A corporate football tournament raises money for charity and fulfils amateurs' dreams, finds Trevor Clawson
It's a potent fantasy. One day you're parking your car at the municipal playing fields and looking forward to a Sunday morning game. The next—plucked from footballing obscurity by a perceptive talent scout—you're crashing home the winning goal. After the game, a clearly impressed David Beckham shakes your hand.
Sadly, the closest most of us will get to this kind of scenario is a seat in the stands, but if you have deep pockets and can put together a company team, then the European Corporate Cup at least offers a taster.
Organised by the David Beckham Academy, the Cup brings together teams drawn from the staff of UK and European businesses. This year's event, which takes place on December 21 at the Academy's headquarters in Greenwich, south London, will see 16 sides taking to the pitch, each paying £25,000 for the privilege.
For the football obsessed, it's a seductive concept. Not only will Beckham be there to oversee the competition and present the prizes, but each team will be assigned a "celebrity" manager. Last year's coaches included Ruud Gullit, Paul Gascoigne, John Terry and Dennis Wise. "It's a chance to meet with some of the biggest names in football and play in a prestigious tournament that is the largest of its kind in Europe," says Anthony White, a coach at the Academy.
Last year, blue chip participants including Channel 4, Citigroup, Bank of America and RBS all fielded teams for the three year-old tournament.
The purpose of the event is, unsurprisingly, to raise money. The Academy provides football tuition and while it charges for its services, it also offers thousands of free places through its contacts with schools. The coaching has to be paid for and as White says, "the European Corporate Cup is our main fundraising event of the year."
But the fundraising objectives of the Cup go beyond the Academy itself. A significant proportion of the money raised goes to the Shine Trust, a charity that helps disadvantaged children raise their educational achievement levels. The 2006 tournament raised around £100,000 for Shine and according to White, competitors are aware that in addition to enjoying a good night's football and a follow-up party at the nearby O2 Arena, they are also contributing to a charity that is close to David Beckham's heart. "The teams do take the charitable side of the event very seriously," says White. "We give them the option to make their donations direct to Shine rather than the Academy and a number of them choose to do that."
For the participants, it's a chance to do some good while having a lot of fun. City recruitment firm Poolia took part in last year's tournament and, as director of sales Shaun Greenfield recalls, it offered team members the chance "to fulfil a childhood dream" while providing the company with an opportunity to build on client relationships.
Shine CEO Stephen Shields says the Corporate Cup is an important date in his calendar—and not just because of the prospect of a six-figure cheque. "We benefit financially but it is also an opportunity to meet and raise our profile with organisations that may not have heard of Shine or what we do," he says. "It gets our name out into the financial and corporate world."
There is an alignment of interests between the businesses taking part and the charity. Shine exists to raise educational achievement while corporate Britain knows that education is the key to national prosperity. Or as Shields puts it: "There is an awareness, especially in the financial sector, of the economic benefits that come from children doing well at school."
Equally, there is a link between both the Beckham Academy's objectives and Shine's. Both organisations aim to provide help for the disadvantaged and recognise passion for football as a way of achieving that aim.
In fact, the corporate cup provides a good illustration of how football can provide a focal point for involvement in charitable activity and social projects. There are plenty of people, for example, who would argue that, collectively speaking, the cash-rich football industry has an obligation to put much more back into the communities that support it.
But for those who can't afford the European Corporate Cup's £25,000 entrance fee, Football Aid provides a more cost-effective way for football fans to channel their passion into fundraising activities. The charity has raised over £1m for a variety of worthy causes, such as diabetes research, by staging special matches between fans at Premiership football grounds. Fans can also bid for places at one-off training events run by star players.
Football's governing body, the FA, has set up a dedicated umbrella organisation to co-ordinate community projects. Dubbed Football in the Community (FITC) it is supported nationally by the FA and the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) while being implemented at local level by individual clubs. As Ian Thornton, director of FITC at Norwich City FC, explains, the scheme was launched in 1992 to provide coaching for children and adults. Since then many clubs have set up charitable trusts to run community schemes under the "Reading the Game" initiative.
As with the Corporate Cup, the FITC draws in business support. Norwich City's community projects are funded by local and national organisations. "We get backing from companies such as Norwich Union and Barclays," says Thornton. "It's not just money. They will send people out to help with coaching—often as part of their own corporate social responsibility programmes."