Football coaches recognised for tireless work on Wearside
Football coaches on Wearside have been hailed as 'heroes' after having their work recognised on the national stage.
Long-serving coaches Mark Pae and Ian Corner have had their story immortalised in a comic illustration after being nominated for a Premier League Kicks Heroes accolade by the Foundation of Light.
The pair joined the foundation 10 years ago, and are now working on youth outreach programme Sunderland Kicks.
That is part of Premier League Kicks, which aims to create safer, stronger and more respectful communities by developing youngsters.
Mark and Ian have worked tirelessly in a bid to expand the programme's reach, help to reduce anti-social behaviour and provide a safe outlet for young people to take part in sports and other workshops.
Their stories have now been turned into a comic strip illustration, designed by Marvel and DC Comics artist John McCrea.
Ian, who is Kicks lead for Sunderland North, said: "It’s great to see that Premier League Kicks has been such a success and that, 10 years on, we are able to continue and build on the great work the local stakeholders, forces and the club have worked so tirelessly on.
"To be nominated as a Premier League Kicks Hero is a bit of a shock to be honest.
"To work on such a diverse and exciting programme, and see the benefit it has on those in the local area is reward enough.”
Mark Pae, Kicks lead for Chester-le-Street, said: “Chester-le-Street needed a programme like Kicks.
"The young people in the area needed somewhere safe to meet up, where they could be themselves but also better themselves.
"Through the help and support they’ve gained through Kicks and the Foundation of Light we’ve been able to provide that.”
The pair have also earned the praise of Sunderland AFC player Duncan Watmore.
He said: "Ian, Mark and all of the team at the Foundation of Light should be commended for the great work they do on the Sunderland Kicks programme.
"It’s great to hear how their efforts have led to the Foundation of Light establishing popular weekly free sessions that encompass not just football but other vocational or educational work that might be of interest to those in the area.
“Ian and Mark having worked on Kicks since the Premier League introduced it in 2006, is I’m sure a testament to their belief in the positive and life-changing results of the programme.
"I’m sure many local young people would join me in thanking both and Ian and Mark for making them aware of the Sunderland Kicks sessions and for supporting them not only on the pitch but off of it too.”
Premier League Kicks has worked with more than 180,000 young people nationwide over the last 10 years.
There are now 68 Premier League, Football League and National Clubs running the programme.
Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore said: “Premier League Kicks delivers sessions for young people where they are needed most, connecting football clubs with their communities in a meaningful and sustainable way.
“The Kicks Heroes campaign allows us to highlight some of those inspiring individual stories – like Mark and Ian’s – and celebrate their achievements and thank the 68 Premier League, English Football League and National League clubs currently delivering the programme."