'These initiatives open your mind' - How EFL clubs are keeping fans fit and healthy

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How Swindon helped 200 fans lose weight

You expect a football club to keep their players fit and healthy, but what about the fans?

English Football League clubs are changing lives in their local communities, from helping "couch potatoes" become marathon runners, to aiding school children in enjoying a balanced diet.

With National Obesity Awareness Week taking place this month, BBC Sport met two clubs who are showing that battles can be won off the pitch as well as on it.

How Swindon helped 'couch potato' become a marathon runner

League Two Swindon Town's Football in the Community Trust have helped more than 200 people lose a combined weight of over 250 stone through their Football Fans in Training [FFIT] initiative.

The sessions were initially open to men with a waist measurement of 38 inches and above, before a women's group began last year too, with FFIT having previously seen success in Scotland.

The 12-week healthy-lifestyle programme - supported by Public Health Swindon - has been running at the Wiltshire club for four years and has now been rolled out to seven other EFL clubs and counting.

Town fan Richard Parker, 44, told BBC Sport: "This course has changed my life from a couch potato to an active, healthy lifestyle. I now run twice a week with my running club. It's complete and utter change.

"Four years ago, I used to weigh 17.5 stone - I now weigh between 14 and 14.5 stone. Nowadays, believe it or not, I actually run marathons and ultra marathons for fun."

Keith Hutchins, who has lost over two stone since starting the programme in 2015, added: "I used to be pretty lazy and immobile. Now I play football every Sunday, cycle and go to the gym.

"It's the best thing I've ever done."

Course member Russell Peachey, before and after
Course member Russell Peachey, before and after taking part in Football Fans in Training

So how do they do it? The course combines theory sessions with physical exercise, serving up advice on portion sizes and calories before dishing out gruelling runs up the steps of the stands at Swindon's County Ground.

"I'm a lot fitter, I'm sleeping a lot better and I'm a lot happier," said another participant, Dave Potts, who has seen his shirt size decrease from XXL to large.

"I've lost over six inches on my waist and my blood pressure came down by over 15%."

Jon Holloway, head of Swindon Town's Football in the Community Trust, added to BBC Sport: "We've had people who have come off medication and others who have come away from being pre-diabetic. We've seen some fantastic health results.

"We're really, really proud that so many men and women have come on the course and it's so nice to see them becoming so much more active. It is one of our key focuses as a Trust."

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: "Obesity is a public health emergency and tackling it needs to be a team effort.

"Football clubs are the centre of communities across England and working with them to encourage fans to get fit is a great idea that can produce real results."

Finding joy in moving

On a very wintry Thursday afternoon in north west London, three classes of Year 5 primary school children are braving the elements with some small-sided games of playground football.

There's a buzz among these nine and 10-year-olds as they're about to get a special visit from a Championship footballer as part of their participation in the EFL Trust's six-week Joy of Moving programme.

Not only does it aim to encourage greater physical activity, but also education in the benefits of a healthy and balanced diet.

Pupils at Downe Manor Primary School participate in the EFL Joy of Moving Programme
Around 1,500 primary schools participate in the Joy of Moving programme for Year 5 pupils

At Downe Manor Primary School in Northolt, coaches from Brentford's Community Sports Trust have been delivering those sessions. It's just a snapshot of the near 1,500 schools and 80,000 pupils currently benefitting from the scheme.

Brentford's Spanish forward Sergi Canos is the special guest at Downe Manor for the last session, watching some of the football before answering questions from pupils about his journey to becoming a professional.

"These things are really important for everyone, not just schoolchildren," Canos told BBC Sport.

"It's important for me as it reminds me where I came from. I was sat in those kinds of chairs in those kind of classrooms growing up.

"You can see the kids' reaction when you speak to them, it's massive."

Canos, a product of Barcelona's academy, moved to England aged 16 with his family when he joined Liverpool. An initial loan spell at Brentford and six months at Norwich followed before he made a permanent switch to Griffin Park in January 2017.

Sergi Canos answers questions from Year 5 pupils at Downe Manor Primary School
Year 5 pupils at Downe Manor Primary School get the chance to quiz Brentford's Sergi Canos

"Even with my family here, the first six months after leaving Spain were the worst," the 21-year-old revealed. "I was definitely home sick and I wasn't playing the kind of football I was used to.

"Luckily I'm here today and happy with my life at Brentford and I'm definitely stronger for having had those sorts of experiences.

"I'm pleased I went through that because in the four-and-a-half-years I've been in this country, I know how to deal with things and handle problems.

"It gave me huge self-confidence and to be able to translate those sorts of experiences to schoolchildren is great."

Canos has been heavily involved as a community ambassador in his time at the club on a range of schemes including mental health workshops and adult education.

"Brentford is more than a football club in terms of how it engages with its community," he said.

"These initiatives open your mind and show you things that otherwise you might not see as a professional footballer. So, it's great to see the work being done and help out where possible."

Joy of Moving has been delivered by 26 football clubs' trusts over the past five years.

Pupils at Downe Manor Primary School participate in the EFL Joy of Moving Programme
Brentford now help deliver the Joy of Moving scheme in 45 primary schools across four London boroughs

Brentford vice-chairman Donald Kerr is also a trustee of the EFL Trust, who explains such schemes aim to use football as a vehicle for changing lives.

"It's a unique vehicle and we find that it's also international and everyone watches it," he told BBC Sport.

"Joy of Moving is fantastic with children as health and childhood obesity is such a hot topic.

"It's so important not just to ensure they exercise regularly, but also to ensure they understand healthy eating, what is a good and a bad diet, what the right mix of foods is.

"At Brentford, we've had to extend our initial community reach to meet the programme's demands. We now have a partnership with four London boroughs through our Community Sports Trust, which is roughly 45 primary schools."

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