Skip to main content

Waterhead Academy pupils inspired by meeting United heroes

The youngsters were in awe as they were joined by players from the women’s team at Carrington.


| by Matthew Brown

Pupils from Manchester United Foundation partner school Waterhead Academy were overjoyed to meet a host of Manchester United stars at Carrington Training Ground this month.

Travelling across Manchester for what they believed to be an opportunity to participate in football activities at the club’s training base, the group of female pupils were left beaming as they enjoyed surprise meetings with a number of players.

Joining in with the fun were Katie Zelem, Ella Toone, Alessia Russo, Nikita Parris, Hayley Ladd, Maya le Tissier and Aoife Mannion, and our young people were also able to present the latter with her PFA Community Champion award for the 2022/23 season.

The Reds stars posed for photos, signed autographs, offered advice to our young people – relating to both their school studies and individual pursuits in football – and even passed on items of signed training kit and football boots as gifts.

Aoife played a prominent role in organising the opportunity for her and her team-mates to welcome our young people to Carrington, as the Reds defender further explained the motivations behind her outstanding community work this season.

“It’s really, really important for the girls to see us as relatable, as they’re just on the start of their journeys,” said Aoife.

“It’s important for us to be able to share some aspects of what we’ve gone through so that the young people can hopefully feel motivated and inspired to continue their own journey.

“Quite a few of the players have come over to say hello, answer questions, take some photos and watch the girls involved in the sessions, which has been really nice.”

Among the pupils visiting was 15-year-old Laila, who has become a sport leader at Waterhead. She supported the organisation of a ‘Let Girls Play’ football event with the Foundation earlier this year, with 90 primary school girls participating to mark International Women’s Day.

Laila was offered the opportunity to hand over the PFA Community Champion trophy to Aoife on the day as a reward for her devotion to girls’ football.

“We’ve met some amazing people,” she enthused. I met many players – Russo, Tooney, Katie – some of my idols, and they inspire me to keep on playing.”

Another pupil, Billie Jean, added: “It was an amazing day, we got to meet professional footballers and hear about their experiences as players.

“It was a shock that we got to meet all of them, but it was very exciting and it brings a smile to my face. Seeing them and hearing about their life skills, what they’ve been through when they’ve been football players, it has been amazing.”

School partnership officer for the Foundation, Ryan Kessebeh, based daily at Waterhead Academy, outlined how the experience would have a lasting impact on the young people.

Ryan said: “It’s going to have a huge impact on the girls in the future. It’s really going to empower them to chase and follow their dreams and be determined to overcome any obstacles.

“Already the girls seem to have a spring in their step and are bouncing with confidence. That’s going to help them later in life, whether that’s at Waterhead or moving onto college and higher education, it’s going to have a lasting impact on them for the better. It’s been priceless and they will remember this day for a long time to come.”

Ryan also explained that Katie Zelem was a particular inspiration to Waterhead pupils because of her background.

“Katie Zelem told the girls that she also went to secondary school in Oldham,” Ryan continued.

“She has had some of the same experiences that our pupils at Waterhead have had. She’s gone on to great things and she has shown the girls that it doesn’t matter what community you come from, that you can achieve your dreams if you work hard.”