The annual visit to the Shankill by Liverpool FC community coaches made the news this year when the European Cup went missing.
Fortunately the replica of the famous cup – last picked up by Liverpool in 2005 – was only temporarily misplaced in transit, and the cameras from UTV followed Sister Valerie Thom of the Church Army to the airport where it was successfully retrieved.
This is the fifth year in a row that Valerie, who works for the Church Army and Connor Diocese, has organised the visit by the coaches, and again it was an overwhelming success.
“When I first came here I looked around to see how I could get into the community,” said Valerie. “I wrote to various Championship League clubs and Liverpool was the only one to come back with a positive answer.”
Now the trip to the Shankill is an annual event for Eddie Sullivan and his team of community coaches – much to the delight of the dozens of young boys and girls who turn out for fun, friendship and a few pointers on the game.
The coaches were accompanied by chaplain Bill Bygroves, who led a gospel presentation at St Columba’s, Whiterock.
“The project is very positive for the area and very positive for the church. It shows that the church is not just for a Sunday morning but is willing to get out into the community,” said Valerie.
Around 70 children aged from six to 16 took part in the three day scheme at Paisley Park. Among them was a group of 10 who travelled up each day from Ashgrove Rovers FC, a cross community team in Newry.
Josephine Burns, who brought the boys up, said: “They have been looking forward to this for months. It is a great chance for them to meet new friends. One of the wee boys we brought up was like a mouse but by the end of the first day he came off happy as anything.”
This is the third year the Newry children have taken part. “They all enjoy it,” said Josephine. “Football is a universal language.”
The Newry children also joined some of the kids from the Shankill on a trip to Anfield in February last year and visited both Liverpool’s Cathedrals.
One face missing from this year’s football camp is that of Nathan Peeples, who died this year following a battle with leukaemia. Valerie said his death was a great loss, but Nathan’s parents were at Paisley Park helping with the organisation.
“For me it is about putting out a positive image of the Shankill, which gets lots of negative coverage,” said Valerie. “This community needs to pull together again and get confidence in itself.
“This project is a chance to reach people with the gospel who would never enter a church door. They will come and listen to Bill [chaplain] and that is Christianity in action.”