Thursday 25 July 2013
Stars from the three Barclays Premier League clubs playing in the 2013 Barclays Asia Trophy took time out from their busy pre-season schedules to make the day of children, coaches and match officials from Hong Kong.
Manchester City's Alvaro Negredo, Yaya Toure and Abdul Razak, Tottenham Hotspur's Kyle Walker, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Heurelho Gomes and Sunderland players Keiren Westwood, Wes Brown and Jozy Altidore, all fresh from playing in the first matchday of the tournament, came to the Po Kong Village Road Park to attend the Premier League Community Festival.
"You don't realise it at the time, but getting that coaching at an early age definitely gives you the right ingredients"
The Festival was the culmination of a series of Premier League football projects that have been running this week to help develop the grassroots of the game in Hong Kong. The players were shown how community coaches from their clubs have been developing the skills of local children as well as their Hong Kong counterparts as part of the Premier Skills and Creating Chances programmes.
The players also saw two of the referees from their Barclays Premier League matches, Anthony Taylor and Neil Swarbrick, helping Hong Kong FA officials gain their early qualifications through Premier Skills.
Razak, who grew up playing football in the streets of Ivory Coast, was impressed with the facilities available to the children. "These days the kids have more chance to develop," he said. "In Africa it's very difficult to have something like this."
The setting and the chance for the kids to play football alongside the stars of the Barclays Premier League gave the players the chance to reflect upon what they were doing at a similar age and the chances afforded to them.
"I was still playing with my friends on the street as a youngster before I went to Manchester United at the age of 10 and then on to Man City," Westwood said. "I was lucky in that I got a lot of good coaching and hopefully that stood me in good stead.
"I did not get to meet famous players until I was 18, so for these kids here to have this chance is great"
"You don't realise it at the time, but getting that coaching at an early age definitely gives you the right ingredients. The youngsters look up to people who are playing in the Premier League and I was no different. It's a great idea to have some of the lads come down and help the kids out."
For Walker, he remembered meeting his boyhood idol at a similar age and how it had an impact on him. "Brian Deane came to visit us at the age of about seven," the England right-back said before indulging in an impromptu spell as an assistant referee for one of the matches. "I was a striker back in the day so he was my idol. Meeting him was a dream come true and he taught me how to score goals. But my dream of being a striker faded away when I was about 17."
For Razak and Gomes the chance to play football alongside a star did not come as early as Walker.
"I did not have the opportunity that these kids do at the same age, so it's great to see this," Gomes said after playing. "I did not get to meet famous players until I was 18, so for these kids here to have this chance is great for them."
Razak, who played football whenever and wherever he could as a child in the Ivory Coast before joining an academy, was impressed with the facilities, which he used with Toure and Negredo for a match with some of the children.
"This is a fantastic programme and it's a fantastic centre for them"
"The first professional player I met was Asamoah Gyan, when I was 18 in Ghana," Razak said. "It was exciting to see him and it kept me motivated and working hard to become a player like him. So I can understand how exciting it is for the young children here to meet footballers like Yaya, Negredo, the players from Spurs and Sunderland."
Sunderland's new signing Altidore posed for pictures with Brown and Westwood and gave his praise to the event.
"This is a fantastic programme and it's a fantastic centre for them," he said. "[Premier League players coming along] would have been huge for me as a kid.
"They are lucky to have the Premier League behind them - the biggest league in the world - helping them to know the game and become better. Kids look up to us a lot as players - a lot of the players here today are idols to them - and it’s important that we support them."