Although the global spotlight on Wrexham football at the moment might be focused on Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, less than a mile from Wrexham AFC’s Racecourse Ground lies Bellevue Park. The ground is home to Bellevue FC, the first fully inclusive football club in Wales.
The club works with people from BAME backgrounds including refugees, asylum seekers, economic and education migrants. Bellevue is fully inclusive and also offers opportunities to local people with mental health issues, learning difficulties, people with minor disabilities and everyone else who's ever experienced a barrier participating in the sport in the area.
In 2016, while the Welsh team was lighting up Euro 2016, back in Wrexham, the pitch at Bellevue Park was under threat. It was under the shade of the park’s fir branches that the inspiration to start the team came. That big idea wasn’t just to create a team to ensure the community pitch wasn’t lost to ”lack of use” due to not being associated with a league-registered team- but to create one who give opportunities to people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, including refugees, asylum seekers, economic and education migrants to be part of a club and community. Fully inclusive, Belle Vue also offers league football opportunities to local people with mental health issues, learning difficulties, minor disabilities and everyone else who's ever experienced a barrier to playing team football.
Delwyn Derrick is the club’s secretary, founder, former manager and larger-than-life driving force.
’What we found was for a lot of refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants coming into Wrexham, this is the first community facility that they find and we wanted somewhere for anyone from any background to meet people, play football and make friends. It just made sense to establish a football club here that was doing exactly what the park here was already doing.
’We were sat under a fir tree after playing football and found out there were plans to decommission the pitch as there wasn’t a team registered here. The community uses this pitch all the time, the schoolkids use it, community groups use it, everyone uses it. So we decided to bring a league club here. As someone who’d recently been made redundant I drew the short straw of setting that club up.
'Our first summer, we were playing on the field every other day and we struck up a friendship with some German and French students who were also using the community pitch. We played them every week that summer and it’s now been six years and they’re still trying to get us to Paris for the return fixture! It was the first time that I saw the power that his club could have for community cohesion and social integration.’
In the six years since then Bellevue FC has made a home for footballers from at least 30 nations as far apart culturally, and geographically as Scotland, Hungary, Iraq and Sudan. Delwyn’s favourite community story centres on his good friend Thiago Ginja, originally from Portugal and the first Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic person to sit on the North East Wales FA’s council. ‘We’ve played football together since before Bellevue existed and to see where he is now and be part of that journey has been incredible. He has such faith in what we’re doing at Bellevue that his brother and son also play for the club. It’s really special being a part of a family’s story.’
How did Thiago and the entire family end up in Wrexham?
'I was playing football professionally in Portugal and a friend in the UK said that the clubs here were offering contracts for players like us. I came, got a few trials but then picked up some injuries and I ended up working in manufacturing in Wrexham. Delwyn told me about the project in Bellevue and I decided I really wanted to help. Bellevue is everything to me. Especially the people around it. It’s like having a big family. If you’re under a cloud, you know they’re going to be stood there with you. It’s my favourite thing about here.’
Bellevue FC also has a Wales international in its ranks. Jordan Wright has five caps for Wales’ Learning Disability Squad. ‘It was incredible going down to Cardiff to play and get those caps. Delwyn’s helped me a lot, if it wasn’t for someone like him I wouldn’t be here. The people here understand me and I get to play football.’
Delwyn is immensely proud of everything Bellevue has achieved in Wrexham, but what does it mean to him? ‘I like to refer to it as the happiest accident of my life. The club’s taken over it. Everyone says they have the best job in the world, but I get to run a football club, full of the most incredible people. They each have their own personal story that makes them my hero in their own individual ways. Everyday I get to wake up and work with them. I do have the best job in the world.’