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The Long and short of football as a catalyst for change in Coventry… 

Longford Short Football is about much more than just bringing young people together on a Saturday morning to kick a ball around. Jim Sweeney and John Robinson were the founders and visionaries behind this innovative group. John worked with Jim from the early 90s until 2014, while Jim has been running it on a voluntary basis since 1989.  

Longford Short Football is a group that has received funding from Think Active’s Together Fund and has engaged with more than 200 young people aged 10 – 21 in the past 12 months alone, but since its formation in the late 1980s the total number of young people passing through the club is in the thousands, explains Jim: 

“We are here to break down barriers and support these young people to stay on the right path, when the temptation to be involved in gang culture, anti-social behaviour and all the associated risks of that are so prevalent in the local area.” continues Jim. 

“It is also, of course, about physical fitness, teamwork and skills development and a love of football. But football is the conduit to so much more and we couldn’t continue without the support and funding from organisations like Think Active. Our sessions are and have always been free for participants, because we don’t want there to be any barrier to access and enjoyment.” Said Jim.  

Longford Short Football pride themselves on being an open and safe space for any young person to come and play, build friendships and develop their skills. They don’t put pressure on ability and give everyone an equal chance to participate.  

“We love giving the young people a sense of pride and achievement, our medal presentations are always very well received!” Enthuses Jim.  

Not many people have heard of, or experienced, Short Football as a game before, it is an invention of Jim Sweeney and former Longford Coach – John Robinson, first conceived in 1995 and developed over the past three decades.  

Short football is played as a 4-a-side game, and it is contained in a portable stadium which can be set up in minutes, with a key element being its suitability for inner-city areas. The initial idea came about as a way of creating a safe and contained pitch on a grass surface.  

“We had been playing on a tarmac pitch inside wire fencing, but every week there were issues with broken glass and stones on the floor and it just wasn’t safe. So, the coaches and I came up with the idea of Short Football and secured funding from local businesses to get the concept off the ground. The portable pitch is manufactured locally, and we’ve developed various sizes and formats over the years too.” explains Jim.  

The Longford team have learned through the delivery of their community sessions how powerful sport is as a tool for bridging divides in communities and fostering a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous society. Every week they work with young people from more than 12 different countries with many families speaking English as a second language. 

The team have also, unfortunately, seen first-hand, the impact and effects of knife crime in the local area, having lost members of their young squad. Subsequently, they continue to promote anti-knife campaigns and have a Short Football stadium named after Jaydon James who lost his life in Coventry and was an active member of the Longford Short Football club.  

From visiting, watching and speaking with the coaches and players at Longford Short Football in Longford Park Coventry, it is easy to see how much this means to everyone involved. They have current coaches volunteering with the group now, who used to be young players themselves and even one coach, whose dad was a player with the group back in the early 90s.  

The impact that Jim Sweeney and his team of volunteer coaches have had on thousands of young people from Coventry since 1989 is immeasurable, and a true testament to their dedication and commitment, to helping make a real difference in so many lives.  

The ethos and sentiment of it all was summed up beautifully by 11-year-old Ibrahim who said:  

“I love coming here to play football, because this team is like my family.”  

13-year-old Daniel said: “I like coming her to play football, because it is fun, I get to make new friends and learn new skills too.” 

16-year-old Kurdip said: “Everyone that comes here is treated equally, which isn’t like other teams where there is bullying. It is fun to come here.”  

17-year-old Alfie said: “Everyone gets a chance, we’re all treated equally, and it is a great laugh. I enjoy playing in the short-football stadium, because it is something different and unlike other clubs.” 

If you’d like to find out more about joining Longford Short Football, or finding your own local amateur football group there are lots of resources and places to find information online. A great resource to start with is the England Football interactive ‘Find Football’ tool: find.englandfootball.com  

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