Preston's Old Knackers FC: The fun-loving team playing football the right way
There are a few things you need to know about Old Knackers Football Club.
First, they're a team of self-proclaimed old knackers who are proud of their 'vintage' nature whilst still retaining their full sets of teeth. Second, their arch-rivals are Hardly Athletic, against whom they play for a gold trophy of an old man. And third, they play for the sheer love of it.
The team, which is based in the Preston and Chorley area, was founded in December 2019 almost by accident. "I'd stopped playing football for about 10 years and I toyed with the idea of playing veteran's football," says Neil Proctor. "But the standard was too good because you get a lot of ex-pros and ex-semi-pros taking part so I joined the MAN v FAT league instead.
"It was one of the best footballing experiences I've ever had," Neil, 45, adds. "One of the lads' sons was profoundly disabled and he said he was struggling with the financial side of things. He'd set up a Sunday league team of younger players, so I said if I get a squad of older players together, we could play a charity match.
"We raised about £300 and all of a sudden had this team of old knackers who loved playing together. That's how it started."
Still firmly based around those core ideals of fundraising for charity and of re-injecting a sense of fun back into a sport which can often lose itself in an over-hyped world of competition, OKFC is now a 25-strong group of players (they're not currently looking for new recruits as the roster is full) who - in pre-Covid times, trained once a week at Walton-le-Dale High School and played on the final Sunday of the month.
"We keep it light-hearted and it's been amazing - it's not about competition because the moment it becomes about playing competitively, we lose that fun element," explains Neil. "And it means so much to the lads; personally, I'm an actor, so on March 18 last year I immediately lost all my income and had to get a cleaning job, but the football and the guys have kept me going.
"We've managed to make this genuinely wonderful thing even though we probably need Gorilla Tape to sponsor us because that's all that holds most of us together," he adds. "There's a fitness side to taking part, but it's more about the comradeship of blokes getting together with their mates and talking to each other whilst also having the football and the craic that comes with it.
"The football is a vehicle: we rip into each other no end but, when people are struggling, they reach out."
Despite the pandemic impacting their schedule severely, the team - which is coached by FC United of Manchester Women's Team midfielder Maxine Smith - still managed to raise over £2,000 in 2020, with the group adhering strictly to government guidelines at all times and training in groups of six when required in order to keep people engaged.
At the end of December last year, the players and the team celebrated their one-year anniversary with a charity match for S.E.E.D. Lancashire, a Preston-based eating disorder charity. The cause is close to Neil's heart, as he is himself four years into his recovery from an eating disorder.
"I'll always shout from the rooftops about my having had an eating disorder because I want people to know that men can grapple with such things as well," Neil explains. "The work S.E.E.D. does is amazing and I know from personal experience that Christmas can be a very stressful time for those with an eating disorder.
"Personally, I'd always either eat very little or far too much over the festive period and I've had anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and orthorexia at different points in my illness," he adds. "That's why it was so good to play the charity match after Christmas for S.E.E.D. and to raise funds for them."
Old knackers they may be, but what this team is doing takes more strength and has more of an impact than many can imagine.
"I'm really proud to be involved and it's a real team effort; everything comes together really nicely," says Neil. "We're a really tight group and it's just fab."