Young sports stars of the future rubbed shoulders with Manchester United legend Denis Irwin when he officially opened Manchester Health Academy’s new all-weather pitch.
The veteran former Reds defender, who won 20 major honours in his 12-year stay with United, watched students playing on the pitch before taking part in a Q&A session and officially unveiling the new facility in Wythenshawe.
He said: “Unveiling this new pitch was a pleasure for me, especially seeing so many youngsters out enjoying their football. It’s a wonderful facility and will no doubt become a magnet for people to visit and enjoy playing sport at.
“Having spent 12 great years with United, I am really pleased to see them involved so much at the school. Manchester United Foundation is doing great work to provide opportunities for students here, as well as out in the community. Facilities like this are vital to help them reach people. It’s not necessarily about turning pro, it’s about making sure people stay fit and healthy, make new friends and start out on the right path in life.
“Funding for this pitch has come from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which means money from the top of the game is being shared with the grassroots. Congratulations to everyone who made this possible. Enjoy the new pitch!”
The new floodlit playing surface, which can be used all-year-round, complements the school’s other football facilities. These include two full-size grass pitches; two 7v7 pitches; one 9v9 pitch and a small-sided AGP. The Academy worked in partnership with the Manchester FA to secure a £386,583 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which is delivered by the Football Foundation.
Kevin Green, Principal of the Academy, said: “I wish to thank Denis Irwin for coming along and making this event so memorable for our students and the pupils who joined us from our Partnership Primary Schools. This brilliant new facility will make a huge impact on grassroots sports locally, providing a top quality venue for more than a thousand local sports players each week.”
A partner school of Manchester United Foundation, the Academy has a strong tradition of sports education. Currently, six of its students are signed to professional clubs’ academies, including Everton FC; Burnley FC; Oldham FC and Sheffield Wednesday FC.
A Manchester United Foundation officer is based permanently in the Academy and will deliver a range of curriculum and community-focused sports activities from the new pitch. These include girls’ development, leadership courses and Street Reds evening football sessions, which aim to give young people opportunities within the game.
Manchester United Foundation also rewards students who have been nominated by their teachers for good progress with free match tickets. More broadly, the charity works alongside the Academy’s lead sponsor, the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, to promote healthy lifestyles at the school.
Manchester Health Academy worked alongside the Manchester FA and the Football Foundation to compile a five-year Football Development Plan, which is a vision of how sport will be played on site with an emphasis on increasing participation.
Partner organisations Wythenshawe Amateurs FC, Wythenshawe Town FC and South Manchester Girls League will all use the new 3G AGP to deliver training and fixtures, alongside local community clubs including: Altrincham Hale FC; Alderley FC; Brooklands Dragons FC and Timperley Villa FC.
The number of teams using the site is expected to rise from 32 to 92. There is currently a lack of pitches in the area that are of a similar standard, so demand is high. Of the 60 new teams expected to be using the facility, it is predicted that 29 will be female sides. The school hopes to become a hub for women and girls’ football, as improving local female football participation is a key objective. A boost of 175% in female football participation across all ages is expected at the site as a result.
Mike Kane, MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, said: “This is a fantastic new facility, and I am honoured to have been asked to help unveil it. It is evident that the all-weather pitch will be hugely beneficial to the school’s pupils and the local community, offering a way to get active and have fun. It was also great to have Denis Irwin here, helping to inspire the students.
“Thanks to funding from the Premier League, The FA and the Government, through Sport England, the Football Foundation is working to create state-of-the-art facilities for grassroots sport up and down the country. I’d like to congratulate the school for securing this funding and support, resulting in an all-weather pitch that is going to improve the health and wellbeing of its many students.”