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Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: Dave does the business – on and off the pitch

By Johnny Phillips | Football | Published:

Bouncy castles and golf clubs are generally not a good mix, but this is no ordinary event.

Having a hole lot of fun – Chris Coleman and Kit Symons (second and third left) with Johnny Philips (second right) and Dave Edwards (far right) at the charity golf day in Telford

Just in front of the smart clubhouse of the Wrekin Golf Club, in Wellington, a group of parents are marshalling their children on the play equipment as golfers wander past carrying their bags or stop to have a practise on the putting green.

A barbeque has been fired up just to the left of the 18th green, and there is an inflatable goal where children and adults are taking shots in a target competition.

At the centre of it all is Dave Edwards.

The Shrewsbury Town midfielder has pulled this charity day together in the space of a few short weeks with the intention of raising funds and awareness of the Little Rascals Foundation. The charity was set up three years ago by Edwards and his friend and business colleague Ben Wootton.

“We started it because we’ve got the Little Rascals Play Centre in Shrewsbury,” Edwards explains.

“Ben used to work in care for children with disabilities. When we went into it a little bit more we discovered there’s not really a lot going on for the kids locally in terms of clubs and things to do. So we initially did it to raise money for equipment but when we started speaking to the parents they were saying, ‘No, we need your time’.

“So then we put on after-school clubs, holiday clubs, mentoring, one-on-one services, respite care for the parents just to give those guys a break – because it’s a full-time job sometimes.”

At a time of swingeing cuts to local authority budgets, the foundation has been invaluable to families with nowhere else to turn for daily support of their children.

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“Once we got into it we realised we were just scratching at the surface and more and more needed to be done,” Edwards continues. “We are open to all disabilities but it’s mainly learning disabilities and we work closely with Severndale Specialist Academy. It has been difficult trying to get the funding so it’s all big fundraisers like today, which make a big difference, along with donations.

“At the moment we are running at a £50,000 budget to put on all the services we provide. We’ve had conversations with local authorities but it’s hard to get to their amounts of money that they have allocated.”

Edwards has a shrewd business brain that should serve him well when he eventually retires from football, and he brought on board another local business he is involved with, Q Financial Services, to sponsor the event.

Persuading co-director Mitch Gough to become a trustee of the charity was not hard. “Dave is just a great ambassador for his sport and our area, we’re lucky to have him,” said Gough.

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“It’s a lot more than me that goes into the foundation,” Edwards adds. “Our charity manager, Seree Griffiths, is an absolute saint with the work she does and Ben is heavily involved in it as well with a lot of other good people.

“There’s so many different levels of care we need to give, and we have access to maybe 20 or 30 staff. We have a lot of volunteers as well who help with the foundation.

“In our play centre in Shrewsbury we have dedicated days just for children with disabilities. We’re trying to launch some corporate sponsorship packages to help raise money to help. The more we can get the more we can do. And having contacts in football is what charities dream of so I’m lucky I have them.”

A signed Conor Coady Wolves shirt, a pair of Ruben Neves’s boots and a signed Gareth Bale Real Madrid shirt were among the prized auction items later in the evening. Former Wales manager Chris Coleman drove up from Winchester to support the event, and was joined by his assistant Kit Symons.

The following day Edwards was back at training with the Shrews, where the Wolves link is strong with his team-mates Scott Golbourne and Ryan Giles all working under manager Sam Ricketts.

His manager will be relieved to know Edwards opted for the golf buggy on the Wrekin’s famously hilly track, to the dismay of Coleman who chose to carry his own clubs. The midfielder hopes that when his own playing days come to an end he can dedicate more time to Little Rascals.

“It’s a bit more demanding with a full-time job in football but I want to get to stage where I can spend more time in the foundation,” Edwards explained.

“It’s such a rewarding thing to do, even today when you’ve got the kids down here with the smiles on their faces, it’s sounds a bit corny, but it’s special. Just the smallest things we can do make a big difference to their lives.

“For the parents who come to the play centre, they can’t go to many public places because they don’t know how their child may react to different scenarios, whether it’s noise or the environment.

“So when they come in to our play centre they know they are around families going through the same thing and they won’t get embarrassed. You see them sit down, get a cup of coffee and their shoulders just relax and you know they are at ease. Some of the respite services we do to look after the kids for a couple of hours so the mum can go and have a bath and just chill, little things like that make a big difference to the families.”

n You can donate to the charity at www.littlerascalsfoundation.com

Johnny Phillips

By Johnny Phillips

Sky Sports Soccer Saturday pundit, giving his thoughts on football across the country

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