Wednesday, December 16, 2009 - 11:46

Teams of homeless champions laced up their boots and strapped on their shinpads on Tuesday (December 15) for the first-ever football matches played at the Eden Project.

The world’s biggest greenhouses provided a stunning backdrop for a tournament with a difference, played out between teams of people who have completed the project’s nine-week Great Grass programme.

The programme was run at Plymouth Argyle, Exeter City, Bristol Rovers and Bristol City and the players at Eden were the first people to take part.

Great Grass aims to improve participants’ playing and coaching skills and also teach them about other aspects of the football business such as catering, ticketing, grounds maintenance, marketing and physiotherapy.

Everyone on the courses has gained a football coaching qualification and Cisco Networking Academy accredited NVQ level 2 award.

Theo Pope, who completed the course at Plymouth Argyle and was playing for their team at Eden, said: “Great Grass has been amazing, I’ve met some great people and learned new skills. It’s been a good journey, most definitely a positive experience and I’m happy to be one of the first people to play football at Eden.”

Richard McBride, who was also on the Plymouth Great Grass course, said: “I found Great Grass really rewarding. I’m football crazy so it was great learning at Argyle. As an electrician, the IT qualification I’ve got from the course will hopefully help me develop professionally.”

Jodie Giles, Eden’s Great Day Out Programme Manager, said: “It was a brilliant day and a real celebration of the achievement of all the people who have taken part in Great Grass so far. There was a really positive atmosphere and it brought people together with common goals. We look forward to hosting more events like this in the future.”

The matches were four-a-side and played in a league format with Exeter’s team emerging eventual winners, a combined Bristol side coming second and Plymouth’s representatives bringing up the rear, albeit with some impressive performances. Outside the Great Grass competition, an Eden Project staff squad also played each team, winning every game with just one goal conceded. The games were staged on an arena dubbed “Wembl-Eden” for the day.

The first courses have been run at the four clubs but there are plans to expand the programme to more clubs in the future. At least 195 people are taking part in the first year, with many more predicted to attend in the future.

As well as gaining practical skills, Great Grass aims to help its participants grow in confidence, live a more structured life and play a more active role in their communities.

Great Grass is a collaboration between the Eden Project, the four football clubs, the Football League Trust, Cisco Systems and Comic Relief to help homeless young people gain the skills and confidence to improve their lives.