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Nemanja Vidic at the Premier League launch

Premier League launch event

Living the life of a Manchester United footballer is the stuff of fantasy for most teenage boys, but for 16 lucky lads this dream became reality as they embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to London to, amongst many other events, play against a Tottenham XI of similar age and background, as part of the launch of the new Barclays Premier League season.

| by Charles Whitehead

Premier League launch event

50 Manchester teenagers turned up to trials organised by the Manchester United Foundation’s Street Reds team.  This number fell to 30 by the second trial and 20 for the final few weeks before the trip. Once the final 16 had been selected, the team headed down to London on Wednesday 14th August; the first port of call was White Hart Lane.

“We were keen to get our boys together with the Tottenham lads, so they could get to know each other and it wasn’t just a case of United vs. Spurs,” said Dawn Bracegirdle, the Foundation’s community cohesion coordinator, who helped to organise the whole process. “We watched England vs. Scotland at Wembley and the boys all sat together, which was nice.”

The following morning both teams had photos taken with the Barclays Premier League trophy, before their match kicked off shortly before 9am. 

“At half time Nemanja Vidic gave a half-time team talk,” said Dawn. “We were 1-0 down and he got the boys into a huddle and gave them advice about attacking the goal. Then he said ‘Come on, we are United, let’s go out and enjoy ourselves’.  At the end you could tell all the boys thought ‘wow’.”

The United skipper’s words worked wonders as the Reds improved and fought back to finish level at 1-1. Later, right-back Dilon Ashton said, “I want to thank everyone involved with the trip down to London. I had an amazing time playing the Spurs lads.”

Tottenham captain Michael Dawson was also present, whilst Premier League referee Andre Marriner took charge of the game.  This celebrity factor, coupled with staying in a team hotel, touring White Hart Lane and watching England at Wembley, made the trip unforgettable, but the trip’s atmosphere was also crucial according to team captain, 15-year-old Hamam Elfitouri: “I got to be around people who I really like, and I have such a good relationship with the coaches that I class them as close friends”.  He added, “When I was told that I was going to captain the team I was speechless, it was a great honour; it’s been one of my best experiences yet.”

Following the event, many of the youngsters received texts from their friends telling them they’d been seen on Sky Sports News.  Meanwhile, Dawn Bracegirdle is already looking to the future: “We’d definitely try and do it again, and aim to give a much wider group of participants this opportunity.  It’s an important part of their development as young adults and if we can help in any way, we will try to."