Manchester United Foundation works with 20 high schools across Greater Manchester and Denis was delighted to visit ESSA Academy in Bolton to celebrate the new partnership.
During the visit Denis enjoyed dropping into some lessons, including an art class where pupils had designed classic football shirts from his playing days, and his old favourite: maths.
“There’s nobody at this school now who was born when I was playing; but they’d all done their research,” said the former Reds defender. “The first class I went into was the maths class, which was my old favourite subject, and they knew a lot about my career. They were using statistics about my career and how many games I played, so that was really good.”
Each Foundation partner school benefits from the presence of a full time Manchester United Foundation coach, who works with the students, feeder primary schools and within the local community to build lasting relationships. One of the core objectives of the partnership with ESSA Academy is supporting the transition from primary to high school and this was showcased at the event through an outdoor football session led by school sports leaders for younger pupils – and they were of course thrilled for Denis to join in.
Jean-Pierre, one of the sports leaders taking part in the session, said, “It was amazing; I can’t believe it because he is a legend and I’ve never played with a legend before. I’m a huge Manchester United fan and maybe in the future I’m going to play for United and I feel like I’m going to be like him.”
Following the kick about, Denis took part in an assembly and Q&A session with the whole school, sharing stories from his illustrious Manchester United career and giving the children advice.
Year 8 pupil Riza was chosen to be a tour guide for Denis for the day and relished the opportunity: “It has been a pleasure and an honour to be his tour guide and to show him our school. I always watch United games so meeting a legend was one of the best moments I’ve ever had in my life.
Speaking of the partnership with Manchester United Foundation, Riza continued, “There are no other schools in Bolton that have a partnership with Manchester United so it’s a really big deal; we are really lucky to have him and we get a lot of opportunities.”
Reflecting on the day, Denis concluded, “Every child has a right to education, but every child also has the right to do a bit of sport, a bit of art, a bit of music, a bit of everything really, and I feel this school encompasses all of that.
“Through the power of football the Foundation engages and tries to inspire pupils and make them better people; just from walking around today the enthusiasm within the school is fantastic and it’s really good that the Foundation is involved here, it really is.”