Following on from the pioneering work of Sir Elton, Graham Taylor and Ann Swanson, the wider football community took notice and launched the Football in the Community scheme. A pilot scheme was held in the North West which included Manchester City, Manchester United, Preston North End, Bolton Wanderers, Bury and Oldham and it was acknowledged that the model would learn from the successes of the community projects implemented at Watford.
Watford officially joined the scheme in 1992 with the appointment of John McDermott from Leeds United as the first Football in the Community Officer. From the humble beginnings of a broom cupboard and a bag of balls, this is where the 25 year history of the Trust officially started, although we all recognise its heritage actually began from the appointment of Graham Taylor in 1977!
Which country did the Trust first visit in 1994 to take part in a youth football tournament?
Training with the club was the highlight of everyone’s week, because they really saw themselves as part of Watford and it really made them feel part of something.
Highlights of the Era
Disability links are formed with the Balmoral Centre, a day centre for adults with learning difficulties in Watford, and regular coaching sessions begin.Read More
The Balmoral Centre was a daycare facility in Watford for adults with learning disabilities and special needs. As an early example of its involvement in social inclusion, the Football in the Community team began supporting it in the early 1990s, when Jimmy Gilligan organised regular football participation sessions.
The links were developed further under Kirk Wheeler and Rob Smith expanded the sessions into weekly training, with up to 30 participants. Before long Sky Sports ran a feature, and other clubs started to take notice and follow Watford’s lead.
The half-time penalty shootouts at home games would sometimes feature disability teams too – giving the participants the thrill of playing at Vicarage Road in front of hugely supportive crowds.
Chris Punt, who worked at the centre, believes the sessions helped to build the participants’ self-esteem.
The “Good Citizen” sticker album launched in conjunction with Herts County Council and Hertfordshire Police with sponsorship from Bell Cablemedia.
John McDermott appointed in 1992 and his position was funded by the Footballers Further Education and Voluntary Training Scheme run by the Professional Footballers Association.
Jimmy Gilligan, a former Watford FC player and holder of the distinguished record of scoring the club's first goal in Europe, succeeded John in 1993.
A first, with more to follow, as in 1994, 15 boys are selected from community programmes and taken on a trip to the Netherlands to compete in a tournament.
In 1996 Kirk Wheeler and Rob Smith (the current Director of the Trust) are appointed.
Share Your Memories
Were you one of the 15 boys who went on the very first Trust European trip to Holland? Do you have any memories or photos to share?
Do you have any stories from the early days of coaching courses run by Kirk and Rob?
If so, please share them and we will post the best ones on this site.