The story of our club at Velmore Community Centre
Our club in Eastleigh has been going for over five years and has been held across two venues over that time, but one thing has been constant – volunteer John Donnelly (right), the club’s facilitator.
John, who is originally from Glasgow, lives in Hampshire and has been involved with the club since its launched in 2018 and he spoke to us how a trip home inspired him to support Sporting Memories.
“I had been up in Glasgow in 2017 with my dad and I noticed how much he enjoyed the community group that he attended, which talked about football. As I headed back down south, I thought if there are volunteers helping my Dad in Glasgow then I should be doing the same in my local community.
“I got in touch with Angie (Mills-Curtis, our Volunteer Coordinator for England and Wales) and she was in the process of setting up a group with Eastleigh Football Club, which is only a few miles away from me and that’s how we got started just over five years ago.”
John then spoke in detail about the club and how the good nature of the group combined with the diverse conversation topics has helped to build a friendly environment.
“One of the things I would say about the club is that it has a relaxed atmosphere and when anybody new comes along they are made to feel welcome. Sport is obviously our main focus, but we do discuss other topics as the members enjoy them too, such as music and cinema.
“Every week is also different, there is always something to discuss whether it is the sports taking place at that time or whether one of the group members has been up to something exciting – like going on a cruise! It’s also amazing how something like a bad train service can stimulate conversation.
“There are definitely friendships that have been built in the club, for example, I know members often speak to each other away from the sessions that we have.”
The club started life hosting sessions at Silverlake Stadium, the home of Eastleigh Football Club, but have since moved to the Velmore Community Centre a couple of miles down the road. Despite the short move, John mentioned the strong relationship they have had with the football club.
“We have a great connection with Eastleigh (Football Club) despite moving the venue a little while back. We still keep in touch with Gazz Davison, the Community Officer, and he sometimes comes along to our sessions still. During Covid, Gazz also got the Manager and Assistant Manager of the football club to attend one of our Zoom calls to chat to the group about their season at the time which was great.
“Recently, we were invited to one their busiest games of last season against Notts County, but they had laid out a space and some seats for us and were very accommodating. The group had a fantastic time being there on a match day.
“For some of them it was the first time they had been to a football match. And I said to them that being there in the flesh is a better experience than watching a game on the telly!”
To round-off our chat with John, we asked him why anyone should try out the Sporting Memories club in Eastleigh.
“I would say this to everybody – if you’re not sure about the club just come along and give it a try. Do not be put off because of the sport or another factor. It’s only a couple of hours and there is no commitment to be there every week, you can pick and choose when to come along if you feel that’s best for you.
“Some members come along as they love to simply chat and they do not get involved in the gentle physical activities that we do at the end of the session. They enjoy being part of the group and doing their own thing.
“The general message from me is come along and do what you want to do. It’s a very friendly and welcoming group and that’s not just coming from me, everyone associated to the club would say that too.”