Stacey Savage, 38, a volunteer from Halewood in Merseyside, has been recognised for her inspirational efforts to grassroots football in her local community by being awarded with the Nationwide Mutual Respect Award.
Stacey, a mum of three, was training to be a midwife before having her children, one of whom has disabilities, and she now cares for full-time. Since then, Stacey started a support group for parents who have children with similar disabilities and has voluntarily established the Merseyside Youth Football League (MYFL).
When searching for a football team for her son, Stacey and her partner struggled to find one, so they decided to take matters into their own hands and started their own team.
Laughing, Stacey said:
“We got roped in from there to be honest! We started with a team, then ran a club, and then the wider league needed volunteers, so for the past seven years now, I’ve helped run the league which is a voluntary role. Over the years, more volunteers have left, which has led to me taking on more roles so the kids can play. Alongside my club, Inny Boys, I’ve supported the running of St. Helens Town for the past two years, where I’m currently the youth secretary and welfare officer. We just became more and more involved in football, and now help with the adults’ teams as well.”
Stacey acts as MYFL Secretary, Registrations Secretary, Child Welfare Officer, Fixtures Secretary, Referee Appointer, and Compliance Officer. Stacey commented:
“The positives of grassroots football aren’t publicised as much as they should be. Too often we focus on the negatives.
“From the start of a season versus the end, you get to see kids develop and how happy they are when they score a goal. Especially the kids who don’t have the most ability, it’s fantastic to see what they’re achieving. You also become a community, I’ve gotten to know each coach, child and their family individually.”
However, due to a rising number of incidents in the UK within grassroots football, Stacey has also become a driving force in ensuring these are kept to a minimum. Stacey has implemented a number of sanctions which have driven change across her league and beyond.
“Up and down the country, issues are creeping in more and more. I’m a qualified referee myself, as is my son, and I got the whole team go on a referee training course. It’s important to make people realise that there’s an individual behind the uniforms when they’re getting too wrapped up in the game. Even just shouting at a referee isn’t acceptable – it can be intimidating, especially for the younger ones.
“Some of our referees were getting upset and something had to be done, so we called an emergency meeting with all our clubs and suspended all the fixtures for a weekend. It just blew up from there. It went onto national and local news! It got everybody talking about it and other leagues began to take notice. Sometimes, leagues don’t want to highlight it as you don’t want other people to think your league has a problem, but it needs everyone to work together to combat and implement change.
“Mutual respect is so important in grassroots football and something I push for all the time. For example, just because you’re a referee doesn’t mean you should be disrespected or be disrespectful. Just because I volunteer to run a league doesn’t make me better than the coaches and the volunteers who give their own time up for children to play football. We’re all doing it to create a fun environment where kids can learn from each other and enjoy themselves. Even when you’re not in a great mood, your approach to somebody is vital.
“There’s not one definition of ‘respect’. People don’t think about others as they should across society, not just football – it’s how your behaviour affects others and treating people how you want to be treated.”
When asked why grassroots football is still so important for children, and adults, across the UK, Stacey said:
“It’s more than just football. It teaches life lessons. Winning is great, but it’s important to learn to lose with dignity. Grassroots football allows the whole community to make friends on and off the pitch and helps us adults to be positive role models and give the kids something to focus on. For a lot of people, they may have something going on at home and football is their release. You learn to work as a team, follow instructions, learn to behave responsibly, and conduct yourself in the right manner.”
Commenting on her Nationwide Mutual Respect Award win, she added:
“I found out I was nominated from one of the referee’s dads just before Christmas. I was taken aback as there’s so many people involved; I questioned why I should get an award because I enjoy doing it. For me, it’s a collective, not just me, even though I have to be the one to make tough decisions sometimes. I’m really proud to accept this award.
“To anyone wanting to get involved in grassroots, it does take up a lot of personal and family time, but it brings you so much enjoyment and I don’t know what I’d do now if it wasn’t in our lives. You make so many friends for life. There’s always somewhere that individual skills can be used, even if it’s not playing – local clubs would bite your hand off for help!”
Stacey hopes to continue to volunteer her services to grassroots and continue to grow her league in the future.
Stacey also hopes to encourage more women to get involved in a heavily-male dominated playing field. What’s more, Stacey and the committee at St Helens Town are working towards more ways to support mental health within grassroots football, and believes it benefits mental health through social engagement.
As a partner of The FA’s Respect Programme, Nationwide Building Society aims to thank those who have gone above and beyond to build mutual respect within grassroots football, making society more tolerant and inclusive.
Each month, Nationwide gives nominees the chance of winning the Mutual Respect trophy and two tickets to an upcoming England football team game. Its panel of judges then decides the winner each month, based on what the nominees have done to promote mutual respect, either on or off the pitch.
For more information on Nationwide Building Society’s Mutual Respect pledge, visit https://www.nationwide.co.uk/about-us/mutual-respect/mutual-respect-award/