A childhood friendship has led one of Scotland’s biggest fish and chip shop chains to sponsor a local football team which caters for people with disabilities.
Alessandro Varese, a director of the Blue Lagoon, which has 12 shops across the west of Scotland and Stirling, grew up with Michael McLennan, a development worker with The Advisory Group in Inverclyde.
Last year, Michael helped set up Greenock United, a team comprising players with a variety of physical and learning disabilities.
Now, with financial backing from the Blue Lagoon, the team’s ongoing success is secured. New kit and running costs will be covered by the chain.
Michael said: “In 2015, we identified a lack of sports provision for adults in the Inverclyde area, so we worked with a local football club to set up a team to give budding footballers a chance to socialise and keep fit.
“We have players with a diverse range of disabilities which presents its own challenges. However, everyone in the team bands together to support one another and just as the players are picking up football skills, the coaches and I are always learning from the players too.
“The players love having the opportunity to play and seeing how happy it makes them is incredibly rewarding. Some of the guys have never taken part in organised sport or been part of a team, and many have felt excluded because of their disability before. Being a part of the club has helped improve their confidence, fitness and communication with one another.
“We welcome players of all disabilities, ages and genders. Greenock United is not just another football team, it’s a real community of friends playing the sport they love.”
Now with 25 registered players and four SFA-accredited volunteer coaches, the club host two teams and each month compete in four 20-minute games in the Scottish National Pan-Disability League.
Greenock United hope to show others in similar situations that with a strong will and determination no disability, whether in body or mind, is a barrier to success.
Blue Lagoon director Alessandro, a long-time football fan, said: “Michael and I grew up playing football together in Inverclyde, and we’ve remained friends ever since. Seeing the work that he does with Greenock United is truly inspiring, and we, as a business, wanted to help in any way we could.
“I’ve always loved football and it’s important that people from with disabilities have the opportunity to take part in sport, regardless of the challenges they face.
“We see our business as part of the local communities we operate in, particularly in our heartlands. It is very important to us to give back to the area we grew up in, and to local causes making a real difference to people’s lives.
“I know how much Greenock United means to everyone involved in it and in the wider community. The Blue Lagoon is proud to sponsor such an inspiring group of players, volunteers and supporters.”
Sponsorship will allow the team to provide new kit, training equipment, running costs and transport for the players.
Michael said: “We currently rely on volunteers and donations to provide training, kits and transport to games. Part of my role is to build sustainability into the club, providing ongoing opportunities for people with disabilities, so securing financial backing from such a recognisable brand is invaluable.”