In the UK thousands of people give up their time as volunteers. Financially, their work is never paid. Emotionally, their commitment has a dramatic impact on many local communities. Steve O’Neill is one of those amazing people. He has given 30 years to Islington Admiral Football Team and is still counting.
The first time I met Steve O’Neill, head of football for Admiral United, he was standing on the sidelines at the Market Road football pitch. For the last 30 years you could find him there at least twice a week.
It all started by simply wanting to play some football. In 1983, together with colleagues from The Sunday Times on Grays Inn Road, Steve started a football team.
Today, Admiral United consists of two adult and four youth teams.
“Volunteering is very important in the sport,” says Steve. “Behind every champion or a team there is always someone willing to give out their time to help that person or team to achieve something. They could be anything, from team manager, coach, secretary, treasurer, fundraiser or even someone who cleans the kits, but they are vital to a club.
“Admiral’s managers, coaches, secretaries are all volunteers. They give their time freely and willingly to help. When one of our teams wins a trophy, the whole club wins it with them. It’s a shared experience.”
Admiral players come from many different nationalities. This reflects London’s multiculturalism, and Steve believes that the city is welcoming to everybody. “Londoners have a deserved reputation for letting everyone have a go at achieving something, we don’t see different cultures as being obstacles to being a Londoner,” he says.
Steve is all about football. His passion is contagious. When you talk to him about Admiral you get a warm feeling that this really is his extended family. Undoubtedly his involvement in the club is also a great personal achievement.
What does the future hold for Admiral? Steve’s dream is to “have a team full of players who have made their way through from our youth teams to play in the senior teams and to enjoy winning trophies in that team”.
But to achieve this dream and ensure the future of the club, Admiral needs help. “Playing football in Islington is very expensive and lots of our players come from lower-income families in the borough. The club is always on the lookout for anybody willing to trust us with their generous donations to enable us to continue the good work of the past 30 years,” says Steve.
It is thanks to people like Steve that many of the community centres around us have a chance of surviving in today’s recession. In the times of austerity measures, medieval cuts, failing education system and what can be called ‘a broken society’, we should be treating people like Steve as heroes, for these are the real role models for our children to look up to. Their commitment and passion is a corner-stone of any community.
“Football is not just a game” – Steve O’Neill