Earlier in November, Goals4Girls embarked on a trip to Cologne, Germany, taking students from Royal Docks Academy, Newham, East London to participate in Poldi's Eleven, a social football summit organised by Lukas Podolski Stiftung. Lukas Podolski, a German professional footballer known for his role as a forward at Ekstraklasa club Górnik Zabrze, has been instrumental in creating this event as a platform for 11 sport-for-good organisations across Europe. The overarching goal of Poldi's Eleven is to harness the potential of football, play, and cultural activities for the benefit of young people, promoting profound emotional experiences and facilitating cultural exchange, personal growth, and social development.
Poldi's Eleven is a collaborative effort, jointly organised by the Lukas Podolski Foundation, the sport-for-good organisation, and Common Goal member RheinFlanke, as well as the Soccer Centre and event location Strassenkicker.base. The summit aims to create a space where football serves as a catalyst for positive change in the lives of young individuals.
The daily journey of Goals4Girls took them through the vibrant streets of Cologne to Strassenkicker.base, the venue where the tournament unfolded. The competition itself was conducted under the methodology of Football3, a unique approach that aligns with the core principles of Poldi's Eleven. In essence, Football3 goes beyond the conventional rules of the game to promote respect, responsibility, and equality through football.
In a ground-breaking departure from traditional football norms, each match at Poldi's Eleven was orchestrated by two mediators, emerging young leaders who assumed roles typically reserved for referees. This approach eliminated the conventional referee, placing the responsibility on the players for fair matches, free kicks, and goals. The mediators facilitated discussions, managed fair play point distribution, and intervened only in cases where player conflicts required resolution. The championship criteria were not solely based on goals but also on the highest fair play points, ranging from 0 to 3, with 3 being the pinnacle, throughout the tournament.
The Football3 game format was divided into three distinctive parts:
1. Meeting on the Pitch: Before the main match, players engaged in a handshake and a pre-match discussion led by mediators (young leaders). During this time, the Fair Play rules were emphasised, providing an opportunity for participants to suggest new rules. For instance, a novel rule could be implemented where a player who commits a foul must check-in with the affected player, shaking hands as a gesture of sportsmanship. Alternatively, a team might decide that every player must touch the ball before a goal can be scored, adding an extra layer of teamwork and inclusivity.
2. The Main Match: The heart of the Football3 game, where teams competed on the pitch. However, the emphasis was not solely on the score line but on the values of fair play, respect, and inclusion.
3. Meeting in the Dialogues Zone: Following the match, both teams and appointed mediators engaged in a joint discussion in the Dialogues Zone. This session served as a reflective platform to revisit the Fair Play rules and for each team to distribute Fair Play points to their opponents. The dialogue fostered a deeper understanding of the principles of fair play and encouraged participants to carry these values beyond the football field.
During the grand opening, all organisations stepped onto the stage to present their missions, functions, and values. Camelea eloquently represented the G4G team, confidently articulating their purpose. Additionally, she had the unique opportunity to engage in a video call with Lukas Podolski, where she posed questions on behalf of the team. This kickstarted the tournament, infusing it with a sense of excitement and anticipation for the days ahead.
Representing Goals4Girls, the six young athletes were strategically divided into two teams, accompanied by players from other sport-for-good organisations. Engaging in spirited matches, they not only aimed to score goals but did so while upholding the principles of good sportsmanship. Despite the mixed-gender nature of the tournament, the girls held their own, relishing every moment on the field. Teams not actively competing seized the opportunity to broaden their horizons through diverse workshops, including graffiti art, wheelchair basketball, football games, and skill-building sessions.
This global gathering provided the Goals4Girls with a chance to connect with individuals from around the world, bridging language barriers and cultural differences with a shared passion for football. As a token of appreciation, the girls received Poldi merchandise, including T-shirts and water bottles.
An evening excursion to a vibrant sports arena added an exhilarating twist to traditional games such as pool, darts, and bowling, all ingeniously incorporating a football. The final day culminated in an eagerly anticipated award ceremony, where team rankings were revealed. One of the Goals4Girls teams secured a commendable 6th place, while the other claimed an impressive 2nd place, narrowly missing the top spot by a mere 3 Fair Play points. This underscored the significance of fair play – a testament that no matter how many goals were scored, the lack of fair play points could potentially cost a team the coveted title of Poldi's Eleven Champions of 2023. All participating teams were gifted commemorative hats.
In a heart-warming surprise, all organisations received a generous £1,000 donation. The trip proved to be a transformative experience for the young women at Goals4Girls, offering valuable insights into the diverse missions and barrier-breaking efforts of organisations across Europe. Yasmin, Royal Docks Student, shared, "It had a significant impact on us. Goals4Girls provided us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." Poldi's initiative emerged as a game-changer, imparting lessons on fair play, respect, and good sportsmanship. Lukas Podolski's visionary approach is to reshape football leadership, and the substantial donation served as a fitting conclusion to an extraordinary journey that transcended sports, leaving an indelible mark on the spirit of unity and goodwill.
Poldi's Eleven was a good trip for Goals4Girls as it offered a holistic experience encompassing football, cultural exchange, personal development, and social impact. The innovative approach to the game, coupled with global connections and support from the football community, made it a journey that left a lasting and positive impact on the participants.