FA People's Cup 2017: Personal stories from the dugout

The Crawley Cogs taking part in the FA People's Cup.
The COGs have grown in numbers since taking part in the FA People's Cup
Five-a-side to Wembley: Amazing stories from the FA People's Cup first round
Highlights: available on the iPlayer from 06:00 GMT on Saturday, 4 March

Once again the FA People's Cup will be kicking off across the country during February, with thousands of teams taking part in the UK's biggest five-a-side football tournament, for all ages and abilities.

This is the competition's third year and since 2015 it has created not just memorable days but personal triumphs, inspirational stories and lasting friendships.

BBC Get Inspired takes a look at three of the teams who will be joining the many budding footballers taking part in this year's contest.

'My mission is to give older women chance to play'

COGs (Crawley Old Girls) only started playing football in April 2015 when Carol Bates, 50, set up the team with the help of the Crawley Town Community Foundation.external-link

The club started with 10 women who had never played before. They decided to enter the team into the women's veteran category in the 2016 People's Cup just to have fun.

"There was so much excitement and a few nerves," remembers Carol. "The People's Cup had an amazing impact on everyone who played in it.

"There was a lot of pride in what we had achieved in a short space of time and the sense of camaraderie from everyone made it so enjoyable.

"It wasn't even about the winning, it was about a group of 'old girls' getting the opportunity to play football together, build confidence and burn a few calories."

The COGs now have more than 50 members and have two weekly sessions (Wednesday for beginners and Thursdays for regulars) to fit everyone in.

This year the club is entering three veteran teams and one under-35s team, which gives Carol great pride.

"My mission in life now is to give older women the opportunity to learn to play football," she says. "The People's Cup is an ideal place to enjoy it.

"Last year there were only six teams in the veterans category, so we need to get all the older ladies out there to join in the fun. There are great health benefits to playing, as well as gaining fitness, confidence and new friends."

'It's taught me there's nothing wrong with having Asperger's'

Elliott Holdham of AFC Dunstable
Elliott Holdham in action for AFC Dunstable in the 2016 FA People's Cup semi-finals

There are five disability categories in the 2017 competition and one player hoping to reprise his starring role from last year is Elliott Holdham from AFC Dunstableexternal-link, who has Asperger's syndrome.external-link

"I turned up not knowing what to expect in terms of the standard or if I was even going to play," recalls Holdham.

"Luckily, AFC Dunstable were down a player so they let me step in. It was easy for the coaches to see the current standard wasn't high enough for me, after I bagged quite a few goals and assists to take the team to the next round.

"We went on to the semi-finals, where I was involved in every goal either scoring or assisting. I've never been a 'big-headed' person but that really boosted my self-confidence.

"My dad kept being asked about me by various coaches and when he told me that, it made me want to keep playing, so I stayed on at AFC Dunstable."

But finding a place in the team wasn't the only impact the cup had on Elliott.

"Before I got involved I felt I wouldn't be accepted due to my Asperger's syndrome making communication with team members very difficult," he says. "It's taught me there's nothing wrong with having Asperger's and I feel more accepted because of it.

"In earlier life, football was my escape a lot of the time. But the People's Cup has helped my confidence grow in other aspects of my life. I got a job over the summer and winter breaks of my university course, which I am doing very well in.

"I have passed my driving test and have a wonderful set of friends and family members, who are more than accepting of my Asperger's. I have never been happier.

"I am more excited than ever to get my boots on and get on the pitch - hopefully we can make it one step further to the finals."

'The People's Cup has brought us together again'

Gillingham Brundle FC team pic
Gillingham Brundle FC have entered the higher education category, which is new for 2017

There are two new categories for higher education students (male and female) in this year's competition. One of the new teams hoping to make their way to Wembley are Gillingham Brundle FC from Canterbury Christ Church Universityexternal-link.

"We are all excited about the FA People's Cup as it gives us an opportunity to play together again," says social secretary and winger Ali Qasim. "We have all been away on placement for two months.

"We started out with 10 lads from the course organising a kickabout in the local park last year," explains Ali. "Afterwards, we all collectively made the decision to enter the 11-a-side league that the university offers.

"No-one was rejected from the squad as that was not the reason we created the club - it was more of a social reason alongside the football.

"We came up with idea of dedicating our team name to one of our favourite tutors, head of primary education year 1 Gill Brundle. The nearby town of Gillingham was included to complete the name and Gillingham Brundle FC was born."

Since then the group has grown and this year Gillingham Brundle FC will be entering three teams as they make their debut in the FA People's Cup: Allstars, Apex Predators and Ruckus Squad.

"We want to continue as a club into next year and maybe even beyond our final year of university," says Ali. "And we hope to get as far as we can - at least one of the three teams - in the FA People's Cup. It'll be a lively and active return."

Entries for the 2017 FA People's Cup have now closed butdon't forget to send us your pictures and videos using the #PeoplesCup hashtag.