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Kit it out – solidarity in football

FOOTBALL was once the working-class sport. A game in which kids who once kicked a ball around the street, with jumpers for goalposts, could make it all the way to the professional game.
But, as football expands into the multi-billion-pound empire we see today, the gap between the game and the the less privileged in our society is growing ever wider.

Match day ticket prices rise. TV networks price out many viewers. And even the cost of pay to play football pitches keeps going up. All of which means that watching — and even playing — football is hitting the average working family hard.

It is now capitalism that drives forward the beautiful game, and one of the major money makers is replica kit sales, with clubs launching a new strip every season. That puts even more pressure on fans trying to keep up with the latest trends — because new footie kit doesn’t come cheap.
And for many kids in Liverpool, it’s a major struggle to get hold of the most basic football gear — never mind the latest styles.

Kit It Out is an initiative to tackle the reasons why children can’t afford to play football. They collect used — and occasionally new — football strips from donors, and give them to families in need. Scottie Press met founder Michelle Smith, who runs the programme with Paul Morgan and John McInnes.

Michelle told us: “Originally I was doing school uniform collection for one of my kid’s schools. We were just taking in used school uniforms that we could redistribute. My partner had been to footie training and on the way back he came up with this idea.

“He was aware — through being friends with people working for an Hour For Others and the Fans Supporting Foodbanks campaign — that there are kids in the city who are just not able to play football because they can’t afford kits or boots.

“Given that we were already linked to other campaigns in the city, we thought it it would be a good opportunity to start collecting ourselves and get kits out to where they are most needed. It started at the end of last year, around September. We basically just set up social media pages and launched it that way.”

And the response has been really encouraging, “I’ve got boxes of stuff in my hallway and loads of bags,” says Michelle. “I was very happy to get so much kit — but after a few days I’m like: ‘We need to get this stuff out of my house — because I can’t even hoover the hall!’

“We’ve had kits from various football clubs and a school teacher sent out a letter to parents, which got us loads of donations. Lots of the parents dug out their old football kits and the teacher even collected them for us.

“You’re talking a good few thousand kits we’ve had so far, some of them secondhand but all in good condition — and some new ones, as well.”

Incredibly, Michelle is still running the entire operation from her home. She adds: “We’ve tried to keep it Merseyside only, because there are only a couple of us doing it, and it’s quite difficult in terms of the logistics.

“We’re collecting it at our house because we don’t have anywhere to store things and originally we were dealing with a lot of individuals who were contacting our page.”

The Kit It Out operation is still growing and, to make the project manageable, they are starting to distribute directly into community hubs.

Michelle explains: “In centres like The Bridge, Reece Jones Centre, Unity, Greenhouse Project and various other places across the city, we rely on the people who work there, and are in contact with families regularly. They know who could do with the kits.”

Publicity about Kit It Out has helped the news to spread right across the country — and even overseas. “We were contacted by a guy in Bristol who asked if there was anything happening down in his area, and asked if we could send some kits,” Michelle recalls.

“We suggested he did something himself, so he set something up and there is now an equivalent scheme to ours in Bristol. He even designed a poster for us because he’s really good with graphic design.

“We also sent some kits for kids whose families have been affected by the flooding in the north east. We also get adult kits in sometimes, which we’ve given to Asylum Link Merseyside because they’ve got their own football team.”

Michelle also revealed: “We’ve even had some stuff come over from Italian football clubs. Roma sent us some kits after seeing stuff on social media. They sent us a massive box of brand new footie gear.”

Kit It Out’s vision has already gifted thousands of children across the city — and made Michelle aware of the harsh realities that many families still face.

She says: “I didn’t realise the price of a full football kit before doing this, because neither of my own kids were particularly interested in football. So I’ve been really really shocked to learn that the price could be equivalent to somebody’s fuel bill for a month.

”What we are doing is just working class solidarity. It’s about trying to make sure that we are all supporting other working class communities. People I know are involved in Fans Supporting Foodbanks and the Twenty’s Plenty campaign — about the price of tickets for football matches.

“It just seems working class people are being priced out of football — whether it’s going to the game, being able to afford merchandise, or even being able to afford any food or a drink at the game. It can easily add up to £100 if you’ve got kids with you. Buying a football strip is impossible for families who are already struggling.

“This is also about opening up a conversation with kids that not everyone can afford a fancy kit, and how they should be understanding about that. There are reasons why that’s the case, and we should all be supporting each other.”

Any readers with spare kits or football boots, who want to make a donation, can contact Kit It Out through their social media pages: