It is a Wednesday morning in early May at Stretford High School. Pupils are happily going about their day through the corridors and the Sun is lighting up the city of Manchester.
Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, is visible in the distance as it towers over a nearby housing estate. Inside the school the Manchester United links continued.
Books on the walls and shelves told stories of the club throughout the years, whilst posters of players both past and present were proudly on display.
A commemorative plaque in the sports hall details the time Sir Alex Ferguson opened the school’s astro turf pitches in 2012, roughly 20 years after he originally opened the school in 1992.
There is even a house, which is how the 796 children who attend the school are grouped, named after Sir Matt Busby.
The Manchester United Foundation and Stretford High School
Stretford High School has been a Manchester United Foundation partner school since 2011.
In the Foundation’s own words, they “work together with staff to deliver curriculum-based sessions to engage pupils and help develop both physical and life skills”.
The partnership also works towards developing leaders and nurturing potential in students.
It is in the reception of this school where I first met with Otto Malone and Jermaine, the Manchester United Foundation Hub officers based here.
Salford-born Otto stands at 6ft 7in and towers above the pupils we come across.
However, he is not just big in stature but also reputation, sharing an amazing personal bond with every pupil we come across.
With the help of Jermaine, the two Foundation workers could list what class each child should be in at that time, with what teacher and in what room.
As we walk, we come across five or six different pupils of various ages.
Each one is eager to stops to chat to the three of us, sharing their own funny stories about the coaches, or poking fun at them for various reasons.
Within five minutes, it was clear that the Foundation cares for pupils and the pupils care just as much for the Foundation.
Otto spends the first few minutes of our time together detailing the Foundation’s work that he oversees in Stretford High.
He, alongside Jermaine, work with children who have difficulties in the classroom, or have behavioural issues in general.
During this walk, Otto explains the most important thing in his work: “I honestly believe in building some sort of rapport and bond with as many pupils as possible. They’re all unique and individual people and it makes my time here a lot more fun.
“The best way for myself, and the Foundation, to help kids is to know them personally before anything else. After that, it’s a lot more straight forwards.”
The work done in Stretford High
The Foundation primarily works with children who experience challenges whilst learning.
That can range from those who struggle to communicate in lessons, or those who disengage in a classroom and struggle to do any work.
Through the work of the Foundation staff, they sit in classes, when needed, with those pupils who need help the most and assist with their learning.
The Foundation also works with children who have behavioural issues, notably those on a report card to monitor their behaviour.
The Foundation inspires our pupils – but it’s not the badge and the bling. It’s the people. People who provide constant care and support. People who take time to get to know them – likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses – really know them. -Mrs Dowd, Headteacher
Otto and Jermaine work with the same core group of pupils until they no longer need their help, or leave the school once they reach Year 11.
Otto explains this saying: “When I came to this school in September, I was working with a core group of 22 different pupils.
“Today, we only really have to work with 8 in classrooms.
“Between the pair of us, we’re very proud of the work that we’ve done here, and how well the students have reacted to us.”
He went on to explain some of the challenges that he came across during his early days at the school, and how sport is used to work out issues with those who attend the school.
“We would run a session once a week that anyone can come to, but we would alternate between playing football and sitting in the classroom to work with the group and see how they were doing” He said.
“For a short period of time, this was great, until they started only showing up to the sessions which involved a football!
“We changed it pretty soon after to just football, and we pull a handful of the participants out to talk to and see how they’re generally doing. This works a lot better.”
A sit down with a pupil who works with the Foundation
One pupil volunteered her time to talk to us about her experiences with the Foundation, and what they have done for her in her six years working with them.
It is due to the Foundation’s work that she is really allowed to be a United fan, she said.
“I grew up in a family of City fans, which was obviously tough!
“Because of this, I obviously wouldn’t get to go to Old Trafford at all, until I found the Foundation in my primary school.
“They helped a lot with my studies and how I was in class as I worked with the officers in school, and in turn I got the chance to get to go to Old Trafford with them.
“I’ve so far been a ball-girl a few times for games, which is a bit crazy when someone like Pogba comes up to you to get the ball back and you’re like ‘I watch you on TV!’ but it’s actually a really fun thing to do.”
She also detailed the other things the Foundation do, from giving out tickets to a home game to a pupil who deserves it most, to having player days, which is where a player from the club comes in to the school.
The Foundation also run events for sports such as basketball and handball to ensure that as many people as possible can come down and take part.
She went on to talk about the bond that her and her pupils all share with Otto and Jermaine on a daily basis.
“If we play some sort of game, we get split in to two teams – Otto’s team and Jermaine’s team.
“Nobody wants to be on Jermaine’s team because he’s a City fan – his team always loses!” She laughed.
Stories involving Manchester United
As we walk to the reception of the school, Otto is full of humorous stories and photos involving the Foundation.
He has light-hearted stories about almost everybody that we come across on our way out.
Two in particular stood out, one was about leading a group of pupils out of the Old Trafford tunnel with the Europa League flag.
All the while, one pupil was that in awe of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he was moving the flag, which was visible on camera, much to the dismay of a match official.
Another told of a pupil being in absolute awe of meeting Paul Pogba, he spent the next half an hour asking “Was that actually Pogba, though?”, accompanied by a picture of the clearly bewildered and awestruck boy on his iPad.
Otto was full of stories about the children who he cared for. They clearly are just as much a part of his life as he was a part of theirs.
He closed with one final story about a joke he plays every week: “United are obviously sponsored by Adidas, and because of that they make our tracksuits and give us a pair of free trainers.
“Somehow, they’ve managed to give me the WORST pair of trainers Adidas have ever made, and every single boy and girl in this school will let me know it, if I wear them.
“We run a session every Wednesday, so for a bit of a laugh I make sure I wear these trainers every Wednesday without fail.
“They hate them, if we go to a tournament they all tell me they’re embarrassing and so on.
“I’ve had so many offers of actual money from them to take them off and get rid of them, but deep down I think they love them.”
As we walked to the exit, we go past the Headteacher, Mrs Doward, who is excitedly talking and laughing with a group of students.
Not before a young man walks past, groans and says out loud: “Otto, you HAVE to take them trainers off, they are awful! Let me burn them or something, please!”
Speaking of the Foundation, Mrs Doward says: “The Foundation inspires our pupils – but it’s not the badge and the bling. It’s the people.
“People who provide constant care and support. People who take time to get to know them – likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses – really know them.
“It’s in the crafting of this relationship that inspiration is borne. It’s challenge coupled with support. It’s a hard work ethic coupled with a sense of humour.
“It’s academic success coupled the understanding that we look after and care for the whole child.”
Stretford High School and the Manchester United Foundation go hand in hand, and it is more than apparent they are working in harmony to build a better Manchester for the future.
What is the Manchester United Foundation?
The Foundation was formed after a UEFA Celebration match on 13th March 2007, which marked the 50th anniversary of Manchester United’s participation in European competition.
A Manchester United side including Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo took on a European XI which featured the likes of Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo and current United star, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The funds raised from that game went towards setting up Manchester United Foundation.
Fast forwards 10 years, the Foundation has a wide presence across Greater Manchester and currently works with over 20,000 young people.
Since 2014, the innovative partner schools programme, such as the one at Stretford High School, has more than doubled in size.
Full time coaches are now in high schools all across Greater Manchester, the list of which can be found on the map below:
They partner with, and help run, other organisations such as the Premier League-funded Street Reds project which operates in 12 locations.
This offers young people the opportunity to pursue their interest in playing, leading and coaching in football, and the disability and girls’ provision have grown to represent the top tiers in their respective leagues.
They also work with, and implement, other Premier League projects, such as the Primary Stars Foundation and the Premier League Reading Stars campaign. For more information on either campaign, click the links attached to each project.
The Foundation also hosts two ‘Dream Days’ a year, during which seriously ill adults and children get the chance to go to the Carrington training ground to watch the players train and then meet them.
Manchester United managing director and Foundation chairman, Richard Arnold, spoke about the Foundation in March, saying: “The Foundation allows us to connect with our communities in Manchester, with the youth of Manchester, in the schools that we partner with and our projects in the evenings, connecting with kids and their parents.
“The world is our oyster; there’s a huge possibility for us to reach out and grow and I know the Foundation has huge ambition and huge goals for the future.”
Whilst Sir Alex Ferguson, Britain and Manchester United’s most successful manager, said: “The Foundation epitomises Manchester United’s care for the rest of Manchester.
“It has played a great part in terms of educating young people and charity work so I really have to say well done to them because it still there and it’s still doing very well.”
The Manchester United Foundation is based out of a main office on Sir Matt Busby Way, quite literally a stone’s throw away from the club’s Old Trafford stadium, as seen below.
To donate to the Foundation, visit their Just Giving page at: https://www.justgiving.com/mufoundation.
Featured image credit: The Manchester United Foundation