Former Middlesbrough and England manager Steve McClaren has officially opened an impressive new clubhouse for one of the North-East’s leading junior football clubs.
McClaren, who still lives on Teesside despite being boss of Boro’s Championship rivals Derby Country, came back to Middlesbrough to officially unveil the £418,000 project at Cleveland Juniors.
The opening of the clubhouse continues an incredible gloom to boom story for the thriving football club whose latest project has been supported by football charity Lionsraw with major funding from the Football Foundation and Sport England, together with companies RWE Dea and px Group.
Their generous backing has seen the club’s facilities transformed, with a rusting storage container replaced by a clubhouse to be proud of.
The new facilities include changing rooms, showers, toilets and office facilities, while Lionsraw has also helped to secure the club’s long-term future with a 25-year asset transfer lease of the team’s Mill Hill pitches in Acklam from Middlesbrough Council.
Once further funds become available, future plans for a second phase to the building work feature kitchen facilities and a function area.
The scheme’s driving force has been Cleveland Juniors treasurer Michelle Rush, who says seeing the clubhouse become reality represents a dream come true for her late father and founding club chairman Frank Rush.
“Dad set up Cleveland Juniors in 1985 and it was his dream that the club would be the heart of this community, so seeing a facility like is a proud and emotional day for me,” said Michelle.
“This project will help the club to grow and enable us to continue to offer our unique academy that gives free football coaching to allow underprivileged local children to benefit from top class coaching.”
The long list of Cleveland Juniors players who have gone on to play professional football includes Boro star Jonathan Woodgate, former Riverside favourites Andrew Taylor, Adam Johnson and Phil Stamp, ex-Sunderland defender Darren Williams and ex-Darlington and Leeds forward Robbie Blake.
Middlesbrough-born Blake, who played Premier League football for Bradford, Birmingham, Burnley and Bolton, said: “It is amazing that the club now has such fantastic facilities. I played for ‘Clevo’ alongside the likes of Phil Stamp, Michael Oliver, Paul Norton and Charlie Agiadis, who all later signed for Boro. Back then we had half a cross bar and no pitch, so we would move around from Saltersgill to Prissick Base to Hall Drive.
“Now it’s great to see the club going from strength to strength. The list of former players who went on to become professionals is incredible but I can see them attracting even more talent in future.”
After falling on hard times following Frank Rush’s death, the club was saved by a Facebook campaign in 2010 and has grown rapidly to now feature more than 350 young male and female footballers.
Girls football has enjoyed a particular boom at ‘Clevo’, who entered no fewer than four of the teams into last season’s 12-strong Under-11’s girls league.
Lionsraw, a movement that mobilises football fans to use their love of the sport to make a difference in the lives of others, has worked with the club as part of its first ever UK legacy project.
It was the movement’s influence that sealed a £268,000 grant from the Football Foundation, together with £50,000 from both Sport England’s Inspired Facility Fund and oil and gas giant RWE Dea.
Lionsraw CEO Jon Burns, who founded the global movement in Middlesbrough, said: “Following our work at football tournaments away from home, it became apparent that we needed to deliver something in the UK. What better way than a project based in the heart of Middlesbrough, where Lionsraw was born? Finally, we are able to create chances for change both at home and away.”
Global engineering solutions business px Group, which has its head office in Stockton, donated a further £20,000, while valuable support has come from the club’s official kit sponsors, Stokesley-based Applied Integration, Middlesbrough and Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, Middlesbrough Council and North Riding FA.
Working with TFM’s Cash for Kids fund, the club has also held a series of fundraisers, with a race night and dinner among the forthcoming events, as there is currently a cash shortfall on the £418,000 project.
Dirk Schoene, managing director of RWE Dea UK, said, “As an oil and gas company active in this region, we are proud to support the Teesside community, in particular, Cleveland Juniors Football Club.
“The Lionsraw Legacy Project is a great opportunity for us to make a sustainable contribution to the local community.”
Paul Thorogood, Chief Executive of the Football Foundation, added: “Congratulations should go to The Raw Foundation for working with the North Riding FA to secure this Premier League and The FA Facilities Fund grant.
“Since 2000, the Foundation has awarded around 125 grants worth £7m across North Riding towards grassroots sports projects with money generously provided by our funders, the Premier League, The FA and the Government, via Sport England.”