Observing the session, you can see the children’s breath as they pant for air during their game of nine v nine. Their ages vary from seven to fourteen, with each player enjoying the competitive edge of youth. The conditions are bad, but in the hail and frosty air, there is one child that stands out from the rest.
Standing in goal is a child of Afro-Portuguese descent with a little red bobble hat, he is small and charismatic and can only speak in broken English but his name remains unknown. His eye-to-eye smile radiates the cold atmosphere as he bellows, “I SAVE” after which he wipes himself down, following a fantastic stop that resulted in the game remaining at 6-6.
Ordsall, an inner city area of Salford is where the Manchester United Street Reds Foundation session resides, the organisation also has sessions in; Old Trafford, Moss Side, Fallowfield and Wythenshawe amongst several others. Within these large urban areas of Manchester lies communities, rich in nationalities and cultures, however people of these usually stick to their own. But the beauty of football is it brings families, nationalities and even foes together.
Joe Duckett, the head coach for the evening, feels this is the most important aspect of their programme, and speaking he me it is clear he gets pleasure from the fact everyone on the pitch is at one with each other.
He said: “Yes, a lot of the lads come from all different backgrounds and areas, as you can see we have got a high group of Portuguese lads that come down here and we also have the African kids, so it is fair to say we have a real mix.
“Some of the lads that come down here go to the same school, are in the same year, in the same classes but don’t speak at school and don’t speak anywhere they go.
“On the pitch they do mix, and we make sure we mix the teams up, it does help because when they are in school they don’t really speak but when they are here they do.”
As a foundation that has a total number of 17,920 participants, what is even more surprising is the £1.4m raised through fundraising and the 587 qualifications gained through their college initiatives. Indeed, this will please Joe, yet what pleases him greater is the human improvement he can see in the children as they come to the sessions.
“Like I said some of these kids don’t speak in other places, but this is the type of place the kids can build up their social skills as well as their football,” he said.
“We have had loads of kids go onto the volunteering programme and go and get different jobs that aren’t necessarily in sport. That helps with work related stuff such as being on time, speaking to a group delivering and communicating with other staff.
“Even if it is just for an hour a week or two hours a week they are in a safe environment and a positive one which is very important.”
As he is describing the sessions to me, it was clear our friend in goal had made another fine stop and was congratulated by a friend who we later found to be his cousin in his native tongue. Donning a ‘Pogba 6’ jersey it was clear to see who is hero was.
Joe revealed how he is an integral part of the session but he could not speak a word of English on his first time attending. Smiling as he claims he is a ‘nutcase’, coach Joe debates weather he would have been able to adapt here as easily without this session.
Ordsall may be a long way from Lisbon, Porto or the Algarve for our charismatic friend but for him and everyone else who attends the Street Reds foundation, it provides the warm sense of the collective. In fact, it teaches the children the values of life.
Indeed, one of the African, Portuguese or local lads could be the next class of two thousand and something but for now the coaches are just focused on bonding and overall togetherness.