Aoife Mannion gave Manchester United Foundation participants a night to remember as she joined them at our new Inclusive Street Reds session at Manchester Academy.
The Manchester United star was present for the very first session, which will bring together disabled and non-disabled young people to play football in a welcoming and inclusive environment.
Aoife joined a mixed group of young people, throwing herself wholeheartedly into football drills and games led by Foundation coaches.
The smiles from participants were as bright as the Manchester sunshine on a joyous spring evening, with participants relishing the chance to take on a United star and Republic of Ireland international.
The Reds’ defender then took a moment to field questions from the youngsters, offering them tips and words of wisdom - something she clearly enjoyed.
Aoife said: “At a club like Manchester United, we have to appreciate the influence that we can have on children.
“To use some of that influence to create nice moments and opportunities for those who maybe wouldn’t otherwise get the chance is so fun, and a really great thing to do.
“The importance of football is being involved, having fun and being part of a team. It’s so important that there are sessions that are inclusive of all abilities. It’s really enjoyable to be involved and see the kids really enjoy themselves.”
Inclusive Street Reds is a new adaptation of the Foundation’s Street Reds programme, which is funded by the Premier League. There are 17 Street Reds sites running across Greater Manchester, all of which are welcoming of those living with a disability.
The Foundation’s Disability and Inclusion Coordinator, Matt Pilkington, explained how Inclusive Street Reds sessions will offer a unique experience for our participants.
“We give everyone an opportunity to flourish in their own time and create that environment where everybody is welcome, regardless of their disability,” said Matt.
“It is a disability session but it’s inclusive, so non-disabled participants can join in this session. If they don’t feel comfortable or confident in the Street Reds session, this session might be a bit more suited for them where they’re getting more touches of the ball, and we’re able to adapt the session and differentiate that to meet their needs.”
Matt was confident that Aoife’s presence was sure to live long in the memories of our young people who attended for the first time.
“It was fantastic to have Aoife here. She spread the message that, even at the highest level – which she plays at – we all make mistakes and it’s how you bounce back from that, get on, and encourage your team-mates.”
Aoife continued: “It’s clear that Manchester United Foundation does so much for the community and for kids in the area.
“The common theme here at the grassroots sessions and right at the top end, playing at Manchester United, is that the passion, enjoyment and energy are exactly the same. It’s been a joy, and a real pleasure to be involved.”
Participants from the Foundation’s existing disability provision, Ability Counts – which provides PAN-disability football opportunities for 5-25 year olds – were invited to play their part on the Inclusive Street Reds launch night.
Aoife certainly left a lasting impression on our young people, and one participant, Cole – a United fan who plays as a goalkeeper – was especially pleased to face shots from the Reds star.
“It was cool,” Cole said of the chance to meet Aoife. “I always wanted to have a shot against a professional footballer, and if I save it, I’ll think I’m really good!
“When I first came to the sessions, I thought I was actually playing for United. It does seem like it, it’s just a bit different.”
Meanwhile, another of our young people, Freddie, added: “The sessions I come to are fun because I get to meet new people all the time. The best thing I like about it is getting to make new friends.”
Inclusive Street Reds sessions will take place every Wednesday from 5pm – 6pm at Manchester Academy.