Trailblazers celebrates the stories of Football Trailblazers of Black and Asian heritage. The call to action is for young people to discover and celebrate trailblazing footballers in their local communities.

Trailblazers in a celebratory programme that promotes integration and champions equality, diversity and inclusion. Participants develop the language and confidence to address diversity and inclusion in the world around them by being inspired by those who came before.

Big Ideas was delighted to be given the opportunity to bring this groundbreaking project to the wider football family across England and Wales through the Premier League Charitable Fund. The programme was offered through the networks PLCF has nurtured in the community via the Premier League Inspires and Premier League Kicks programmes. The project aligned with the aims of PLCF and the participating groups.

“The Trailblazers project fits perfectly into the Foundation’s aims of inspiring and engaging young people.”

Matt Pilkington, Manchester United Foundation

The Trailblazers programme was delivered through digital ‘train the trainer’ sessions enabling the Big Ideas team to bring the programme direct to those who would deliver it on the ground. Ongoing support was also provided to facilitators. Big Ideas also celebrated the work of different groups through the Trailblazers newsletter and used the ‘CCOs Corner’ to spotlight the project via this peer to peer platform. Both channels helped amplify knowledge of trailblazers and positive youth social action across the PLCF family.

Discovering and celebrating football’s Trailblazers

Trailblazers ran from October 2020 to August 2021. Around 295 young people participated, 18 different clubs took part across 27 community settings. 

Club community foundations that took part were: AFC Bournemouth Community Sports Trust; Blackpool FC Community Trust; Bolton Wanderers Community Trust; Chelsea FC Foundation; Grimsby Town Sports and Education Trust; Tigers Sport and Education Trust; Leeds United Foundation; Middlesbrough FC Foundation; Manchester United Foundation; Newcastle United Foundation; Nottingham Forest Community Trust; Palace For Life; Preston North End Community and Education Trust; Stoke City FC Community Trust; Swansea City AFC Foundation; Swindon Town Football in the Community Trust; West Ham United Foundation and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC Foundation.

A diverse range of Trailblazers were celebrated from Darren Harries and John Charles to Mamady Sidibé and Arthur Wharton. From the well known, such as Viv Anderson, Eni Aluko, Danny Batth, Yan Dhanda and Chris Kamara to the less well known, such as Raya Ahmed, the first Asian female Muslim football coach (Palace for Life), and AFC Bournemouth’s U21 Captain Dinesh Gillela who is currently one of only a handful players of Asian heritage in the football league.

“We covered Arthur Wharton and his struggles he would have faced back in the 1800s, then we talked about present day and about racism over social media.” 

Harrison Astin, Preston North End Community and Education Trust

Recognising the needs of different settings and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Big Ideas produced a suite of adapted resources and support to remove barriers to participation at this challenging time. Just over half (53%) of those who participated took advantage of either a Big Ideas training workshop or one of the monthly surgeries.

Right: Tigers Sport and Education Trust’s Trailblazer timeline which supports participants to see their trailblazer in context.

Getting to the heart of inclusion with young people

“At the end they all realised how everyone needs to treat each other the same no matter the skin colour, background or person.”

Harrison Astin , Preston North End Community and Education Trust

The genesis of Trailblazers was to use the unifying power of football to generate positive conversations around the meaning of equality, diversity and inclusion among young people. Those delivering the session repeatedly reported on the conversations sparked by Trailblazers and the confidence and support it allowed young people to open up about personal experience of racism and discrimination.

“Social exclusion, racism, bullying – we found that the participants opened up about some of their personal experiences and we were able to use this information in our 11 mentoring network.”

Gareth Williams, AFC Bournemouth

The feedback from those who delivered the programme, shows that 9 out of 10 young people who took part learnt something new.  More than 9 out of 10 of them increased their knowledge of history (92% of participants) and now have a good understanding of what an ally is (93% of participants)

“We discussed what inspired them about the Trailblazer, what they achieved, how she overcame her challenges and what they liked most about her. We also discussed the term allyship, the discussions allowed the girls to speak openly and feedback confidently as they were able to bounce off each other.”

Raya Ahmed, Palace for Life

The Trailblazers project combined learning from example with personal experience and learnings. CCOs reported that the project allowed young people to understand how they can be an ally to those facing discrimination.

“The Trailblazers project to date has also allowed for us to delve deeper with participants on how they can become Trailblazers themselves within a specific academic or sporting field and offered strategies for helping them to support peers and family members who may experience discrimination or exclusion.”

Gareth Williams, PL Inspires Project Lead, AFC Bournemouth

“Participants had to think and show how they would react to discrimination and be an ally, developing their confidence to be an up stander in the correct manner.”

Participant survey, Kristan Hoskins, Grimsby Town Sports and Education Trust 

Right: Middlesbrough FC Foundation make a pledge inspired by their Trailblazer, Viv Anderson

Championing social action

Key to the campaigning and celebratory aspects of Trailblazers is for young people to champion positive role models among their peers and in the wider community. Three quarters of the groups took part in social action and championed their Trailblazers beyond their group.

A great example of this was the work of Manchester United Foundation. The Foundation’s under-16s PAN disability programme, Ability Counts, researched their chosen Trailblazer double-Paralympian and the most decorated blind footballer in British History, Darren Harris. 

The young people then met Darren and were inspired by what he had to say about sport, inclusion and resilience. This was shared through a news story on their website and social media channels. The Facebook post was shared with an audience of over 2m followers, significantly amplifying the impact of their Trailblazers celebration.

“Darren Harris is proof that sports is inclusive, regardless of race, sex, religion or disability.” 

Ability Counts participant

Swindon Town Football in the Community Trust ran Trailblazers at a local primary school as part of the Premier League’s Kicks programme. The group were passionate about growth of women in the game and in sport more generally.  

They chose to research and discuss female Trailblazers Karen Brady, Chloe Morgen, Nadia Nadim, Eni Aluko and Emma Clarke. Inspired by their Trailblazers project this group of Year 6 girls decided to take action in their school and established a girls football team.  In the Trailblazers spirit they made this inclusive across all ages, running taster sessions with all the girls from Reception to Year Six.

The teachers shared these activities with parents and families on the school’s social media: “This could be the start of something special, great work girls.”


Legacy of anti racism & allyship across PLCF 

Supporting the PLCF network of CCOs in communities across the country to have the confidence, skills and opportunities to work with young people to tackle racism and discrimination in all its forms is at the heart of PLCF’s work on inclusion through sport.  Once introduced to the project, high levels of confidence were reported among those who delivered it. 

“I thought it was a fantastic project and I was very happy in getting to deliver it, this is because whilst it educated the young people, it also educated me.”

Harrison Astin, Preston North End Community and Education Trust

There is also evidence that the project helped boost confidence among CCOs creating an appetite for future projects that address this theme – those who delivered the project reported a marked increase in confidence to deliver future projects with a focus on equality, diversity and inclusion.

Middlesbrough Norton PL Kicks Camp

“I think it is important to drive EDI from an educational standpoint, which the Trailblazers project allowed us to do.”

Andy Tye, Swindon Town Football in the Community Trust