been a really good challenge for them.”

When asked if he thought that a tournament such as the Inclusion Cup could help to tackle social exclusion, he was very optimistic;

“Football is a good tool to bring people together, its almost like a form of universal language that everyone understands, it doesn’t matter about your creed, colour or religion.”

“When our players are on that field, they are not seen for their disability, they are seen as footballers.”

Fred was impressed with the tournament and said that he could see it becoming a recurring event.

One of the All Stars players, Colin, spoke about talking to different teams about the different issues that they face after playing a LGBT inclusive team. “Today has been an eventful day, after talking with some of the guys, it’s good to understand different people’s sexualities. The good thing is that when we’re on the pitch, we’re just footballers.”

One such team was the Newcastle Panthers, a LGBT inclusive team who’s aim is to achieve a level playing field for LGBT players and make everyone feel safe and comfortable playing football.

John Harper, the team Captain, said that they were willing to return to Stirling if the tournament became a regular event.

“A lot of places have annual tournaments like this that we attend and we would definitely come to Stirling again.”

Credit: Yahoo

Alan White, the Captain of United Glasgow spoke about why they took part in the tournament and the work of United Glasgow;

“The ethos and values of the Inclusion cup and United Glasgow are very similar.

“It is a great way of bringing people together, we get to play and meet people with similar values to us and bring us together, football is a brilliant way to do that.”

White said that he enjoyed the fun element of the tournament;

“Today wasn’t uber competitive, it was fun. I feel like football can get way too competitive, and that the fun element is often forgotten.”

He discussed the origins of United Glasgow and what they set out to achieve.

“We aim to tackle both social and financial exclusion, when we first started we set out to help refugees and asylum seekers but now we tackle other forms of isolation that people face, such as racism.”

“We are anti-discrimination and we do our best to promote those values.”

Jose Vega Gonzalez was the Captain of Saltire Thistle, the team who won the tournament, said that the Inclusion Cup was a “very good initiative” and hopes that the tournament will take place again.

He described Saltire Thistle as a family.

“We are inclusive and accept everyone, we are a family, and with every family there are difficulties but we push through them.

“Football has become to competitive, so we need to recover the social side.

“We have a good club and we want to bring confidence to the people.”

Representatives from football vs homophobia attended the tournament, and said that it was a “great event” and that they were “inspired by the stories that they had heard.”

Credit: United Glasgow

One of the organisers, Kieran McMillan spoke about what inspired them to set up the tournament;

“We wanted to bring people together from different backgrounds. We didn’t want to limit today to just one issue.

“We brought all of these organisations together for a fun day that also highlights the issue of social exclusion.”

When asked if he wanted to see the Inclusion Cup become a regular thing McMillan said;

“I’d love to see it kept going, but we would need people to step in.

“It’s hard without funds, which is why we are so grateful to all of our fundraisers and sponsors.”

“It takes time but it really is a worthwhile cause.”

Rob Biggart, another organiser echoed McMillan’s reasons as to why they organised the tournament;

“We wanted an event for the most vulnerable in society. Something that they could come along to and well included in a welcoming environment.”

He felt like the event had been a success and was inspired by the presentations from each of the different teams.

Biggart was optimistic that the Inclusion Cup could happen again;

“I’d love to see it happen again.”

Biggart hopes that the Inclusion Cup can become a legacy project, that is passed down to a group of students to organise each year, so that it can continue.

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Freelance award-winning journalist | Best Journalist SPARC Scotland 2021 | Stirling Uni Class of 2021 | Former Deputy Editor - Brig Newspaper | Bylines in The Scottish Sun, The Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser, The Barrhead News, The (Renfrew and Johnstone) Gazette, Brig Newspaper, The Oban Times, Stirling Today and Tales From Lockdown.

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