Den' Deal!

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Manchester United legend joins Football Foundation President to open new community pitch at local high school.

The President of the Football Foundation, Rt Hon. Lord Pendry, was joined by legendary former Manchester United FC defender Denis Irwin and local MP Mike Kane in Wythenshawe yesterday (Friday 3 November) to officially open Manchester Health Academy’s new all-weather pitch. This was made possible by a grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which is delivered by the Football Foundation.

The grant has enabled Manchester Health Academy to install a new state-of-the-art third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch (AGP). The new floodlit playing surface, which can be used all-year-round, compliments the school’s other football facilities. These include: two full-size grass pitches; two 7v7 pitches; one 9v9 pitch and a small-sided AGP.

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 Athletic 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.

During the visit Denis Irwin watched students playing on the pitch before taking part in a Q&A session and officially unveiling the new facility.

The former defender, who won 20 major honours during his 12-year stay with United, 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!"

Manchester Health Academy worked alongside the Manchester Football Association 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.

The project will not only benefit the Academy’s 600 pupils, but will also have a number of other users. Such as partner organisations; Wythenshawe Amateurs FC, Wythenshawe Town FC and the South Manchester Girls Football 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 use 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. An increase of 175% in female football participation across all ages is expected at the site as a result.

The Academy worked in partnership with the Manchester FA to secure a £386,583 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund.

Founded in 2000, the Football Foundation is the largest sports charity in the UK funded by the Premier League, The FA and Government, via Sport England. It develops new and refurbished grassroots sports facilities in order to improve the quality and experience of playing sport at the grassroots level. Since it was launched in 2000, the Foundation has awarded around 15,000 grants worth more than £580m towards improving grassroots sport, which it has used to attract additional partnership funding of over £800m – £1.4bn of investment into the grassroots game.

Since 2000 the Football Foundation Funding Partners’ investment has provided 229 grants worth £15.3m towards grassroots sports projects worth over £32.1m across the whole of Manchester.

By providing more high-quality facilities, coupled with coaching at the appropriate age group, the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund aims to improve the experience for regular players as well as attracting new players to the game. Many of the new state-of-the-art facilities will serve to strengthen the connection between professional football clubs and their local communities, particularly in the most deprived areas of the country, through the professional clubs’ community trusts’ outreach work.