A group of boys from Featherstone High School in Southall has caused a little bit of a stir in the sporting world. But not in a game you might expect.
The Southall Shamrocks, as they have called themselves, took up gaelic football in 2014, despite none of them having any Irish connections or any of them ever having played the game before. It is so popular at the school that the team recently travelled to Ireland to learn more and improve their skills.
Such is the unusual nature of the school’s enthusiastic embrace of the game that BBC News ran a TV report on the boys and they were interviewed by an Irish radio station.
Puru Sharma is the captain of the team. He told the BBC: “I am from an Indian background and cricket was a huge influence but gaelic football is a different kind of sport because it is a combination of basketball, rugby and football. The best thing I find is it is always played at pace, it is never at a slow pace. You always have to be quick to react and it is very aggressive.”
A 24-strong squad of Year 10 pupils travelled to Galway in Ireland a couple of weeks ago to visit the ‘home of gaelic football’, Croke Park, an 82,000-seater stadium. They played a match against an under-15 side from Galway.
Gaelic football is Ireland’s most popular participation sport and is played by two sides of 15 players. The players kick, bounce and hand-pass a ball – as well as ‘soloing’, dropping the ball on to your foot and kicking it back up into your hands. You score points by putting the ball over the crossbar, like rugby, but can score goals like in football by putting the ball into the net.
Geography teacher Brendan Doherty originally introduced the game to the students at the suggestion of two PE teachers at the school. The Irishman said: “I played in Ireland from the age of eight and still play when I go home now. It was suggested I ran a couple of trial games as a taster and the interest was huge straight away.”
Brendan led the boys’ trip to Galway after they raised funds to go. He said: “The lads loved the tour. The thing that hit them the most was the size of the pitch. We train on a soccer astroturf, so they were really taken aback.”