As a new football season begins, teams run out onto the pitch resplendent in brand new strips. For the biggest clubs, this means not just one shirt but also an away shirt and even a ‘change’ shirt, as though the away one wasn’t a change anyway; and of course the replica kits come with a huge price tag, replacing with interest the money that the sponsors have shelled out (it should be the names of hard-up parents that are advertised on the shirts, because they are the real sponsors). Even clubs way down the pyramid and teams of 7-year-olds often have new shirts at the beginning of a season.

But what happens to the old ones? Sadly, many are probably shredded, but last year many of our local teams donated their old strips to a charity in Zambia, supported by St Mary’s and St Thomas’ catholic churches in Aycliffe and Shildon. Parish priest Fr. Anthony Cornforth has visited one of the poorest parts of the world in Lusaka, Zambia, for the past 25 years and sent a number of containers there filled with goods to support primarily the children, who are all football mad.

When he first went there he was surprised to see so many children (only boys) playing football with balls made of paper and rubber bands. He had a real ball and one day one child came up to him and asked reverently: “Can I touch the ball?”

Since then many things have changed: there are real footballs, girls’ teams and a wide variety of shirts, mainly of English clubs (although tops v skins still happens quite a lot!)

Thanks to the generosity of so many local clubs last year, there are now teams with Aycliffe shirts and shirts from many other local clubs. One big day was celebrated between two teams sporting Darlington shirts (Fr Cornforth has been a life-long Darlington supporter) and an Aycliffe priest (admittedly in a Newcastle shirt) as the referee, thanks to two knee replacements the previous year that had changed him from being a hobbling bystander to a (admittedly only fastish walking) referee. Darlington won of course, but the real winners were those who wore proudly what was of no further use in this area. Addressing waste is not just about saving landfills but also putting a smile onto the faces of others.