Halfway Through The 92: The amazing work done by Free Kicks

Some people turn football into a positive thing for those who need it most. Steve Thorpe, the co-founder of the Free Kicks Foundation, has been kind enough to take the time to explain the work done by the charity and the difference it has made so far.

At Free Kicks Foundation we raise money to give deserving children (and sometimes adults) days out at football. In 2012, we will celebrate five years since our launch. The idea came about during the 2006 World Cup from a friend of mine, Leigh Porter, who had worked for Sue Ryder but at the time was working for Peterborough United. The idea grew and grew from that day and we launched with a fundraising gig and what is now our annual five-a-side tournament in May 2007.

After much paperwork and red tape we became a registered charity in October that year, after having our first Kicks, as we call them, in August at the pre-season friendly between Posh and Manchester United. Free Kicks is run by myself and my friend Sam around our full time jobs and family commitments. I run the fundraising and administration side, while Sam organises all the Kicks, liaising with hospitals, families and clubs.

Since we started, we have taken nearly 140 deserving children and young adults to matches all over the country. The majority of children we give Kicks to go along to the matches as mascots. This generally involves a tour of the ground, a new kit, visiting the players in the dressing rooms, a kickabout on the pitch and, of course, leading the team out ahead of kickoff.

Most of our Kicks are at Peterborough United matches as this is our team. We do many Kicks at London Road but also at away games, where we treat local children to the experience. Locally the children are nominated by either Peterborough City Hospital, Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge or the East Anglian Children’s Hospice, also in Cambridge. For Posh away games we contact local hospitals, hospices or charities and ask them to nominate a fan of the home team for the treat. We also have some Kicks at matches away from Posh, recently at Tottenham, Watford and our first Scottish kick at Glasgow Rangers.

Posh have been brilliant to us over the years. We were even one of their official charities for two seasons and our logo featured on the the third choice shirt for some games when they were last in the Championship, which was obviously a very proud moment for us. During that time, four Posh players agreed to be Free Kicks ambassadors – Joe Lewis and George Boyd are still at Posh but despite moving on, Aaron Mclean of Hull City and Gillingham’s Charlie Lee are still available to help whenever they can.

We fundraise in various ways. We have an annual five-a-side tournament and cricket match, as well as our main fundraiser each year where we like to challenge ourselves and our supporters! We have cycled from Posh to MK Dons, visited all 92 grounds in 92 hours, walked from Posh to Nottingham Forest and this year we walked from Barnet to Wembley Stadium via all other London league grounds, raising over £6,000!

Over the five years we have been running we have raised over £70,000 in total. Next year, amongst other events, we have a team of ten cycling from Posh to Paris over the course of four days. Since we got involved in using Twitter we have also had generous support from fans of other clubs. One of the most notable gestures came from Millwall fans who last season donated all the profits from the sale of their fanzine, No One Likes Us.

All the people we meet are inspirational in one way or another. The looks on their faces when they get to meet the players or get to go on the tour of the grounds and see behind the scenes makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Adam took part in one of our first Kicks. We managed to arrange for him to watch a game at Stamford Bridge from the players lounge and he also got to meet John Terry, who gave him his shirt and captain’s armband from the game. Sadly later that year, Adam passed away and this is what his mum Rachel wrote for us about Adam’s day and what it meant to him and his family:

Adam had been a fan of Chelsea for a few years before he was diagnosed with cancer. When Free Kicks Foundation offered him a VIP trip to see Chelsea play, he was more than anything overwhelmed, as was I, that he was being given such an amazing treat just for being ill (as he would put it). We watched the game from the players lounge with some of the players’ families and one of the players willingly had his picture taken with Adam, despite Adam not wanting to bother him!

After the game, we were taken behind the scenes downstairs to where the players were and Adam was taken through to meet the players. He was nervous and excited. When he came back he had tears in his eyes and said “Mum, John Terry gave me his shirt and his Premiership captain’s armband”, which he had apparently never given away before. He was just so overwhelmed and happy and for me to see him smiling and excited like that after everything meant so much.

The experience continued when four months later, a few weeks before he died, Adam received a package from Chelsea for his birthday with gifts and a card hand-written from John Terry and Frank Lampard. He couldn’t believe it. He kept saying “Mum, are they real? Are they really from them?” It was an unforgettable, touching experience for Adam and the whole family – the shirt, armband and cards are all in a huge frame on the wall.

We still stay in touch with Rachel, she did a skydive for us and kindly agreed for us to name our annual five-a-side tournament after Adam.

During the rest of the season, we have Kicks taking place at Posh away games at Burnley, Doncaster, Crystal Palace, Ipswich and Derby as well as more at London Road. We are also hoping to go back to one of our favourite clubs, Huddersfield Town, plus we are trying to organise days out at Everton and QPR. Our aim is to eventually have a Kick at every club in the country. When we visited Hull last Saturday, we were exactly halfway through the 92! We would also like to do more in Scotland and maybe even Europe!

You can find out more about Free Kicks on their website and follow them up and down the country on Twitter.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

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