A police boss put on his football boots to take part in a six-aside tournament to kick out hate crime.
The competition held in Wrexham to mark Hate Crime Awareness Week was hailed a success by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Andy Dunbobbin.
The event at Glyndwr University, sponsored by the commissioner, returned after lockdown, attracting a record number of 15 teams and over 100 players.
Mr Dunbobbin turned out for a North Wales Police team which narrowly failed to make the last four and he presented the Commissioner’s Trophy to winners Place to Place, from Wigan.
Nursing a sore knee after impressing in central defence, he paid tribute to the teams which took part and the organisers, Belle Vue FC, the club formed in Wrexham in 2016 to support people with issues from substance abuse and mental health problems and from ethnic minority or LGBT groups.
He said: “It’s been a brilliant event and after being delayed by the pandemic lockdowns, it’s just getting better and better and bigger and bigger.
“The first year there were three teams, last time there were eight and this time there are 15 from as far afield as Wigan, Chester and Oswestry with more enquiries for next year too.
“It has been played in a great spirit with not one yellow card and it underlines the message of how when we all come together we can do so much more and positive things can happen.”
The eventual winners, Place to Place, a club formed with the same ideals as Belle Vue, beat The Hospice of the Good Shepherd, from Backley, near Chester, 4-0 in the final.
They came through comfortably in a semi-final against Belle Vue Women, who qualified on a vote by the captains of all the competing sides, while the Hospice battled past Oswestry’s Dragon Tuesday Club, who eventually finished third.
Event organiser Delwyn Derrick, founder of Belle Vue FC, also helped referee the tournament which involved three groups of five teams and 34 20-minute games, all played with rainbow-coloured footballs, and he said at the final whistle: “This is the biggest one we’ve done so I’m a lot less stressed now than I was.
“But it’s been a big success. Everyone has come here to support Hate Crime Awareness Week and they’ve all committed to coming back next year.
“The Commissioner’s support has been fantastic and I can only see the tournament getting even bigger next time when maybe it might have to be spread over two days.
“When it comes to hate crime it’s not the people who come from adverse conditions that are the problem and the success of this tournament shows what we are cap-able of when we all come together.”
Belle Vue, who won the event when it was last played three years ago, just missed out of the semi-finals despite a couple of goals from 23-year-old Nicaraguan refugee Rolando Bertrand, forced to flee the country with his mother and sister after demonstrating against the government.
Rolando, now a regular with Belle Vue in the North East Wales Premier League, said: “The Government started harassing me and my family and it wasn’t safe for us any more so we had to leave and we were settled in Wrexham.
“I’ve been volunteering for the Welsh Refugee Council and once I’ve received a visa from the Home Office I want to continue my law studies but in the meantime I’m passionate about football and Belle Vue have given me the chance to play regularly and I’ve scored four goals in three games.
“The people here in Wrexham have been very welcoming and the town has a very diverse culture with Portuguese, Polish and other European communities here and Venezuelans and Colombians as well.”
The event also had a big thumbs up from Mark Liptrot, captain of the successful Place to Place side, who said: “It’s been a brilliant day. The set-up here is fantastic and we’ve all loved it.
“I can only say positive things about the event and we’ll be coming back to defend the trophy next year.”
Delwyn Derrick added: “We all knew why we were here. It wasn’t just for the trophy, it was to raise awareness of the fight against hate crime and the need to show racism the red card.
As well as the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, the event was also supported by Glyndwr University, Avow, BEST Wales, the Co-op. Community Pioneers, Morrisons, Pride Wrexham and Football v Homophobia.
For more information on the work of the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner go to https://www.northwales-pcc.gov.uk/en/home.aspx