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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 July 2007, 08:14 GMT 09:14 UK
Chelsea fan coaching for the Toon

By Alistair Magowan

Playing last year's Your Game final at St James' Park was something of a dream for the majority of the 2006 Fair Play winners from Newcastle.

But for Louis Thomas, captain and assistant manager of Toonski FC, the journey since then has had more significance.

Louis Thomas
I did my level one course last November and since then I've been working twice a week with a group of under-nines

Louis Thomas, captain of Toonski FC

The 20-year-old, who comes from the west end of Newcastle, has played a large part in getting his team to both Your Game finals and is responsible for the team's unusual name.

Although he plays in the trademark black-and-white strip, Thomas is a keen Chelsea fan and decided on Toonski as a split between his home town and the name for the West London club when Russian owner Roman Abramovich took over.

Indeed, he says he was retracing the footsteps of Marcel Desailly rather than Alan Shearer whilst playing at St James', but he was soon to begin on a career path which was definitively local.

More than 150 players and coaches have enrolled on FA coaching and refereeing courses in Your Game 2007, but Thomas was one of those who signed up last year.

Now he is helping to develop the next generation of Toonski players from his surrounding area and, in turn, giving himself the chance to forge a new career.

"Normally anyone who is 20-years old would have missed their chance to go through to professional football or semi-professional level by now but coaching is the next best thing," he said.

"I did my level one course last November and since then I've been working twice a week with a group of under-nines. Me and another lad are hoping to take control of the team for next season in a school league.

Your Game is a unique nationwide street football and music festival across England
It is designed to provide new opportunities for young people from socially disadvantaged groups in society
The 2007 tournament had ten regional competitions with 2,400 players competing
150 participants have enrolled on FA coaching and refereeing courses

"At first it was slightly nerve-wracking but eventually once you know the names and they know you it's a laugh. I look forward to it each week."

Along with his mum, Anne Atkinson who doubles up as the Toonski manager, Thomas plays a key role in organising the team each week which has a strong bond in the local community.

Atkinson is also a chairperson of a local charity Nunsmoor Play Centre and says that many of the Toonski team have been coming to the centre since they were five years old.

"The west end of Newcastle is a very diverse area, it's a very deprived area actually but we're there to support any group of kids, as long as they show the dedication to each other and try to get the whole community involved," she said.

"Your Game has inspired them so much. It's something they look forward to and a lot of the young lads who are coming up through the ranks know all the lads that went last year and this year.

Louis Thomas
This has been the one thing that Louis has been totally committed to and it's two years now

Anne Atkinson, manager of Toonski FC

"It's such a positive image that they portray to the younger players - they all want to be included in it.

"When the Toonski lads go back it's like they are football stars. The young ones will just thrive around them. A lot of them are doing their qualifications and are doing coaching in the local schools and the sports centre that are in the area.

"It makes a difference when you are actually from the community because you know the kids, you know what social background they come from."

As well as the knock-on effects for the local area, Atkinson recognises the part football is playing in her son's personal development.

"I'm proud of them all, especially Louis because he really does get himself out there," says Atkinson.

"If some of the lads are slacking, he'll go and knock on their doors at eight o'clock on a Saturday morning. Whether it's rain, snow or sunshine, they are still out there playing.

"He became a father last year and with the input of the football coaching it has given him something to look forward to. To maybe use it to look for employment or earning a wage to help support his child.

"This has been the one thing that he has been totally committed to and it's two years now. Whereas most jobs don't usually last him a couple of months!

"If he can end up earning a wage from his coaching and giving back to the community, it proves he has found something."

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