Aldershot Town led The National League in becoming the first football governing body to sign the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant at a ceremony at Horse Guards Parade in London last Thursday.
Represented by Team Captain Sean McGinty, midfielder Jake Gallagher Chairman Shahid Azeem and Director John Leppard, alongside National League Chairman Brian Barwick, senior members of the Ministry of Defence and soldiers from the London Irish Regiment and HQ London District, the Covenant was signed in the historic Wellington Conference Room.
On behalf of its 68 member clubs, The National League has joined an ever growing list of leading companies and organisations in signing up to the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant, which Aldershot Town were the first football club to sign in May 2014.
Barwick said: “When we come into these hallowed surroundings, it reminds us all that football, and sport, is one of life’s great diversions. Sometimes we lose perspective of what really matters in life, and it is a privilege for us to pledge our support for the brave servicemen and women who do such remarkable things on our behalf.
“It is also a real privilege for the National League to have been given the opportunity, through the work of Shahid Azeem, to be the first league to sign the Covenant. National League clubs are a huge part of their communities, and we should do everything we can to support an initiative like this. We won’t let you down.”
Also present was Major-General John Crackett, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff, who said: “If we are asking our young people to serve in the Armed Forces, and put their lives at risk, it behoves us to make sure that we look after them when they come back into society. With the signing of the Corporate Covenant, and this commitment to supporting the Armed Forces and their families, I am looking forward to further engagement with society through the National League.”
Lt Col Guy Benson, SO1 Engagement Projects for HQ Regional Command in Aldershot, continued: “Football is the national game and the soldiers’ game, so we are inextricably linked, and I believe that we are laying a solid foundation for a partnership between football clubs and the Armed Forces. What is now the National League, will tomorrow hopefully be the Football League, the Premier League, the women’s game and all governing bodies around the UK.
“This is a two-way process and also involves the Army giving something back to the National League with joint leadership training, corporate responsibility training, and youth activities to deliver at grassroots level.”
“As the football club which represents the home of the British Army, it was vital that we played a major role in both signing the Covenant ourselves and encouraging the National League to do likewise,” said Shahid Azeem. “The Club is very proud of its links with the Armed Forces and we will continue to work closely with them and honour the men and women who serve our country.”
The Wellington Conference Room was previously used, in the 19th century, as the main office of Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, and has changed little since that time.
100 years ago, members of the London Irish Regiment and HQ London District were among those soldiers who took a break from hostilities on the Western Front to play the “beautiful game” – the First World War Christmas football match, which has become an icon of how sport can transform lives, even those enduring the horrors of the worst of war.
It is the intention of The National league to seek pledges from the other constituent member clubs, with plans to sign their individual pledges at the League’s half yearly conference at Telford in January 2016.
The Covenant has been in existence since June 2013 and to date over 700 companies have publicly pledged their support to the armed forces community by signing the Corporate Covenant. The covenant exists to redress the disadvantages that the armed forces community may face in comparison to other citizens, and to recognise sacrifices made.
The Armed Forces Covenant is a promise between the nation, government and the Armed Forces to treat our serving personnel, veterans and their families with fairness and respect. Corporates, charities and local authorities can sign the Armed Forces Covenant and make their own promise to support the Forces in ways of their choosing.