Arsenal legend Liam Brady officially opened refurbished facilities in the heart of Islington last week which he believes will be a significant boost to the whole community.
The former Gunners midfielder, who is now an ambassador for Arsenal in the Community, met some of the groups that will be using the Market Road site off Caledonian Road, which has been given a £2.1m facelift with funds from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, Arsenal FC and Islington Council.
Market Road had the country's first artificial pitch when it was first installed in 1972 but, together with the site's changing rooms, had become run down and was in need to significant renovation.
But with the help of an £832,000 grant from the PLFAFF, which is backed by the Premier League, The FA, and the Government, via Sport England, and is delivered by the Football Foundation, the site has been given a new lease of life with the construction of two full-size 3G artificial grass pitches, three new small-sided 3G astroturf pitches and a six-team changing room complex.
"This facility means everything to the local community," Brady said. "Anybody who wants to play football is attracted to this place. It's a really important part of Islington and north London because there are not many facilities like this in London.
"I often drive past here to go into London and it's great to see the amount of people that use this place. We have a duty and a care to the people who live in our community and Arsenal have always been at the forefront of that."
Brady, who made over 307 appearances for the Gunners between 1971 and 1980, saw for himself how the site is utilised by the Arsenal in the Community for the initiatives it runs in the local area when he met a selection of groups who play on the new facilities regularly. He met young players from a local primary school, students from the club's BTEC programme as well as participants from their scheme which caters for players with learning difficulties.
Brady passed on advice and held Q&A sessions with the participants, who asked Brady about his favourite players and his best matches.
And the former Juventus, Sampdoria, Inter Milan, Ascoli and West Ham United, who was the head of Arsenal’s Academy for 18 years, believes the pitches can hone a new generation of footballing talent.
"You can put on great exercises here, the surface is perfect," he added. "If you want to run with the ball or work on passing or control, there's no handicap, it's absolutely brilliant.
"Our scouts will be over here, they will be watching the leagues that use these pitches and these are the places that you find your players. This is Joe Cole's patch, this was where he honed his skills before he got into professional football.
"We want strong local players for Arsenal and strong players for England and I think it is on the way."
The new facilities at Market Road will have a major impact for Arsenal in the Community, who will aim to use the site to increase their offering to the local area.
"The fact that we have been able to upgrade a facility like this is a feat in itself," said community manager Freddie Hudson. "As a borough, we have the least amount of green space of any London boroughs, it's densely populated and there's a real lack of sporting and leisure facilities. We always use this facility extensively for our projects and going forward, that is just going to increase.
"Our coach education programmes and our social inclusion work will make good use of it. Children and young people on local estates around this particular area will come and play on a quality facility in a safe environment with quality coaching."
The facility will be used by local organisations and leagues, not just by Arsenal in the Community. The Camden & Islington Youth League runs all through the week at Market Road, with approximately 1,800 youngsters using the site.
"We feel very proud that this has been put here in Islington especially for the young people of the borough to take advantage of it," said Camden & Islington Youth League general secretary Karen Greene.
"It was in a poor state, the changing rooms were very old and they certainly needed upgrading and we are just delighted that the money was put forward for it to happen. It's a fantastic facility."