Spending the night at Old Trafford would ordinarily sound like quite the prospect for many a Manchester United fan – but when freezing cold temperatures, lying on hard ground for the night and only a sleeping bag for warmth are on offer, the reality is quite different.
Those conditions sum up a fundraising challenge – specifically, our second Old Trafford sleep out taking place this Friday, when more than 100 fans will bed down to help raise vital funds and awareness of young people facing hardship in Greater Manchester this winter.
Manchester United Foundation and youth homelessness charity, Centrepoint, are the beneficiaries of all funds raised – with more than £30,000 being raised for the two charities from the inaugural event in December last year.
Rewind to the aftermath of that first-ever sleep out at Old Trafford nearly 12 months ago, and feelings of pride among our participants to have done their bit were much-deserved. But it was a sentiment perhaps outweighed by the hefty dose of reality that set in on the night.
That was certainly the case for one avid Red, Simon Keen, one of the participants who became a part of history by taking part in this first event of its kind at Old Trafford.
“It’s strange to look forward to sleeping out in the cold, but it was so good last year with everyone coming together and that camaraderie,” reflected Simon. “I’d never done anything like it before and when I mentioned it to friends and family, no-one could believe it.
“It was a such a brilliant, unique event and it pushed me to the limit, but I was still able to give back to an amazing cause and be a part of the United experience as well. I was almost waiting it for to come around again this year.”
Our first-ever sleep out would have been a night of realisation, for many of those involved, that access to essentials such as having a place to stay, running water and central heating are not to be taken for granted – as Simon would attest.
It’s a reality brought into even greater focus, when considering that our participants will have access to all those amenities as part of the sleep out experience at Old Trafford – and that their challenge, by comparison, is just the discomfort of sleeping rough for the night.
Simon added: “Lying on the hard ground makes you think of those people going through that experience every single day, who don’t have that choice and all these luxuries.
“As much as it was tough to partake in it, we were able to prepare for it – by bringing our sleeping bag, hot water bottles, and having use of the indoor toilets.
“Those people sleep on a piece of cardboard not out of choice, but the fact that they have to. It was tough for me, but highlighted the whole epidemic we have in the UK and Manchester of this issue.”
Simon’s efforts, along with those of other fans and club and Foundation staff, will go such a long way to helping young people who need it most this winter – through the Foundation’s community and education programmes, and Centrepoint’s preventative and outreach work with vulnerable young people.
He has raised just shy of an incredible £4,000 for the cause so far, helped by other fundraising activities this year, including a charity football match as a pre-cursor to this Friday’s main event.
It’s a cause Simon now holds closely to his own heart, understanding how his contribution can help others.
“It’s opened my eyes to so much,” he continued. “I work in central Manchester and you see these problems on a daily basis, it’s so sad. Now, I’m able to see not only the people who are suffering, but also those who are helping to improve the situation.”
With last year’s sleep out having taken place inside the stadium’s iconic Munich Tunnel, this year’s challenge brings the additional incentive of fans being able to sleep on the terraces in M16 – something Simon knows he will remember for years to come.
“There’s a much wider experience with Manchester United of giving back to the community through the amazing work the Foundation does, but we’ve all got to do our bit, too. When the fanbase all comes together, we can do amazing things.
“Now, when I walk down the Munich Tunnel on matchday, I always point out to other people where I slept last year. I look forward to deciding where I’m going to sleep this year.”
To find out more about the sleep out and how to donate, please click here.