Thursday 15 August 2013
Managers in the Barclays Premier League witnessed first-hand the community work delivered by the League and its clubs at the official launch of the new season in London on Thursday.
The action begins on Saturday lunchtime when Liverpool take on Stoke City and leading figures from Manchester United, Norwich City, Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur attended the launch to discuss the campaign ahead. But the action on the pitch was only half the story as the event also highlighted the work delivered up and down the country all year around.
The launch was held at Bacon’s College in Rotherhithe, a venue which has had its facilities transformed with the help of grassroots funding from the Premier League. The college has two junior football pitches, two mini soccer pitches, a full-size artificial grass pitch, as well as other sports facilities thanks to a grant of £817,000 from the Football Foundation, which is funded by the Premier League, The Football Association and the Government.
"It's great that the Premier League is helping all the communities"
The facility has had a significant impact on the local community, with a 700% increase in the number of local football participants since the facilities were built, with the individual users rising from 1,086 to 7,265.
"Not only is the Premier League a great brand, it's a brilliant League for everybody to watch, it gives back to the community," said Manchester United manager David Moyes. "It's great to see a facility like this and it's great that the Premier League is helping all the communities.
"The kind of facility is a huge part of the Premier League and it has to be because if we want to the continue the growth of football in the country and getting young players through, we have to provide facilities and good pitches for the young players to blossom."
Norwich City manager Chris Hughton, who grew up in the East End of London, just across the Thames from the launch, said it was important that the Premier League invested in projects such as the one at Bacon’s College.
"I know this area very well and I know the difficulties that we experience in the inner cities," he said. "We have to give kids the opportunity to play sport in an environment that is conducive to what we see here, it is excellent.
"It is such a good product that they're watching football every night of the week these days. That's their aspirations. Of course, around that it is about making sure they are well-grounded young individuals but this is a great pathway for them. It is something great to dream about."
"This reflects what the whole season is about for us"
For Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore the launch, with its focus on the work that takes place on and off the pitch, was the ideal way to set the stage for the new campaign.
"This reflects what the whole season is about for us," he said. "Our season is about what goes on the pitch but because of the success of that, we and the clubs are able to do so much more.
"We are at a facility partly funded by the Premier League, which is a great facility for community use and our community clubs are here doing activities. The whole thing is based around trying to give a showcase to the variety of things that go on at a club, not just the first-team action."
The pitch provided the backdrop for the TV interviews and well as the Sky Sports News studio which broadcast live reports from the venue. As well as highlighting the investment at the college, a spotlight was shone on some of the wide variety of the Premier League’s good-causes schemes and projects that make a massive difference to people’s lives.
There was a match between teams from Manchester United's and Tottenham Hotspur's Premier League Kicks project, an initiative which is run in conjunction with the police that uses the power of football in some of the most deprived areas in the country to help build safer and stronger communities.
Premier League referee Andre Marriner took charge of the contest, which ended 1-1, with the youngsters receiving a special treat as Spurs captain Michael Dawson and Manchester United counterpart Nemanja Vidic gave the half-time team talks.
"Hopefully this can serve as inspiration for kids who are in need of support"
"For this project to have run for such a long time with so much success is extremely important," said Tottenham Hotspur head coach Andre Villas-Boas. "Bear in mind that a couple of players have come out of this programme as well, like Wilfried Zaha and Raheem Sterling.
"Hopefully this can serve as inspiration for kids who are in need of support and that have trouble getting into society. With events and projects like this we can remove them from the street and move them from bad behaviour and move them into the values of sport."
Manchester United Foundation chief executive John Shiels said the experience will have a massive effect on the United youngsters, who also attended the England v Scotland international on Wednesday night.
"It has been absolutely fantastic," he said. "We've brought them to London, some of them for the first time, they have stayed in a nice hotel, they went to Wembley Stadium, they played against Spurs for Man Utd - the ingredients are immense.
"The body language shows that they are gobsmacked with a lot of what has happened. Things like, they have been receiving texts from people saying, 'We have seen you on Sky Sports.' You can’t buy these opportunities.
"A lot of these youngsters possibly will not have had the opportunity to do this in their own families and networks, so that we have been able to do this in association with the Premier League, it inspires them."
The launch concluded with a coaching session for Under-8s and Under-9s from Docklands JFC hosted by former Spurs captain Ledley King and ex-Chelsea full-back Graeme Le Saux. The duo helped out in delivering a session developed by the Premier League's Youth Department, while afterwards the youngsters had their photo taken with the Barclays Premier League trophy.
"They really enjoyed it, there is a buzz around the place and that's when sport is at its best, it generates its own atmosphere," Le Saux said. "Marc Canham, the coach, was excellent. Ledley and I joined in and gave a few pointers, the TV cameras and the trophy were both here, if I had the opportunity to this when I was their age, I wouldn’t have slept!
"You have an opportunity to actually give them a chance to walk away with something that they have learned or thought about and you hope they take that on with them with their football. It's really rewarding."