Joe Mazzei set up community-spirited Waterloo Park Football in Norwich last summer, along with his brother Ewan. Fast forward to this summer, and a competitive squad is about to start its first ever league campaign!
2020 was shaping up to be fairly good year for me in terms of music and my band. We’d just released a song before Christmas – and it got some really great feedback and radio play. We were planning more releases and hoping for a good summer of playing festivals etc. That all fell through pretty sharpish when the virus struck – and we were written off playing live and even just rehearsing.
At first, I relished the extra time at home and put a lot of effort into decorating and gardening but after a couple of months it started to wear me down a bit.
Around June time, my brother Ewan and I initially hoped to find a few people to join us at the park for a kickabout as we were spending a lot of time there together walking my dog. When we posted on a local Facebook group in July, that’s when things took off.
From the off, we wanted it to be as inclusive as possible. The first thinking was mainly targeted at people who weren’t working at the time, give them something positive to do. Ahead of our first planned session of an afternoon, we changed our mind and opted for an ‘after work’ time, to include those who wanted to come but did have work commitments.
For many of us, including those organising and running the club, playing football has been a huge benefit. This past year or so has been full of negative and challenging situations and being a part of this club has given a great purpose and much needed to positivity to the year. Just being able to socialise with other people alone is such a powerful thing for a lot of us at the moment. Then there’s the physical and mental health benefits of playing sports too, which personally I have felt hugely. Some people would have been sucked into staying at home 24/7 due to the pandemic but the club has helped get people out of the house, doing something fun and worthwhile.
We’ve been extremely lucky throughout the pandemic as organised sport has largely been unaffected. There are things we had to adapt to, such as track and trace, including taking everyone’s contact information and keeping a register for every session. But the club formed a kind of ‘bubble’, like in schools, so with the extra precautions it was kept as safe as possible.
2021 has been very exciting. The sessions are still going strong and we have built a competitive team to register into leagues – we’ve been busy doing pre-season friendlies. It was definitely a vision for the club very early on and, because we saw such great growth, it became possible. We have quite a few people who help out now. A lot of work is put in by our Head Coach, Matt Bailey, and his partner – our administrator – Charli Crowe. Maybe one year in the future we’ll be challenging for the Premiere League title! The sky’s the limit.
Featured image: Joe Mazzei is bottom row, second from right