The Reserve team coach raced across Manchester from the Carrington training Ground to take part in a football session with participants from the Raise Your Game programme. After Ole led the way in a power shooting competition to find out who had the hardest shot he then took part in a 5 A-side match, giving the young men from Greater Manchester an experience they will never forget.
The Manchester United Foundation’s Premier League Health project - Raise Your Game - is funded by The Football Pools and The Premier League, and has been up and running in Wythenshawe for the last 12 months. It targets hard-to-reach men in the community – those who may be suffering from depression due to unemployment, drug or alcohol addiction, weight problems or other health issues; helping them take control of their lives and get back on track. The attendees take part in free football-based activities, which act as a hook to encourage them to improve their health and well-being.
The programme offers a health check to participants and empowers them with knowledge and information that will assist them with any lifestyle changes they need to make. Steve Hoy, who runs the project, believes that its success comes from the subtle approach to tackling underlying problems. He said:
“First and foremost, it is about playing football. There is no pressure on attendees to get a job or to lose weight – that comes with time. This approach ensures that they come back week after week. The lads don’t need me asking if they have a job yet, but week after week they see others getting back into work or back on track and it rubs off on them. We are really pleased with the success we have had.”
This success is evident in the statistics from the project. There is a core of around 25 – 30 men (aged 18+) who attend on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in Wythenshawe. Of the regular attendees:
• 4 have gone on to training
• 12 have gone on to find employment
• 1 has started an apprenticeship
• 1 has been accepted onto a Prince’s Trust education programme
After visiting the project, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer only had praise for Steve Hoy and admiration for the participants taking part:
“It’s been a very positive day for me. First and foremost, you see the passion in Steve and you see how much the lads enjoy being here.
Everyone can play football, it doesn’t matter if you’re the best or worst player in the world; the point is it brings people together. I’ve met my best friends through football and probably these lads will formed some great friendships too. Creating camaraderie and feeling positive about yourself – we all know about the power of football and Raise Your Game is using it to great effect.”
John Shiels, Chief Executive of the Foundation, believes that this is just a starting point for the programme and highlights the growing need for Club’s and their Foundations to target men:
“Every home game over 70,000 fans visit Old Trafford and whilst a lot of families and women do attend, the majority of those people are men. Over 120,000 men in the UK die prematurely each year – so I think we have a responsibility to our fans to give them good messages about health. This project is in its infancy, but it is working. Hopefully today’s visit will raise the profile of the project so that it can develop to its full potential.”
Premier League Health has seen 16 clubs currently in the Premier League work with local health agencies such as Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), to engage with over 3000 men since the scheme began in 2009.
Jon Sheehy, Director of the Football Pools said:
“Having supported football for many years through our Pools products we are delighted with the early success of Premier League Health. The Football Pools has a proud history of supporting fans and their communities and currently works with over 100 Clubs across the Leagues helping to promote the well being of local supporters”
Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore said: “Premier League clubs have shown in recent years the diverse range of issues that they can tackle through the extensive work they do in their communities.
Only a few years ago football clubs were viewed solely as teams that competed on the pitch every weekend. A modern day Premier League club does far more that that. They now employ hundreds of staff dedicated to running an array of community-focused projects that are having an enormous impact.”