A FOOTBALL club which puts the needs of youngsters in its local community first has received the Club of the Year award from Bolton Council.

Oxford Grove Junior FC, based in the heart of Halliwell at Shepherd Cross Street playing field, is a thriving club with more than 200 children taking part in 12 teams across age groups from five to 15 in the Bolton, Bury and District Junior Football League.

The Bolton Council accolade is reward for the hard work secretary and under-14s coach Gary Brooks, chairman Ray Foy and up to 20 volunteer coaches – many of whom are parents – have put in rebuilding Oxford Grove over the last seven years. The club is FA Charter Standard and all the coaches are at least FA Level One.

“Oxford Grove JFC has been going 30 years,” said Brooks. “Like a lot of clubs, it has had its ups and downs.

“Ray and I started out as parents taking our two lads there when they were six-year-olds.

“The club had declined over a number of years and when some of the organisers left there was no-one interested in taking it over, so Ray and I stepped up to the plate. It’s been on the up since then.

“We identified that we needed to increase participation. When we started, there were only two teams, so our aim was to build it up and get teams in every age group to give more opportunities to local boys and girls to play.

“It’s very much a working-class area and Shepherd Cross Street is probably the only piece of playing field that is available. There’s very little else around there.”

And Brooks reckons getting youngsters involved in football has a positive effect for the local community as they are less likely to get into anti-social behaviour.

“The key aim is that kids are involved in activity they enjoy and their attention is diverted away from drifting towards doing things they shouldn’t be doing,” Brooks added. “It’s definitely a positive outlet.”

Oxford Grove’s emphasis is also on playing the game the right way, and not necessarily winning all the time, although their under-12s play in their league cup final at the Reebok later this month.

“We’ve had a few teams that have won divisions and come runners-up, but I would never say that was our mantra.

“We’ve had a lot of guidance from our league, which is an excellent organisation, and it’s very much a fair play league and a respect league. And that is what we want to continue doing.”

Brooks and Foy have not ruled out creating an open age team to play in a local league as the teenagers become adults. He added: “We’d love to do it, but it is a question of being able to provide the facilities that would be required.”