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Healthy competition and positivity on display in inaugural All To Play For tournament

All To Play For tournament report

Any sceptics of the power of sport to bring about positive change need look no further than the first ever All To Play For tournament, which took place at Norwich's Football Development Centre (FDC) on October 3. The 3G facility, played host to more than 50 players of varying ages, and athletic abilities, coming together to compete against each other in a wonderfully spirited contest. The tournament was eventually won by the Inspire A team from Ipswich – a detail that hardly mattered considering the wealth of personal victories achieved throughout the day.

The tournament was put together by Active Norfolk's Sam Watts and Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust's (NSFT) Andy Fisk, who between them coordinate the hugely popular All To Play For group for men of all ages struggling with mental health issues. The weekly group has become a beacon of hope and purpose for a growing number of keen footballers across Norfolk, sessions having already been set up in Great Yarmouth, with Thetford sessions beginning soon, as a result of the initiative's success in Norwich.

On the day, eight teams from different areas of Norfolk and Suffolk made the journey, the organisers having arranged lifts, buses and trains to make it all possible. As Sam Watts and Andy Fiske announced the rules, there was silence among the teams, each wearing the same kit as their teammates giving a sense of togetherness that was evident in more than just their uniforms.

Once the teams were assembled, the rules explained and the pitches vacated, all that was left was to take to the field. Teams organised themselves, selected their subs and formations and lined up for kick-off. From the outside looking in, it was organised and good-natured, as though eight groups of life-long friends had come to compete.

Perhaps most startling was the range of people who took part in the tournament. Men of all ages and starkly differing levels of athleticism and technical ability were pitted against each other and all played their part in making the tournament so lively and watchable.

Yarmouth Elite set the pace early, erupting into rapturous yells every time they scored, assisted, or tackled. "We're the best thing to come out of Yarmouth," joked the team captain as they walked victoriously off the pitch after group game number one of eight. For Yarmouth Elite, this tournament had been a fixture in the calendar they had all looked forward to for several months.

Special mention must also go the All To Play For group, Norwich B, who grew in confidence as the tournament progressed and were unlucky to lose many of the games in which they showed excellent togetherness after a difficult start. Again, the support they gave each other when they conceded or lost possession was admirable and often in short supply in other football arenas.

In the end, the final was contested between the two teams from Suffolk, Inspire A and Inspire B. The former took the title and celebrated wildly, having been unquestionably deserved winners. "The next one's on our home ground," said the Inspire A striker delightedly after the winners photo, himself now having something positive to focus on - the defence of his regional All To Play For title in the coming months.