A NEW community football initiative set up by Newport Football Club to encourage local youngsters to play the game has taken off in double quick time.

Within its first few weeks, numbers attending the evening training sessions at St George’s Park have grown from a few, to scores of Isle of Wight children.

 Its organiser, Stewart Shepherd, Newport’s first team coach and community development officer, hopes the sessions — which offer a grass roots introduction to the game for five to nine-year-olds — will help usher in a new era of Port re-establishing itself as a community-focused and inclusive football club.

 The Monday night events are aimed not at creating the next Lionel Messi or Christiano Ronaldo, but instilling a love of the game and opening up the social benefits of sport on the Isle of Wight.

Shepherd, amazed at the popularity of the initiative, said: “The main thing is to get young kids learning the basics and playing the game with a smile on their faces — enjoying what they are doing.

“When we started the sessions, we didn’t really know what to expect — but it has grown and grown.

“We have people of all abilities. But what unites them is they are having a good time.

 “There are avenues for kids who show potential — and we can channel these into the appropriate set-ups.

“But this particular club is about getting them interested in the game, whatever their ability, and being the best they can be.”

 Youngsters ready for more advanced coaching will be catered for by club initiatives, such as the emerging links with the Matt Le Tissier Coaching Centre and the New Forest Academy High Performance Leagues, as well as Newport’s U11s.

But Shepherd said the stories about the social development of the young Monday night players was just as important as honing their footballing talents.

“There was a young lad who was very shy and didn’t find it easy to mix and socialise before he came to us. He preferred to be indoors,” Shepherd added.

“But he has really come out of his shell now. He wants to go out and he wants to be active with the other kids his age.

“That is what football and the community football sessions are all about — letting kids enjoy the game in a pressure-free atmosphere, so they can have a good time doing something healthy.

“If they do prove to be talented footballers then that is good for Island football, but just a bonus in terms of what we are trying to achieve.”

Shepherd also hopes Newport’s planned move to a purpose-built, all-weather 3G pitch off the Racecourse, near Whippingham, will offer further opportunities to players of all ages and abilities.

The sessions will move from St George’s Park to a new nearby venue at the end of the month.

“It is grass roots football that will help re-establish Newport as the Island’s community club,” he added.

“There are plans to nurture women’s football and also provide facilities for those with additional needs.

“The move will provide us with the perfect opportunity to build on the energy and enthusiasm of sessions like this to create a club the whole community can be involved with and supportive of.”