As Christmas draws near, it’s a time to give some thought to those who don’t get to enjoy all the cheer of a joyful festive season. The PFA is committed to ensuring our members use their position to help enrich their local communities. Christmas is a great opportunity to give back to fans and local residents. We take a look at how three clubs have been doing just that.
Earlier this month, Accrington Stanley FC visited the children’s unit at the Royal Blackburn Hospital, in what has become a yearly tradition for the club. Players were joined by members of the management team to meet with children staying on the wards. The team gave out gifts to each family, hoping to spread a little happiness in what can be a trying time.
The Accrington Stanley Community Trust donated a selection of books and toys, and the players were also more than happy to sign some balls and training shirts, which they then handed out to the delighted children.
ASFC captain, Seamus Conneely, explained: ‘It’s always a special afternoon and it’s nice that we can do something to help support these children and their families. It’s not much but the children and parents are always happy to see us, and it does spread a little cheer’.
Some of Manchester United’s biggest stars joined fans who live with serious and life-limiting illnesses a day to remember at their Aon Training Complex. David de Gea, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford met with guests as part of the Manchester United Foundation’s bi-annual Dream Day, to try and make Christmas extra special for their guests.
Twice a season, supporters come from across the country for the special event, which gives them a chance to meet their footballing heroes and watch first-team training from the Jimmy Murphy Visitors’ Centre. At last week’s event, our members gave out gifts, signed autographs and posed for photos wearing Santa hats with the fans - getting everyone into the festive spirit.
A long-time supporter of the foundation, winger Ashley Young has attended many Dream Days over his eight seasons with the club. He says, “It’s close to Christmas, so it’s nice to give them an early present and to see the kids smiling at what is a tough time for them. If we can do anything to cheer them up, then that’s what we want to do.”
There were 14 attendees, and one lucky fan, 9-year-old Hugh, got an extra special present from David de Gea - a signed pair of his very own goalkeeper gloves. “I’m speechless,” Hugh said. “My brothers are going to be very jealous; I’m never going to take these gloves off!”
Travelling from Northampton, Steven, 14, was especially excited to meet Juan Mata, his favourite player. “It’s been amazing; a dream come true. I’ve met all the players, but my favourite has to be Mata”, Steven said. “Today has definitely boosted my Christmas spirit and has been very exciting – it’s a great way to end this year.”
Fair Oaks Day Hospice had a festive visit from players and staff from Walsall FC in early December. The Saddlers and their backroom staff met patients and their families, taking part in some festive activities and switching on the hospice’s Christmas lights.
Located at Walsall Palliative Care Centre, Fair Oaks is a specialist day care centre for people who live in Walsall, offering support for their moderate to complex palliative care needs.
Player-coach Russell Martin, Manager Dean Keates, and Assistant Manager Andy Davies were joined by George Dobson, Joe Edwards, Nicky Devlin, and other members of the Saddlers family, in a bid to spread some seasonal joy.
Nurse Manager at Fair Oaks Day Hospice, Tracey Grinell, said the visitors were lovely, and all the patients had been very excited to meet the team.
"We try to arrange as many events as possible to entertain the patients. The Walsall players and staff created a brilliant atmosphere - chatting to everyone, signing autographs and taking photos", she said.
Director of Walsall FC Community Programme Adam Davy said it was the third year of the club visiting Fair Oaks, and it had been a rewarding experience, as always. He added: “Thank you to everyone at Fair Oaks Day Hospice for their help and we wish everyone there a very Merry Christmas!”