Monday 26 August 2013
To see a Manchester United side inspired by Nemanja Vidic recover from being a goal down at half-time to draw may not seem something new, but the 11 players in United shirts who were given a boost by the club captain were not David Moyes’ charges, but young players off the streets of the city.
The match between United and Spurs took place at Bacon’s College, southeast London, last week as part of the Premier League’s 2013/14 Season Launch and it was to showcase the impact the PL Kicks scheme can have on local youngsters.
"I have such a good relationship with the coaches I class them as close friends"
The 16 teenagers, aged 15 to 18, who travelled down to London were members of the Manchester United Foundation’s Street Reds projects, which provides evening football sessions and alternative activities to channel positively the energies of young people in areas vulnerable to crime. The trip was organised in association with the Premier League, which funds some Street Reds programmes that derive from the Premier League initiative PL Kicks, formerly known as Kickz.
Fifty Manchester teenagers took part in the trials before a final 16 were selected and had training sessions at Stretford Sports Village, which was part-funded by the Premier League. Then on Wednesday they travelled down to London to meet their counterparts from the Tottenham Hotspur PL Kicks team and had a tour of White Hart Lane before attending the international friendly between England and Scotland at Wembley.
“'We were keen to get our players together with the Tottenham team, so they could get to know each other and it wasn’t just a case of United v Spurs,” said Dawn Bracegirdle, the Foundation’s community cohesion coordinator, who helped to organise the whole process. “We watched England v Scotland at Wembley and the boys all sat together, which was nice.”
It was a dream come true for the boys from Manchester. “I got to be around people I really like, and I have such a good relationship with the coaches that I class them as close friends,” Hamam Elfitouri, the 15-year-old United captain, said. “When I was told that I was going to captain the team I was speechless. It was a great honour and one of my best experiences yet.”
For the team’s right-back Dilon Ashton, who has attended the Street Reds project in Manchester, the trip opened up a new world. “It’s an honour to represent Manchester United – it’s really special because I’ve never been to London before and to play against a team from Tottenham is an experience that other kids might not get in their lifetime,” the 16-year-old said before the event.
For his team-mate Aidan McGloin, 15, the trip, including staying as a team in a hotel together, would made him feel like his heroes.
“I’ve always dreamt of playing for Manchester United so when we go to London it will feel like we are professional footballers, like the first team who travel to matches every week” he said before setting out to London.
"It’s an important part of their development as young adults"
On Thursday morning both United and Spurs had photos taken with the Barclays Premier League trophy, before their match kicked off with Spurs taking a half-time lead. Another experience to replicate being a United first-team member for the teenagers was having the club captain Vidic to offer encouragement at half-time.
“We were 1-0 down and he got the boys into a huddle and gave them advice about attacking the goal,” Bracegirdle said. “Vidic said, ‘Come on, we are United, let’s go out and enjoy ourselves.’ You could tell all the boys thought, ‘Wow!’ ”
With the Serb’s team-talk still fresh in their minds United equalised and the match finished appropriately with honours even at 1-1 and Bracegirdle is hoping that the positive experience will be repeated.
“We’d definitely try and do it again and aim to give a much wider group of participants this opportunity,” she said. “It’s an important part of their development as young adults and, if we can get help in any way, we will try to.”