A team representing Sunderland AFC finished above local rivals Newcastle United in a pan-disability football festival as former stars watched on.
Over 180 young people from 23 Premier League and English Football League clubs gathered at Manchester City’s Etihad Campus to take part in the event, which was held to celebrate another year for the Premier League and BT Disability programme.
Participants from Sunderland AFC took part in a day of football activity – starting with a skills session in the morning which saw former Black Cats’ defender Joleon Lescott and ex-Arsenal and West Ham forward John Hartson, who were in attendance on behalf of the initiative, join them to take part in passing, shooting and turning challenges.
This was followed by a tournament in the afternoon which saw the teams, all dressed in the kit of the club they were representing, split into five groups.
Sunderland were victorious in Group C as they met rivals Newcastle in a winner-takes-all final group game, with both having won their previous two group games.
A 0-0 draw as enough to see the Black Cats win the group on goal difference.
Aston Villa, Leicester City, Stoke City and Watford also won their respective groups to walk away with trophies.
The event was the culmination of the second season for the Premier League and BT Disability initiative, which has now seen over 23,000 participants take part in nearly 15,000 club-run sessions since September 2016.
John, who also played for Celtic, 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.”
BT Sport presenter and event MC Jake Humphrey said: “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.”
Kevin Darke, Inclusion Coordinator at Foundation of Light, said: “The funding from the Premier League and BT has allowed us to expand everything we’re doing as a foundation.
“We’re integrating all of our inclusive programmes across the foundation, into employability, family learning, our sport and play offer and it’s just allowed us to provide so many more opportunities to young people right across the region.”