When the Coronavirus pandemic first struck the UK in 2020, the nation was plunged into uncertainty.
Football hit a standstill, and even some of the most profitable clubs in the world were left worrying about their financial status.
For non-league and grassroots football — who rely on match day income to operate — the future was unclear.
During the height of worry and uncertainty, National Lottery players stepped in to provide more than £12.5million of emergency support to help keep many of these clubs afloat.
This lifeline saved the livelihood of so many people, and to give back, the National Lottery has started up ‘Football Weekends.’ National Lottery players are now being given the chance to watch their local non-league football team for free.
England centurion turned pundit Karen Carney started her decorated career off at her local side in Solihull. Speaking to GiveMeSport Women, she spoke about the importance of supporting non-league football, not just during times of need, but all year round.
“The thing is with non-league football, once you go, you’re hooked,” Carney said. “The great thing about it is you build an association a lot quicker because you know people.
“I’ve followed non-league football for many years now and in particular when I come back here [Solihull] previously on match days, I know the people behind the bar, I know the people in the tuck shop, I know the stewards, I know everyone, because it’s where I’m from.
“To get that feeling, it’s amazing. With this initiative that’s coming up with the National Lottery Football Weekend — 100,000 tickets are available, buy one get one free. Just go down and support your local team, get involved.
“It will filter down and it will help the local teams, it will help initiatives like the Solihull Moors Foundation, it helps the people in your community that you know. Football just brings people together.”
Carney, who is one of England’s most recognised players, described grassroots and non-league football as a “pivotal” part of her career.
The former Lioness first laced up her boots for Solihull Moors, before establishing herself at Birmingham City as a club icon. After that, she won a number of trophies with Arsenal, enjoyed a stint in the US and retired as part of a star-studded Chelsea side.
She made a total of 144 appearances for her country, and at the time of her retirement, she was England Women’s second most-capped player.
Now, she is helping to give back to the non-league community by getting involved in The National Lottery Football Weekends.
“I’ve been really lucky that there’s been a lot of people locally who have supported me,” Carney reflected. “Initiatives locally as well have enabled me to go and play and have a safe environment to learn, develop, and grow.
“It’s where it all started. It’s incredible — from where I started, to the journey I’ve been on throughout my career, it started here in Solihull and I will never forget that.”
Carney reflected on her childhood — growing up attending her local side’s matches with her dad and falling in love with the sport she would go on to become a trailblazer in.
From walking to the ground with a bag of chips, to the journey home talking about nothing but the game — she reminisced over how those early match days really highlighted what non-league football is all about and how much the sport can bring together a community and create somewhere everyone can feel like they belong.
“Sometimes in life, football isn’t about the actual football, it’s much more than just a 90 minute game.”
‘The National Lottery Football Weekends’ will see over 100,000 tickets available on a ‘buy one get one free’ basis for National Lottery players to attend selected matches in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Saturday, April 2 is the second and final week of the campaign. To find out more visit www.thenationallotteryfootballweekends.co.uk