Manchester United Foundation participants recently enjoyed the once-in-a-lifetime chance to emulate their heroes and play on the hallowed turf of Old Trafford.
Through the Premier League, and its partner Barclays, the Play on the Pitch initiative saw 48 children from across Foundation primary, secondary and special needs schools - as well as a further six from the Ability Counts programme – be invited to the Theatre of Dreams to take part in sessions led by Foundation coaches. The Play on the Pitch initiative aims to create opportunities in sport for young people and gives them the chance to play in the very same stadiums as their footballing heroes.
Many of those selected for the event at Old Trafford were being rewarded for their achievements at school over the past year, during which the Covid-19 pandemic created many challenges. The pupils enjoyed a full matchday experience, including a visit to the dressing room and the chance to walk out onto the pitch via the players’ tunnel before enjoying a football session with their friends.
The Premier League trophy was displayed at the event, with the pupils completing their memorable morning by posing for pictures with the silverware by the Old Trafford dugout.
Philippa Harrison, community engagement manager for Manchester United Foundation, said: “Today has been a really memorable day for our participants and we’re really. Grateful for the opportunity to make it happen. We’ve had three groups of young people from across lots of our different projects and the reaction of the kids has been amazing.
“From playing out on the pitch to getting a tour of the first-team dressing room, it’s a day that they’ll never forget and, for us, it’s just brilliant to be able to facilitate this for them.”
A key theme of the day was the celebration of women’s football, following the launch of the UEFA Women’s Euros to be held in England in 2022. Many participants involved were therefore budding female players from across our schools and projects.
Emma, a student at Dean Trust Wigan, said: “It’s been amazing and I’ve had butterflies just thinking about it. I loved the 6v6 games as it felt like you were in a real game with an actual audience. I’m not going to shut up about it; I’m going to tell everyone.
“I play football inside and outside of school, so it makes me happy to see more girls like me playing and enjoying football together.”
Also in attendance was referee Rebecca Welch, who recently became the first woman to officiate a match in the English Football League. Rebecca took part in some of the sessions and also spent time talking to those present, passing on words of wisdom to inspire the next generation.
“I think Manchester United Foundation does a great job in giving amazing opportunities like this to young people,” she said. “The chance to come along and play football at Old Trafford is something that may not have been possible for them if it wasn’t for the Foundation, and the kids are going to go home tonight thinking ‘I want to do this every week!’ The work they do here is absolutely brilliant; we’ve seen that today on the pitch.”