As the PFA’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, John Hudson spends much of his time raising awareness about the pivotal role footballers can play within their local communities. An ex-professional footballer himself, John left the game at 23 through injury and joined the PFA after some time working on community and leisure programmes at Manchester City and with the Greater Manchester Police. John’s department works closely with all professional clubs, supporting community activities focusing on health, education, inclusion and equalities. A key role for the department is to make sure players understand their social responsibilities and are giving something back. We caught up with John to find out more about his role and how football can influence positive social change.
John, why is it important for football clubs to have community programmes?
Football clubs continue to be the hub of their communities and a place where people from all areas of society can come together as one. Footballers are in a very privileged position, and as role models can often use their own experiences to get through to the wider community, in areas where others can’t. The universal language of football makes it an excellent vehicle for tackling significant issues. Hard-hitting messages around knife crime, addiction, mental health and discrimination are being addressed via community programmes at football clubs around the country. We’ve had over 40,000 player appearances taking part in community activities across all 92 professional clubs, and it’s amazing how far we’ve come over the past 30 years.
What role does the PFA play in supporting community foundations at clubs?
The PFA Charity established community foundations in the late 80’s when football was the blame for all the ills of society. Then 14 years ago, the English Football League Trust and Premier League Charitable Fund were set up to oversee their respective clubs. The PFA Charity provides significant financial support to these organisations and is represented on their boards to ensure player engagement is at the core of all community programmes. Every year, the PFA Charity provides an 11-point Community Player Engagement Plan for each club, which focusses on an action plan for the year ahead. This helps clubs to find out what their players’ passions are, how those passions link to their own community foundations, and how to get the right players involved in the right activities.
How have these community programmes changed the image of football?
When Gordon Taylor decided to launch community programmes, football was at its lowest ebb, but these initiatives have really turned that around and have become powerful forces for affecting change in our society. Every town and city is now serviced by a community programme at a professional football club, and they have developed to a stage now that other bodies come to us to look at how football can help impact change on a local level.
What is the community champion programme?
The community champion programme is an opportunity for us to highlight that players understand their social responsibilities and are good at giving something back, which isn’t always the image portrayed in the media. Clubs nominate someone who has gone above and beyond what is expected of them in their day-to-day role as a professional footballer, and we’ve found many players who have an affinity for supporting community work. The PFA Charity then provides a trophy which clubs present to the players pitch-side at the end of every season. The PFA insisted on the introduction of 3 hours a week community activity within the standard contract for every player a number of years ago because we’re committed to building well-rounded individuals, not just footballers.
What are the PFA Charity’s goals for community programmes in the future?
We’re working with scholars to ensure they have a prominent role in the future of supporting community activities. We give them an introduction into what their club does in the local community as soon as they sign and encourage them to get involved. Then when they go on to become first-team players, we hope they take that information and experience with them so that giving back becomes second nature. By the age of 21, the majority of these players will be out of the game and so having a passion for community activities gives them an additional career option if they want to stay in football. Giving something back is part and parcel of being a professional footballer and supporting their communities gives them tools for life and not just for what happens on the football field.