Natalie: “Match Fit was the best thing I ever did, I now have a full-time role and can actually go on holidays with my son!”

  • Natalie moved to Blackpool 5 years ago as a single mother
  • She struggled to find full-time work because of her criminal record
  • After job searching for months, she came across the Match Fit Traineeship at Blackpool FC Community Trust
  • The programme helped her get employed as a full-time cleaner and massively improved her confidence

Natalie McDonagh, a 27 year-old from Scotland, struggled to find employment due to her criminal record, but after completing a Match Fit Traineeship at Blackpool FC Community Trust, she landed a full-time position.

Blackpool FC Community Trust are one of eight EFL Club Community Organisations (CCOs) who run a Match Fit Traineeship in the country, with their first pilot solely aimed at females due to the high number of unemployed females in the 25+ age bracket in Blackpool.

A Match Fit Traineeship programme provides opportunities for unemployed people over 25 to gain valuable experience in a particular work environment while also developing functional skills such as Maths and English, enhancing their employability competencies.

The programme marries up with the DWP’s agenda and broader client group, offering support for the older unemployed, single parents, and clients with a range of barriers and challenges, such as mental health, social isolation, and physical disabilities.

After moving to Blackpool five years ago from Scotland with her son, Natalie struggled to find employment due to her criminal record.

She received a call from the Job Centre about Blackpool FC Community Trust’s Match Fit programme and took on the opportunity to improve her employability chances.

She said: “Before the Traineeship I was out looking for work, handing out my CV and attending appointments. I really wanted to prove myself and have a fresh start, but I just wasn’t getting anywhere because I had a criminal record.

“I received a call about the Match Fit Traineeship and it was the best decision I ever made, taking it on.”

After completing the course and passing her Maths and English exams, Natalie landed a full-time role as a cleaner.

Three months later, she is excelling in her role and credits the programme for the many benefits it has given her, including helping her to develop her self-confidence.

She added: “Before the Traineeship, my confidence was really low. I was so shy and scared communicating with other people as I was always used to being on my own, but the course helped me build my confidence and find the courage to push myself.

“I’m really enjoying my role and all the things that full-time work can give me. Honestly I don’t know where I’d be, or what I would have done without the programme in helping me get here.

“Now I have a full-time role I can do things I’ve always wanted like go on holidays with my son!

“My piece of advice would be that if you really want something, you have to stick at it and never give up. I’d highly recommend the Traineeship programme because if you work hard enough there really is a reward at the end of it.

“People say they can see a big difference in me now, saying that I seem so much happier and smiling more and that I’m different to how I was a year ago.

“There’s no point saying you can’t do something, because you can.”



Peter: “Since being a part of Wycombe Wanderers’ Football Fans in Training, I have now ran the 6.8 mile walk that led to my heart attack three times.”

Peter Jemmett, a 61 year-old from Wycombe, has significantly improved his health through Wycombe Wanderers Sports and Education Trust’s Football Fans in Training (FFIT) programme after suffering a heart attack whilst walking.

In April 2013, Peter was diagnosed with unstable angina after suffering a severe angina attack whilst walking to Adams Park to attend a Wycombe Wanderers match.

Following this, he had his first angioplasty and two stents at Wycombe Hospital.

Despite trying to improve things by making token changes to his diet and going on the occasional long walk, the problem was never fixed and he suffered a heart attack just three and a half years later in December 2016.

It was then, when he made the resolute decision to find the help he needed to improve his health and fitness before things could get even worse.

He said: “I’m not afraid to say, it scared me to think what the next 3.5 years could bring if I carried on the same way.

“I knew I had to take drastic action before things got worse, but I was feeling lost and uncertain how to carry on, on my own, after I had completed the cardiac rehabilitation programme at hospital.

“I saw FFIT advertised at Wycombe Wanderers and as a lifelong Chairboys fan myself being in a friendly and familiar environment that I treat as my second home seemed appealing.
“It also seemed like a natural continuation of what I had been doing at rehab, concentrating on nutrition and exercise.”

Football Fans in Training uses the unique attraction between football Clubs and their fans to improve the health of older adults, encouraging them to lose weight, get fit and live a healthier, more active life.

Fans on the scheme take part in a 12-week training programme delivered by their Club Community Organisation (CCO) coaches at their team’s home stadium. They are also grounded in current science of how to eat more healthily and become more active.

At the time of his heart attack, Peter was overweight with a BMI of 31.34. He knew this was something he had to change to reduce the risk of further heart problems, but was a little reluctant at first regarding the intensity of FFIT sessions so soon after the heart attack.


He added: “I was a bit wary that the training element of FFIT might be a little too intensive so soon after the heart attack, for example the running up the stands part. I hadn’t even attempted to walk up a hill at this point.

“But the staff were brilliant and gave me reassurances that I could work at my own pace, they were so attentive to my needs and provided good ideas and suggestions on how I could go about reaching certain targets. The gradual training really helped me.”

Since joining FFIT, Peter has lost over 2.4 stone and has ran in two 10K races, something he says he would never have even considered attempting before his heart attack.

“I could never have imagined the amount I’m running prior to my heart attack. FFIT really encouraged me to join my local ParkRun, I have lost weight and dramatically improved my fitness levels through this alongside the weekly FFIT circuit training.

“My blood pressure and heart rate has also been reduced and this in turn has led to a reduction in the dosage of my medications.

“Despite still suffering mild angina under exertion, I have received excellent reports from tests that has led to my discharge from hospital this year.

“It’s also worth noting that I have also ran the 6.8 mile walk that led to my heart attack three times!”

The popular initiative has also had a significant impact on mental health. Out of the five teams who have taken part on The Blues’ FFIT course, 83 percent have improved their mental health score. Peter credits the social aspect of the course.

“FFIT has given me the continued drive to carry on and keep challenging myself to go even further and motivation has been key in my recovery plan.

“It’s also fantastic to train alongside like-minded supporters. Although we didn’t know each other before the course, most of us have remained good friends and we meet up at matches, FFIT reunions, circuit training and even down at the local ParkRun.

“Though I knew what I wanted to achieve, I would have found motivation difficult to keep pushing onto the next level without the help from so many people at FFIT, they really deserve all the credit for keeping me on track.”