Dom Fox, of Cookley Sports U16s, who took his own life at the age of 16. His family want to share his story to raise awareness of the work of suicide prevention charity Papyrus. (Image: Family handout)
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"That's for you, Dom."
Four short and simple words that mean the world to Cookley Sports U16s.
The Worcestershire team finally won their first match of the season in their very last match of the Stourbridge and District Youth League campaign – and the long-awaited moment of glory had a very special significance.
It was dedicated to the memory of their captain, goalkeeper and friend Dom Fox, who took his own life at the age of 16 halfway through the season.
Dom's family are keen to share his story to pay tribute to the teenager and raise awareness of the work and support of Papyrus, a charity for the prevention of young suicide.
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Team manager Marcus Featherstone spoke to Kick N Mix, the Mirror's weekly newsletter about grassroots football.
"He was a maverick, a loveable rogue, that type of lad," he said.
Dom was in his second spell with Cookley having played in the younger age groups and rejoined the club at U13 level, winning the supporters' player-of-the-season in his second season back.
Combining playing football with his bikes, BMXs and motorbike obsession, Dom was extremely popular with his team-mates.
"He just wanted to be with his mates," said Marcus. "He just loved being part of the team and spending time with his mates.
"Dom was bubbly, cheeky, great fun, a great lad. Dom was Dom really and we all loved him."
A month after turning 16, Dom killed himself on Christmas Eve last year, leaving his family, friends and team-mates at Cookley devastated.
Cookley Sports U16s stayed together so that they could honour the memory of team-mate Dom Fox and finally got their first win in the final match of the season.
(Image: Team handout)
Marcus, whose son Josh plays for the team, thought about packing it in, wondering what was the point of continuing when Dom's death put everything into perspective.
Dom's team-mates had other ideas and summoned up the strength and character to not only continue but to honour their friend's memory.
The first training session of 2021 convinced Marcus that playing on was absolutely the right thing to do when there was an unprecedented turn out.
"Twenty five players turned up because they wanted to play in honour of Dom," said Marcus. "Sometimes we'd struggle to get 10 or 11 so that shows you the strength of feeling towards him.
"We couldn't sign them all but we told them they were welcome to come and train.
"We could have knocked it on the head and thought what's the point? It's only football, there's more important things in life.
"I'll admit I thought that myself, but when we got such a turnout I thought: this is why we do it, for lads like Dom and all our other kids."
Marcus has been so touched by the tragedy and how Dom's friends have rallied round to support each other that he has decided to become the club's child welfare officer.
As the team steps up to U17 level next season, he will pass on the managing duties to some other coaches at the club.
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"I used to think if I could improve just one player so that they can play football where they can earn even just 20 quid a game non league then I'll have done my job.
"Now it's if I can just be there for one lad who needs someone to talk to so I can prevent a tragedy like this from happening again then I've done my bit."
Cookley have made it their mission to raise awareness of Papryus and to generate funds to support the charity.
Suicide is the main cause of death in young people – male and female – under the age of 35 in the UK.
In 2018, 1866 young people under the age of 35 took their own lives. Over three quarters of them were boys or young men.
On average, over five young people take their lives each day. Over 200 schoolchildren are lost to suicide every year.
Marcus and some of the players' parents are in training for the Great North Run in September in aid of Papyrus.
Rival teams in the area have pledged their support. Brandhall Colts, Dudley Town and Withymoor Colts are among those to have made donations to the fundraising campaign. .
"We're all part of one big grassroots community and we're so grateful for the support we've received," said Marcus.
"The crest on the shirt might be different but we're all there for one thing and that's to see the kids having fun together with a smile on their faces.
As well as supporting the charity, Cookley are also raising funds to revamp a wooden BMX shack on the site near their football pitches, adding lighting and CCTV, with the aim of turning it into a communal area where kids can get together. It will have photos of Dom and a plaque in honour of him.
Before the season ended different age groups from the club, including the men's team, gathered round for a minutes applause for Dom. The U16s wore pink t-shirts donated by Luke Roper, the founder of fashion brand Luke 1977, who lives locally and is involved with the club. Fundraising events that day brought in almost £3,000.
Dom's family are involved with the club. His nan serves refreshments, his grandad is on the committee and they were presented with his framed goalkeeper gloves and a photo of him.
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So what of that heroic end-of-season victory – a 2-0 win over Forest Falcons – in honour of their best mate then?
"It's been such a challenging year for the lads," said Marcus. "Even before the tragedy with Dom they've had the uncertainty around their GCSEs and the frustration of lockdown because of Covid.
"Football and that team ethic has been so important for them all.
"I gave a bit of a speech before the last game of the season. I said this season has made us appreciate each other more.
"It doesn't matter whether we win, lose or draw but go out there and show the togetherness as a team that has got us all through this. Out there we are all safe together.
"We won the game, well actually we won one 2-0 and lost one 1-0 but I'm having that as a 2-1 aggregate win!
"We still finished bottom of the league, but with the celebrations and smiles on everyone's faces at the end you'd have thought we'd won the World Cup!
"That's for you, Dom."
To find out more about the work Papyrus do to prevent young suicide, visit their website here.