A TOP class football centre that sparked a tree felling row has been officially opened.
Sunderland AFC star Jordan Henderson joined sports legend Sir Trevor Brooking to launch the pioneering £1.8million Russell Foster Football Centre.
Hundreds of people objected to plans to build the top-of-the-range facility, in Newbottle, after it was revealed 7,000 trees would need to be removed to make way for what is the country’s first purpose-built mini soccer centre.
But after a High Court battle, a string of planning applications and years of objections, the long-running row has finally come to an end with the completion of the 21 grass pitches and sports pavilion.
Sir Trevor, the Football Association’s director of football development, said: “This is a wonderful facility and one that The Russell Foster Tyne and Wear Youth League and the local community should be very proud of.
“It is essential that communities are able to access facilities where they can be safe and enjoy quality coaching.
“Playing sports can teach people, especially young people, essential life skills such as communication and teamwork.
“These facilities are for everyone to enjoy, irrespective of the level at which they play.
“However, for a talented few, they may well be where the next generation of elite players will initially hone their skills.”
Henderson, who developed his talent in a youth league before being snapped up by SAFC, added: “I am extremely proud to be present at the opening of this magnificent centre.
“I have extremely fond memories of my time in the youth league, and will be forever thankful to the people who run it because they helped develop my football career.
“It’s really important to keep investing in grassroots football, because that is where every footballer starts out.”
The new centre, which will also provide the Russell Foster Tyne and Wear Youth League with a new headquarters, was part funded by a £988,869 grant from the Football Federation.
The 21 grass pitches will cater for youngsters aged seven to 10, and the sports pavilion houses eight changing rooms, office space, a classroom, kitchen and plant storage.
Mick Clark, Russell Foster Football Centre secretary, said: “I am sure that the facilities available to young people will go a long way in advancing the development of football in the area, and give huge enjoyment to our children.”