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UEFA recognition for Finnish community club with 5,000 players

The UEFA Grassroots Award for Best Amateur Club goes to Ilves, which nurtures players of all ages and trains 1,000 volunteers each season.

UEFA Grassroots Award - Best Amateur Club

Based in Tampere, Finland's third-largest city, Ilves is the largest football club in Finland with more than 5,000 registered players.

The club provides playing opportunities for children as young as three, seniors into their seventies and players living with disability, proof that football really is for everyone.

UEFA research shows that Ilves' social contribution equates to more than €31m each year, promoting its key message of a healthy lifestyle in kindergartens, local schools and two training centres in the city.

Each season, the club engages and educates 1,000 volunteers to become better coaches, physiotherapists and team managers, offering UEFA-level training. In turn, this has seen the club produce elite-level talent – in 2021, more than 50 youth national team players had come through the Ilves system.

Zvonimir Boban, UEFA technical director & chief of football:

"Every player we see on our screens in UEFA competitions began their journey on a local pitch with friends or family.

"The elite game relies on a strong grassroots base, and that is why it is imperative that we celebrate the lesser-known stars who are bringing the game to people of all ages and abilities across Europe.

"We look forward to announcing the winners this week and congratulate them all on their fantastic work."

Winner's words – Matti Anttonen, Ilves FC executive director:

"The whole community of the club is very big. The biggest thing we can share is the love of football and futsal and the love of sports. If we can share that message, it's going to benefit Ilves, benefit football in the region and the whole of Finland.

"We get the message to parents that this is a safe environment and that healthy lifestyle is one of our main club values. We aim to educate the kids about the benefits they will gain if they move more. As the parents get this message, they then know this is where they want their kids to grow up.

"When the parents come and they see that this is a very good activity, it's easier for them to become volunteers and then continue the next year. We have been managing to keep the same volunteers year after year and they get whatever help they need and whenever they need it. That's the biggest reason for our success.

"We asked all our volunteers, 'What is the biggest motivation for them to come to our club?'. The main answers we received were community, a positive experience for their own child and a love of sport. So, we really want to cherish those things.

"We have openness as one of the core values of our club. We are open about where the registration fee goes, so we tell everyone, ‘This much is going for equipment, this much for the balls, this much for coaching’, so that everybody knows what they are paying for and what they get from it."

Artificial pitches are crucial to the development of the game in Finland
Artificial pitches are crucial to the development of the game in FinlandUEFA

Best Amateur Club 2022/23: Bronze and Silver winners

Silver: Fontenilles FC (France) 

Fontenilles FC is a well-known name in grassroots football through its involvement in many programmes. Even though the club's financial and human resources are limited, with just one full-time employee for 530 registered members, Fontenilles provides invaluable social support to its members (for example, helping with homework), and promotes solidarity and fair play.

Bronze: Bo’ness United Community FC (Scotland) 

Bo'ness provides footballing opportunities and pathways for boys and girls aged from three to 18. The club runs many programmes, such as Fun Friday, midnight league football for teenagers and school sessions for local primary and high schools.

About the UEFA Grassroots Awards

The UEFA Grassroots Awards have been celebrating outstanding contributions and achievements in the game since 2010. Focused on football outside the elite game, the awards turn the floodlights on some of the unsung heroes and inspiring initiatives that make football such a vital part of communities throughout Europe.

Candidates are nominated by Europe's national football associations, with award winners selected by UEFA's Development and Technical Assistance committee following recommendations made by the organisation's Grassroots Panel.

The criteria for Best Amateur Club include outstanding work in the grassroots game, providing for a wide range of participants and delivering a positive social impact. Judges sought clubs with an inclusive agenda offering grassroots football for men, women, boys and girls and that are exemplary in terms of their number of players or social impact.