'Players have such a positive impact on local communities'

26 Feb 2024
Ellie Wilson, Wolverhampton Wanderers

Current and ex-players from Ellie Wilson to Gilberto Silva on what community engagement means to them

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Since it was formed 14 years ago, the Premier League Charitable Fund has provided positive sporting, health, personal and education opportunities for children, young people and the wider community.

The PLCF's impact is wide and extensive, with more than 2.2 million people benefitting from the charity's programmes that have been delivered at nearly 30,000 venues across England and Wales.

One key aspect of the PLCF's work is the backing it receives from players from the 106 professional football clubs that it supports.

As well as allowing clubs to run tailored programmes to cater for specific needs through the Premier League and Professional Footballers' Association Community Fund, the Premier League's relationship with the PFA provides opportunities for players to get involved in their local communities.

And in the 2022/23 season alone, there were more 9,000 player appearances at events and delivery sessions.

We hear from some of the players involved in community programmes over the last year about what it means to them.

Ellie Wilson, Wolves Women defender 
Ellie Wilson, Wolverhampton Wanderers

"A few years back I was out for a long time with an ACL injury and you naturally start thinking about life after football.

"I started getting involved with the community and making player appearances. It's extremely rewarding. As a player you can use your platform to have such a positive impact on other people.

"Sometimes it sounds like it's just words until you're put in a situation where players or young kids are looking up to you and saying, 'she's a pro footballer', that's really nice. 

"The women's game is progressing at a rapid rate, a lot of the young girls that we engage with think it's fantastic that there are players that can inspire them and of course the household names in the England team are adding to that. 

"Knowing that it's not just football that the community is involved with, that there are so many other branches to it in terms of mental health, physical health, education, it just helps get that message out and it feels great that I can be a part of getting that across.

"When I was out for as long as I was, it was important to try to find something that I was passionate about. It helped me realise that my role is also inspiring other people."

Fern Whelan, former BHA WFC player and PFA Women's Football EDI Executive
Fern Whelan, Premier League Kicks Cup

"Being at the Premier League Kicks Cup was fantastic to see so many young girls inspired, wanting to join in and wanting to play football.

"We're seeing increased opportunities for girls. With the Premier League Kicks programme, it's making that safe space, making it as inclusive as possible for girls to be able to come in and play, enjoy their football and potentially, if it's something they are talented in, they can continue and progress through the pathway, which is now a lot more visible for girls.

"The investment into the emerging talent centres will also hopefully increase as much access as possible for young girls to continue to be able to play the game.

"Opportunities like this didn't exist before. When I was growing up, it was a little bit different to how it is today. I was playing as part of boys' teams for a long time. I didn't know there was going to be an opportunity to play and progress within women's football.

"For girls today to be able to come to Premier League Kicks events, and see their idols playing in World Cups, it's fantastic to see the growth in the way the game has progressed.

"To bring 150 girls from across the country, into one event, all in one place, all managing to compete and just to have a great day out, to just play football and really enjoy the occasion, it is brilliant. Hopefully they'll be more in future."

Ben Davies, Tottenham Hotspur defender
Ben Davies, Spurs visit3

"The club does some great work in the community and the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation has a big impact on the education of local youngsters. We have got an amazing stadium where we get to host them, it was great to have the kids down.

"The children have done a course to do with literacy and the event at the stadium was the journalistic aspect of it. They got to ask me questions... there were a few tough ones!

"I enjoy reading, it's something that i am passionate about. The more I read, the more I learn. Getting the chance to sit down and read a book, letting the imagination run, it's really important.

"It's a great hobby to have away from football. It's the perfect way to pick up new knowledge.

"Reading is also a welcome distraction from the instant gratification of looking at your phone. I find it very relaxing and read as much as I can."

Gilberto Silva, Premier League-winning midfielder with Arsenal 
Gilberto Silva, Arsenal, PL PFA Community Fund

"It's important for players to give back the love they got from fans around the world that support them in their career. As a player you have to feel it, it has to come from inside.

"When you do this community support, it's because you want to contribute to the community, you want to serve people. You're making a connection between the club, fans and the players.

"You cannot separate the club and community. For me every club is a big club because they play such a big part in people's lives. When we work together, we can do many more things. 

"I'd tell young players to go and see life, real life. Go to a project where you can inspire and where you can get inspiration. You can give time to help those people.

Gilberto Silva, Arsenal, Walking Football

"This will connect and show that we are not different, we could be on the other side. You don't need to tell the world but just do it, be a giver. Giving participants just one line of inspiration can stay with that young person for the rest of their lives.

"Fans connect with the shirt and then having the opportunity to be close to their idol, it means a lot. That’s why it is important that players and ex-players are aware of how much we can contribute to society and to the world with our good example and good words."

Matt Crossen, England Cerebral Palsy captain
Matt Crossen, Premier League Kicks Disability Festival

"Ten years ago, there was never anything about cerebral palsy football or disability sports. Fast forward to now, it's night and day.

"It's unbelievable to see these opportunities like at the Premier League Disability Festivals. For any kids on the on the rise now, there are always para clubs just around the corner.

"To see the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool here is massive. To be in a tournament with them, you can't put into words what it means for young people.

Premier League Kicks Disability Football Festival

"I've spoken to many Premier League clubs who have said disability football is on the rise.

"When the kids get out on the pitch and show their ability, they forget about the barriers that they may have faced previously, they just enjoy themselves. That's massive.

"I spoke with a few of the players and I told them how I got through it. They’ll need a bit of perseverance, patience and it will come down to whatever they want to achieve.

"A disability is not anything to hide or to be worried about, because these young people prove it can be done.

"Days like the disability football festival are special, it's inspiring and fantastic to watch, I love being a part of these days and I'm privileged to be here."

Fabrice Muamba, former Bolton Wanderers and Arsenal midfielder, PFA Player Services Executive 
Fabrice Muamba, PL PFA Community Fund

"It's vital that fans and young people see and have a positive image of players. It's about making sure that you are accessible, that you have a positive impact in society. 

"We can see what Marcus Rashford means to Man Utd, what Trent Alexander-Arnold is to Liverpool. You see players playing different roles in their career in terms of helping society. 

"Society needs us more than ever. We live in a society where young people need to be inspired by a positive image and if we can get more players to be involved in different projects, it's massive.

"During my journey, a lot of people went out of their way to help me, so I feel it's only right that I do the same.

"When I had my accident, I think I had four boxes of letters and people went out of their way to wish me well. I think in return, the least I can do is something for the community. 

"You go out there and show that you care because those people didn't have to do that for me."

Taylor Hinds, Liverpool
Taylor Hinds, Premier League Kicks Cup

"There are more than 150 girls at the Premier League Kicks Cup, and through the qualifiers more than 500 girls took part. It's so good to see so many girls taking part and playing football. The more the Premier League puts on events to bring girls together and highlight their ability and dedication, the more it gives participants the ability to feel confident and happy.

"It's really important, it brings girls together with their communities, and wanting to put the shirt on for the club that they want to play for. It’s nice that it gives girls the opportunity to play the game that they love. It's crazy to see how the women's game is growing, it's unbelievable really. It's really nice and it’s the way that the women's game should be going.

"Football is open to everyone regardless of their sex or gender."

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