A customer complaints team at Network Rail collected and returned footballs to a Monmouthshire football club after they were kicked from the pitch onto the railway
The team collected 12 footballs that were stuck in hedges on the railway and returned them to Portskewett and Sudbrook Junior Football Club in Caldicot.
Adjacent to the railway, the club was established in 2019 and now has more than 196 members. The local club offers free access to football for children aged between three- and eight-year-olds and provides highly subsidised access for children aged nine to 16.
Coaches and committee members are all volunteers as the club runs on a shoestring budget. A recent arson attack saw hundreds of pounds worth of equipment destroyed, so collecting the footballs to save on spending was a lifeline for the club.
Each 12-pack of footballs cost the club £80, and the club spends £900 on footballs each year. Network Rail has pledged to continue helping the club by returning any lost balls found within the railway boundary every four months.
Originally, Network Rail was asked to grant access to the railway for the coaches so that they could collect the footballs in a safe and monitored manner. However, as safety is Network Rail’s number one priority, the customer complaints team offered to collect the balls themselves.
The team then tidied up some hedgerows that were encroaching on to the football pitch from the railway. In addition to this, they repaired a lineside fence that contributed to the pitch becoming waterlogged during heavy rain.
Barry Hadley, infrastructure maintenance protection coordinator at Network Rail, who organised the football collection, said: “We are really happy to have helped this junior football club in Caldicot. We had no idea that there were that many footballs stuck in the hedges!
“Our job is to maintain a safe and reliable railway and to also be a good neighbour; if that means returning footballs and trimming back some vegetation so a community can continue to play football, then I say that’s a job well done.”
Secretary of State for Wales and Member of Parliament for Monmouth, The Rt Hon David TC Davies, contacted Network Rail and stressed the importance of the club to the community. The MP also attended a visit to the club with Network Rail to see the balls returned.
Mr Davies commented: “I am really proud of the work carried out by Network Rail; it’s fantastic that they are happy to support the community by helping this junior football club.
“Not only have Network Rail helped on this occasion, but they have committed to returning three times a year to return footballs and help maintain the pitch by trimming back hedges from the railway.”
Michael Panacci, secretary at Portskewett & Sudbrook FC, added: “With the support of Network Rail, we have been able to make savings on match and training ball purchases. Last season the club spent over £900 on footballs, which for a grassroots football club, is a lot of expense.
"Also to note, that due to the pro-active work that has been completed by Network Rail, the condition of the pitch has improved by the new fence as it has helped prevent the pitch from becoming waterlogged.”