The children, from Sunnybank Primary School in Bury, enjoyed a glimpse of life at United’s training ground as they were invited to watch a first-team training session followed by a surprise meet and greet with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his squad.
Waiting patiently outside, the children were all smiles when Ole approached, high-fiving the whole group. The excitement quickly grew when, one-by-one, the full squad came to meet the group, stopping to pose for photos and sign shirts and autographs.
The schoolchildren then rushed to the Jimmy Murphy Centre to watch the team train ahead of their FA Cup match against Derby. Later, the boys and girls put what they’d seen into practice, showcasing their skills in some five-a-side games.
Mac, a nine-year-old United fan, spoke about his memorable day: “It’s been amazing; everything about the experience of meeting the players and playing on the AstroTurf. My favourite bit was meeting the team and getting autographs. My favourite player is Mason Greenwood.”
Amelia, 10, who plays football regularly, also enjoyed the visit. She said: “Meeting the players and getting autographs was my favourite bit. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, something we may never get to do again.”
Deputy head teacher Anthony Harris spoke about what the day will have meant to the children, saying: “Obviously they’ve never been to an environment like this before, from the drive in and seeing how everything works, it’s been great.”
Mr Harris continued: “The children can see what it would be like to be a professional footballer. It’s such a different experience, and shows what a professional sport is. To see the players that they see on TV and to get as close as they have done, even I’m a bit star struck. It’s been brilliant; they have been very inspired.”
Sunnybank Primary School is the first school in Bury that Manchester United Foundation has worked with to deliver a girls’ development programme. The grassroots delivery programme provides girls-only curriculum-time sessions and lunchtime and after-school clubs. The sessions aim to break down social and cultural barriers, provide opportunities to help girls develop stronger employability skills and educate them about the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle.
Lauren Davies, female development officer at the Foundation, visits the school once a week. Over the past year she has worked with every girl in the school, which until recently didn’t have a girls’ football team, and delivers curriculum-time football sessions and a lunchtime football club.
Lauren, who plays professional football herself, also has a special association with the school. “I went to Sunnybank Primary School when I was younger, but when I was there they didn’t have a girls’ team, so to play football I had to play on the boys,” she said. “So it’s now special to be working there with the girls because they probably haven’t had the same opportunities that other schools have in having a girls’ team.”
Lauren also noted the importance of the visit to the training ground for the girls and boys. She said: “It will be huge for the kids. They will probably be quite overwhelmed, as they’ll never have had an opportunity like that before. It gives them an insight into what it’s like being a professional footballers.”
She continued, “It would have been very inspirational for the pupils and shows them if they want to play football in the future they can. There is that pathway to becoming a professional footballer no matter if you are a boy or girl.”