ENGLAND legend Kelly Smith said it brings ‘joy to my heart’ to see so many young girls participating in this year’s KBB Suffolk FA Grassroots Festival sponsored by McDonalds.
A record 175 teams, mainly boys, girls’ and mixed aged from under-7 to under-16, participated in the festival staged for the second year in succession at Whitton United FC on the outskirts of Ipswich.
The two-day event on Saturday and Sunday also featured a Youth Disability Festival and Walking Football for the first time.
Former Ipswich Town striker Trevor Whymark (white shirt, centre) fires in a shot for Beccles in the Walking Football.
With the FIFA Women’s World Cup scheduled to start in France in under three weeks’ time, the festival had a Women’s World Cup theme and Smith (pictured above) was the star attraction on Saturday.
Smith, who played in six major tournaments, attended on the first day. England’s first professional female footballer, who won 117 caps for her country, handed out certificates as well as posing for pictures and signing autographs.
She said: “It has been great to see so many young girls and boys having fun, really engaged and excited about playing football.
“It has been so exciting to be around so many young girls especially; when I was young I was the only girl playing in a boys’ team, so to see so many girls playing and so enthusiastic about the game of football just brings joy to my heart.”
Girls taking part in the KBB Suffolk FA Grassroots Festival sponsored by McDonald's at Whitton United FC.
Smith, England’s all-time leading goalscorer with 46 goals, said festivals such as this are ‘massive’ in the development of youngsters.
She continued: “I remember those days of playing five-a-side football as a young girl in the sunshine, match after match, and just getting as many touches on the ball as possible as at a young age that is crucial.
“You want to manipulate the ball with your feet and be comfortable with it and have fun, so playing in groups is crucial to the development of young players.”
Action from day two of the KBB Suffolk FA Grassroots Festival sponsored by McDonald's
Also on Saturday the McDonald’s Fun Football Zone, which consists of a number of inflatables, was in attendance. These included an inflatable pitch, a Dribble Zone, a Speed of Shot, a PowerSave, a celebration Knee Slider and an activity book station.
Suffolk FA partners Ball Launcher, Phoenix Sporting Goods and Total Football were also present along with the Co-op supporting the Futurestars charity collecting old kits to be donated to schools and clubs in Africa.
Suffolk FA Football Development Manager Jodie Allard said: "Thank you to all of the players, coaches and spectators who descended on Whitton United this weekend to attend the Suffolk FA Grassroots Festival.
“It’s been a real pleasure to deliver this year's event for our clubs and we were pleased to welcome a staggering 175 teams this year across the two days. From U7s to U16, boys, girls, disability and walking football - we’ve seen some amazing football taking place. A big thank you must go to the volunteers at Whitton United FC who have been fantastic hosts again this year.
“The event wouldn’t take place without the help of our sponsors and the support of KBB and McDonald’s has ensured we can continue to grow the festival and give an even better experience to our teams. Well done to the volunteer referees, Youth Council and Suffolk FA staff team who have delivered another fantastic showcase event. We hope that everyone who attended this year's Grassroots Festival had as much fun as we did!"
Action from the Youth Disability Festival, which was held for the first time, on Saturday.
Roger Peck, a director of long-time sponsors The KBB Centre, said: “It has been another well-run festival with a record number of teams taking part this year.
“Many thanks go to Whitton United FC for hosting the festival and their hospitality and also to McDonald’s for being joint sponsors as well as Phoenix Sporting Goods who provided the portable goals.
“I would personally like to thank all the staff from Suffolk FA for their hard work and effort which allows so many people to enjoy this wonderful sport.”