In a week when Great Britain finally proposed its outline plans to withdraw from the European Union, Blackburn Rovers Community Trust made a conscious decision to move closer to Europe’s elite!
Far from being a political ploy, however, this was all about ensuring that the club’s official charity is in a position to rub shoulders with the continent’s biggest clubs to share ideas and contacts in a mutual bid to increase the positive role that football can play in improving local communities.
The opportunity came as a result of BRCT’s recent acceptance as members of the European Football for Development Network (EFDN), which hosts a bi-annual conference bringing all of its member clubs together for seminars, study visits and networking to learn how clubs in other countries undertake charitable activities that could be of benefit in their home region.
This week’s conference was hosted by leading Belgian club – and recent Champions League knock-out round participants – KAA Gent at their stunning Ghelamco Arena, with their charitable arm, KAA Gent Foundation, proving to be generous and welcoming hosts.
As well as taking the conference delegates to see some of their community work in action, they provided the setting for a series of keynote presentations from a variety of top European sides such as Barcelona, Olympique Lyonnais, Legia Warsaw and Shaktar Donetsk, as well as contributions from institutions as diverse as universities, players union FIFPro and the United Nations.
The Community Trust were represented in the picturesque Belgian city by head of marketing and communications Adrian Ward, who was pleased at the number of ideas he was able to bring back with him to east Lancashire, explaining:
“We were delighted to recently have the quality of our work ratified by gaining acceptance as EFDN members and our first chance to meet and greet the 70 or so other clubs at the conference certainly lived up to our expectations as a learning and networking exercise.
“It was really beneficial to be able to spend time talking to some of the continent’s most iconic clubs like Feyenoord, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Rangers about the kind of activities they provide, as well as having some great discussions with clubs as diverse as FC Midtjylland, Strømsgodset, Hibernian and the hosts KAA Gent to see who has the occasional bright spark of an idea that we can adapt, or even where we may be able to work together to source funding or deliver joint projects across borders.
“The ultimate aim of being part of this elite group is to make sure that the work we undertake in Blackburn and the surrounding areas has the biggest possible impact on the people living here, so whatever competitive advantages we can take by being part of an exclusive club are all hopefully going to add to our already award-winning combination of programmes and activities.”
The visit came as part of a hugely beneficial week for the profile of Blackburn Rovers Community Trust, with the conference starting on the same night that the news that they had been awarded the Community Club of the Year title for non-Premier League clubs at the Northwest Football Awards, held at Lancashire County Cricket Club’s Emirates Old Trafford.