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'We just want kids to play football' - Club founder's mission to give all children a chance

PUBLISHED: 18:05 07 May 2019 | UPDATED: 19:10 07 May 2019

Jack and Sue Cassidy of Dereham Saints FC. Picture: Dan Bennett

Jack and Sue Cassidy of Dereham Saints FC. Picture: Dan Bennett

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'We won't turn any child away' - that is the philosophy of the man behind one of Norfolk's fastest growing youth football clubs.

A charity game between Dereham Saints u15s and their parents was held in support of Lewis Atkins. Picture: Supplied by Jack CassidyA charity game between Dereham Saints u15s and their parents was held in support of Lewis Atkins. Picture: Supplied by Jack Cassidy

Jack Cassidy is the founder of Dereham Saints, now in their second season, and has grown the club significantly from having 18 children involved to more than 180.

Mr Cassidy, 51, voluntarily runs the club and has a number of disabled children involved with its teams.

He has also set up wildcats groups for girls wanting to play football.

He said: "We don't want superstars, we just want kids to play football. We're not bothered about gender or disability.

Dereham Saints girls team. Picture: Supplied by Jack CassidyDereham Saints girls team. Picture: Supplied by Jack Cassidy

"We've recently started a wildcats group for girls with disabilities. We just want to give kids a chance. They just want to be treated as normal kids.

"Next season we will hopefully have another two teams and maybe even four. We have great coaches involved with the club."

Mr Cassidy was inspired to set up Dereham Saints, based at Toftwood Recreation Ground, after his son Jay, who has Asperger syndrome, was given little game time at his previous club.

There are teams for children of all different ages to get involved with, including the minis for toddlers, with the main message being to have fun.

The Times' Unsung Heroes. Picture: ARCHANT STAFFThe Times' Unsung Heroes. Picture: ARCHANT STAFF

He added: "We had one kid come along who had previously been in a wheelchair for the last couple of years. I told his mum that it is a contact sport but we can protect him as much as possible.

Mr Cassidy's wife, Sue, also helps out with the running of the club and added: "His mum was so happy. She said she didn't think she would see the day he would be able to play football."

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The club is continuing to progress with the rundown changing rooms at Toftwood Recreation Ground soon set to be renovated thanks to a grant from Dereham Town Council, which bought the materials.

Mr Cassidy is also trying to raise money for four more floodlights so the teams can train at the ground during the winter as oppose to having to pay for winter training elsewhere.

He added: "Other teams look at the hut and say 'oh great'. The work will be a big improvement."

Jack Cassidy has been nominated as part of The Times' Unsung Heroes campaign. Do you know a person or organisation that deserves recognition? To enter fill in the form here.

Fundraising for Lewis Atkins

Jack Cassidy and those at Dereham Saints FC have been helping with fundraising for a young boy from Dereham who has been diagnosed with cancer for a fourth time.

Lewis Atkins, 14, has been involved with junior coaching at Dereham Saints and is having to undergo another round of chemotherapy after a tumour was found in his leg last year.

Fundraising has been ongoing to raise money for Lewis and his family to help them during this time and Mr Cassidy held a charity football game earlier this year in support of him.

The match saw Dereham Saints under 15s play the parents at Neatherd High School in March and raised £1,400.

Mr Cassidy said: "His mum and dad aren't able to work and Lewis has to spend a lot of time at Addenbrookes Hospital. We just wanted to do something to help."

To donate to the Just Giving Page in support of Lewis and his family, visit https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/harry-cottenden-insupportoflewisatkins.

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