West Belfast club St Oliver Plunkett scoop gold in UEFA Grassroots awards

St Oliver Plunkett FC have every right to celebrate after winning a prestigious UEFA awards. Pictured is club chairman Martin McLaughlin (front, left)

WEST Belfast soccer youth club St Oliver Plunkett has scooped gold in the 2017 UEFA Grassroots Awards.

Delighted ’Plunkett chairman Martin McLaughlin yesterday insisted the prestigious gong was a fitting tribute to the life-long work of the late Jackie Maxwell who helped form the youth club back in 1969.

“Jackie Maxwell, who died four years ago, was the driving force behind the club,” said McLaughlin. “For us, this award is an acknowledgement that we’re doing something right. More than anything else, it’s a privilege receiving the gold particularly when you consider the size of Europe and for our club to win is just incredible.”

UEFA’s Executive Committee handed out awards for Best Grassroots Leader, Best Grassroots Project and Best Grassroots Club.

St Oliver Plunkett, who field over 40 boys and girls teams every week and compete in the South Belfast League and NIBFA National League, won the latter award – Best Grassroots Club.

In a statement, UEFA described St Oliver Plunkett FC as “a club using football as a medium to develop young people in a disadvantaged community, by encouraging a sense of pride and belonging.

“The club is fully engaged with the grassroots programme run by the Irish Football Association (IFA), and fields over 40 teams of boys and girls.”

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin paid tribute to the winners that came from Armenia, Italy, Germany and Finland.

“Grassroots is football's lifeblood, because without healthy foundations, our sport cannot flourish.

“UEFA has always invested heavily in grassroots projects around Europe, and will continue to do so to ensure that football can be played by all.

“I would like to congratulate the winners of the UEFA Grassroots Awards for their fantastic initiatives and I would also like to thank all those who have worked tirelessly to make sure that people of all abilities can play this game at grassroots level.”

The west Belfast club field three teams per age group and provide football for over 500 children.

“We have over 80 coaches at the club and I would say three-quarters of them are ex-players who played under Jackie,” said McLaughlin, whose association with the club stretches to over 30 years.

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