Children from across England and Wales headed to the Etihad Campus to take part in the pan-disability football festival with former Premier League footballers Joleon Lescott and John Hartson.

Over 180 young people from 23 Premier League and English Football League clubs gathered at Manchester City’s Etihad Campus on Tuesday 17th July, to celebrate a second successful year for the Premier League and BT Disability initiative.

The event brought together young people, ranging in abilities, from across the country to take part in a day of fun football activity with the aim of inspiring them through sport and to help them develop new skills and confidence.

Former Premier League footballers Joleon Lescott and John Hartson took part in the morning’s skills sessions with the participants who each donned the kit of the club they were representing – showcasing their tricks and flicks, passing and shooting ability at some of the stations on the Etihad Campus indoor pitch.

This was followed by a football tournament in the afternoon that saw the teams split into five groups, with a trophy for each of the victors up for grabs. It was a tightly-fought contest with two of the winners decided on goal difference, but it was Aston Villa, Leicester City, Stoke City, Sunderland and Watford who won their respective groups.

The afternoon also featured visually-impaired football demonstrations, and a unified football match between disabled and able-bodied participants representing Manchester City and Manchester United. Sensory room equipment was set up in one of the areas to display the type of specialist equipment that is available to clubs through the Premier League and BT Disability programme funding – which some clubs have already installed at their grounds to improve inclusivity.

The event at the Etihad Campus was the climax of a great second season for the Premier League and BT Disability initiative which has now seen over 23,000 participants take part in nearly 15,000 sessions since September 2016.

Former Premier League footballer John Hartson said: “I think it’s a great initiative, a great programme that the Premier League and BT have put together – helping disabled people through sport. It’s inspired me to see all these kids with smiles on their faces. Some of them have got severe disabilities, but it doesn’t stop them getting involved. A lot of these kids, they’ve got so much inner strength and it’s just about getting it out of them and getting them to express themselves. Opportunities like today give them that chance to really showcase who they are, what they are and that for me is really, really inspiring.”

BT Sport presenter and event emcee, Jake Humphrey said: “It’s been an incredible day, and a brilliant success for all those involved. It’s so inspiring to see these kids enjoy what they do without having to worry about any limitations and it’s great that the Premier League and BT are making it possible for the clubs to provide this kind of opportunity.”

Clubs in attendance:

  • AFC Bournemouth Stoke City
  • Arsenal FC Sunderland AFC
  • Aston Villa FC Tottenham Hotspur FC
  • Burnley FC Watford FC
  • Brighton & Hove Albion FC West Bromwich Albion FC
  • Chelsea FC
  • Crystal Palace FC
  • Everton FC
  • Huddersfield Town AFC
  • Hull City
  • Leicester City FC
  • Liverpool FC
  • Manchester United FC
  • Manchester City FC
  • Middlesbrough FC
  • Newcastle United FC
  • Norwich City FC
  • Southampton FC

Premier League and BT Disability initiative provides funding to club community organisations in the Premier League during the 2015/16 season and those promoted to the Premier League in seasons 2016/17 to 2018/19. The funding is used to embed a culture of inclusive sport and physical activity within club community organisations to ensure that disabled people can access the sport or physical activity of their choice, inspire them to be more active, and encourage them to develop the skills and confidence needed to reach their potential.

Through its club community organisations, the Premier League has shown a long-term commitment to delivering disability sport programmes and has provided significant investment in this area to enable clubs to deliver a wide range of disability sport focused programmes. Clubs are regularly accessing local funding to deliver disability sport provision as well as health, education and employment programmes for disabled people.

BT is a long-term supporter of sport-for-change projects and aims to generate more than £1 billion for good causes by 2020. Through The Supporters Club, BT Sport’s charitable initiative, more than £6m has been raised and thousands of young lives enhanced in the UK and overseas. BT has also been a long-term supporter of good causes and disability organisations such as Children In Need, Comic Relief, Sport Relief, the British Paralympic Association and the GB Wheelchair Rugby team. Furthermore, BT is a supporter of the ‘100% Sport’ initiative – a collaboration with the likes of Sir Ben Ainslie calling on sports fans to switch to renewable energy.