A new football club in Aberdeen is aiming to make sure all underprivileged kids are able to play the sport without worrying about the cost.
Having launched just a few months ago, ZesT Football Club will be providing free training camps for 90 kids during the October holidays and already have big plans to expand in the future.
Lifelong football fan Zander Thornton was inspired to start the club during his time in rehab earlier this year.
The 42-year-old from Aberdeen has shared how he was able to battle his addiction and turn his life around to launch the new venture.
He said: “I got to the stage where I was drinking a bottle of whisky a day, and at the weekends even more. Eventually, my sister came out and when she saw how bad I was, booked an appointment with the doctor.
“The doctor said if I kept drinking the way I was, there was a good chance I wouldn’t make it to the end of the year.
“I was desperate to stop. Rehab taught me that addiction is an illness, and I don’t think many people see it as that. I went there with the mindset that I wouldn’t have a drink again, I knew I wouldn’t be able to put my family through that.”
Football for all
“The recovery model they used is called 12 Steps and as part of that you need to recognise a higher power to keep you on track, to keep you sober.
“I’m the least religious person you could meet, so it took me ages to work out what my ‘higher power’ would be. And then one day I was out walking my dog and I realised my ‘higher power’ had been staring me in the face – football.
“I’ve loved football my whole life. During my addiction that went away, that’s how bad it was. I was like ‘I love football, so what can we do?’, then I thought about how more families are struggling right now, especially with Covid.
“When I played football 30 odd years ago nobody had to pay, it was free. But now, any parents putting their kids to football have to pay fees to join a club, it can cost over 300 quid to play for a football team.
“So, I though there must be loads of kids missing out on playing football and I decided to do something about it.”
Donate your old football boots
In one of their first moves to help more children get involved in football, Zander Thornton and the ZesT team – who he says he could not do any of the work without – have organised a football boot bank.
He said: “The football boot bank is a massive thing that we launched a few weeks ago. What we’ve done is set up buckets in locations across Aberdeen where kids can donate pairs they’ve grown out of or people can add new boots.
“They get cleaned up and then we pass them on to kids who need them. The response from the community has been unbelievable and loads of people are getting behind us.
“We’ve got a donation point at Goals and one at Strikers. All the details for where the buckets can be found are on our Facebook page. We’ve also tied in with other football teams, so they will put the buckets out when they’re playing at the weekends.
“I haven’t been able to go around and collect all the boots yet, but I did empty the overflowing container at Goals and after just a couple of days, upwards of 150 pairs of boots had been added.”
The club has achieved a lot in its first few months with the focus always being on helping out youngsters in the north-east. They have been able put their plans into action thanks to fundraising and sponsorships from companies.
Looking ahead, ZesT Football Club hopes to expand further and allow even more children the opportunity to play for a team.
“Our goal is free football for all underprivileged kids, so after the October holidays we’re going to start teams for six to eight-year-olds. My original plan was to have teams for every single age group, but that’s going to be impossible at the moment.
“I want everything we do to be done well, so we’re starting with building the foundations. For the older kids who we are unable to set up teams for, we will be paying their fees for a year. Everything we have said, we have delivered on so far.
“We’re in the process of organising everything at the moment, and tying in with some local schools. Our plan is to have four hubs around Aberdeen – north, east, south and west.
“The different hubs will train and play at the weekends and once a month, the final Sunday of the month, they’ll all come together for what we’re going to call the ZesT Fest so all our teams can paly against each other. It’s really exciting.”
Anyone who is interested in their kids being a part of ZesT Football Club can get in touch via ZestFC@outlook.com or through the Facebook page.