Players from Manchester United Foundation's Ability Counts programme, for young people with physical or neurological disabilities, were delighted to be invited to the Aon Training Complex for what they thought was a skills session with their coaches.
Little did they know Manchester United first-teamers Anthony Martial, Marouane Fellaini, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Sergio Romero and Sam Johnstone would be joining them to offer training tips, take part in drills and give advice.
Chris, 16, has been attending Ability Counts for six years and plays for the Manchester United deaf team. He couldn't believe his luck to have a kick about with his hero, Anthony Martial: "I was so excited to come here, see the training ground and have the chance to meet the players,” Chris said. "It was great to play with Martial; he's very fast and skilful! My dream is to be a professional footballer so I've really enjoyed today.”
Dylan, 14, also enjoyed his time with the players: "I spoke to Martial about football; he seems like a nice guy on and off the pitch,” he said. "I also had a kick about with Fellaini; I'm really happy I was able to do that. I can't wait to go back to school and tell everyone about today; everyone will be so jealous!”
Ability Counts offers young people with disabilities the opportunity to play or coach football on a weekly basis, with the Manchester United Foundation programme growing into one of the largest in the Premier League. Teams train at the legendary Cliff Training Ground and the focus is on players with sensory, physical and neurological impairments or disabilities, with sign communicators present at all sessions.
Ability Counts coach Danny Boylan commented on the impact the programme and opportunities like today has on the participants: "To be able to come to the first-team training ground and meet their heroes; you could hear the gasps as they met Anthony Martial, Marcos Rojo and all these players they've watched on television for years. Now they've been able to pass and receive the ball with them and have a laugh and joke.
"Ability Counts offers a level playing field to play football and forget about the things that might hold them back whether it be physically or physiologically. For me it's the best thing in the world to see young people taking these opportunities that they wouldn't normally have and it's all thanks to the work of the Foundation.”