The Northfield Little League (NLL) – one of the many such leagues set up in the Birmingham area following the Handsworth riots in 1985 – are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, 

One of only two Little Leagues that remain, two of the original volunteers from the 80s are still heavily involved – husband and wife Frank and Marlene O’Brien.

Around 100 children aged 9 to 13 years attend NLL at Victoria Common on an average Saturday morning.

The positive impact the NLL continues to have on the local community is a true testament to those who were involved in its initial creation – and to those volunteers who selflessly give their time week in, week out.

The history of Little League in Birmingham

Following the Handsworth riots, social services, police and other authorities came together to work on ideas to improve social conditions in the city.

Social services employee Kevin McCarthy had previously been a St John’s Ambulance volunteer in south west London, where he had seen the impact Little League had on social cohesion.

So the idea of improving social wellbeing and community spirit with free football in communities across Birmingham was born.

Phil Summerill

With Little League being expanded across the country, former Birmingham City player Phil Summerill was tasked with setting up Little Leagues for Birmingham City Council, starting with Ladywood in 1986.

Northfield Little League was launched at Victoria Common in September 1989, with a grand opening performed by Birmingham’s Lord Mayor Fredrick John Chapman.

At the peak of Little league Football in the Midlands, there were 12 leagues which as an organisation produced players who have went on to play at professional level: former Aston Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie played for Hodge Hill LLF and Joleon Lescott played for Quinton LLF, as did his brother Aaron.

Now, only Northfield and Solihull Little Leagues remain in the Midlands. 

Frank and Marlene O’Brien – Community Legends

Northfield LL has managed to sustain a presence within the community because of the hard work put in by volunteers over the years.

Husband and wife Frank and Marlene O’Brien have been volunteers from its formation back in 1989 and have since gone on to become referees.

Frank and Marlene briefing the players prior to end of season 5-a-side tournament.

NLL Secretary Marlene explains what the league brings to the local community. She said: “Northfield Little League benefits the community in many ways – it brings both local children and parents together, building friendships regardless of ethnic denominations or social background. The players can spend a minimum of 3 years together as they bond which sets them up in adulthood by increasing their confidence, communication and respect for one another.”  

Both Marlene and Frank, NLL’s Chairman, agree that: “Volunteering for so many years still gives us a great sense of achievement, we still get a sense of pride in what we do, as the children progress and learn the game. We get enjoyment from seeing the players being happy and having fun during their time at Northfield Little League.”

Well done to Marlene and Frank and all the other volunteers – past and present – at Northfield Little League. Thank you for all that you do!

If you would like to support the league through sponsorship, volunteer or get involved with Northfield Little League football please contact



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