Our nationwide disability football programme, Every Player Counts, delivered in partnership with the EFL Trust, celebrated its first anniversary by holding a football festival at MediaCityUk in Salford, with players and clubs showcasing the programme in front of special guests.
Former England defender Danny Mills, ex-Norwich and Manchester United legend Mike Phelan and Bolton Wanderers forward Aaron Wilbraham were all at the event to support the anniversary and witness first-hand the benefits of the scheme.
Mills, Phelan and Wilbraham met participants from Wigan Athletic, Fleetwood Town, Bolton Wanderers, Coventry City and Shrewsbury Town who have been involved in the programme over the past 12 months, with over 50 players taking part on the day.
At WNST, we are committing more than £1million over three years to the programme, with day-to-day management, media, financial and administrative support coming from the EFL Trust, with the 25 participating EFL clubs each bringing other funds and resources to their own projects.
Danny Mills, who helped launch the Every Player Counts programme at Wembley Stadium a year ago, explained “Football is the greatest game on the planet, but it is about participation and that is what makes programmes such as this so beneficial. Not only the health aspect, but from a social point of view, today and over the previous year will have changed the lives of those taking part.”
It has been a remarkable first year for the programme, with over 3,600 participants taking part, exceeding the initial target by over 20 per cent. Just under 900 of those were between the ages of ten and 15, demonstrating the importance of giving youngsters an opportunity to gain confidence and take part in sporting activity.
At the anniversary event, the five EFL Community Trusts took part in a round-robin tournament and training sessions, with disabilities ranging from visual impairment to amputations, showcasing the diversity the programme offers.
Mike Phelan said: “It is really pleasing to be able to see the opportunities available for everybody to take part in football. It is a fantastic programme that encourages participation, and with nationwide support from EFL clubs it is only going to get stronger over the next few years.”
WNST Chief Executive, Stewart Goshawk, commented “The whole programme has far exceeded our expectations. The commitment of everyone involved at the clubs has been in delivering the projects has been outstanding. To see so many people getting involved with football, often for the first time, really is something to be proud of. And we have every expectation of the programme getting stronger every year.”
EFL Trust Director of Operations, Mike Evans said: “It’s a year since we launched the programme and it wouldn’t have been possible without the funding from the Wembley National Stadium Trust. Credit needs to be given to all participating EFL clubs who have really pushed the boat out to engage as many people with disabilities as possible. It has been a fantastic effort from all involved.”
Photo credit: Rex Features