FBB patron Chris Smalling rallies Manchester United players and coaches to support FBB North West launch

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FBB patron Chris Smalling rallies Manchester United players and coaches to support FBB North West launch

Last night will go down as a truly unforgettable night in FBB’s history. A star-studded line-up attended a very special dinner at Harvey Nichols in Manchester to celebrate Chris Smalling becoming an FBB patron and the recent launch of the FBB Schools programme in the North West of England. Special guests included Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, players Nemanja Matic and Phil Jones, as well as assistant manager Mike Phelan and first team coach Kieran McKenna. For FBB to receive this kind of support from players and coaches of Manchester United, one of the biggest clubs in the world, was nothing short of sensational.

FBB patron Chris Smalling rallies Manchester United players and coaches to support FBB North West launch 349
Manchester United coaches & players

In truly FBB fashion, the night was designed to allow the FBB participants in attendance to share their stories and demonstrate how football can change young people’s lives both on and off the pitch. It was a wonderful opportunity for the teenage participants to meet these stars of world football, to share a platform with them, and to tell them their stories directly. The evening provided our special guests with a powerful introduction to FBB and helped them to understand the importance of supporting the growth of the FBB Schools programme in the North West. 

Before introducing the young people to tell their stories, FBB co-director Jasper Kain explained why FBB’s work is crucial and the motivations behind the expansion to the North West: “Nationally school exclusions have gone up by 40% in the past 3 years. 82% of young offenders have been excluded from school. Over 50% of the adult prison population have been excluded from school. Here in the North West it is particularly stark, with the joint highest rate of school exclusions out of anywhere in the country. In January we launched at 7 schools in the North West with over 100 young people. Our plans in the next 6 months are to double the number of schools we work with in the region.”

For the FBB participants who got to meet the special guests this was a particularly unforgettable experience. Jesse, in his first year as part of the FBB programme, could barely hide his emotions: “This is mad – I’m excited to be stood here in front of some of the best players in the world, I’m so grateful for this opportunity.” Jesse spoke eloquently and explained the positive impact that FBB has had on him: “FBB has helped me understand my behaviour. As I got to know and trust my FBB coach Antar we started to explore my behaviour and why it was happening. It wasn’t that I was a naughty kid as I was often told before, I was just a kid with things on my mind that I didn’t know how to express.”

FBB patron Chris Smalling rallies Manchester United players and coaches to support FBB North West launch 350
FBB participant Mahmoud with Chris Smalling

Mahmoud, from William Hulme Grammar School in Manchester, was equally full of gratitude for what FBB have done already. Speaking to guests, Mahmoud explained: “FBB has done so much for me. I was the worst behaved child in my year group. I was getting ‘a ticket out’ from William Hulme because of that, but then FBB came along. So I changed, I found something I really enjoy and that pushes me to do better. I now behave a lot better in school, I am off all of my report booklets and now have the ‘golden ticket’ to do the best I can.”

Clearly moved by the stories that FBB’s young people had told, Chris spoke powerfully about why he has chosen to become and FBB patron: “Football Beyond Borders is changing lives – it is changing mentality and belief through engaging and effective learning. I am excited to be in a position to help the organisation expand and establish itself in the North West, having witnessed the difference it has made to the lives of young people in the South. Manchester has been my home for the last 9 years and the patronage offers me the opportunity to give back to those that have given me so much throughout my career at Manchester United.”

FBB patron Chris Smalling rallies Manchester United players and coaches to support FBB North West launch 351
FBB North West launch in February

It has been an exciting few months for FBB since Smalling has got involved, and even in such a short space of time he has been hugely engaged in the cause. Back in November, Smalling visited the FBB headquarters in Brixton and got to meet many of our young participants for the first time. Since then, he has been regularly providing tickets for our participants to attend Manchester United matches at Old Trafford, many of them for the first time. In February, Smalling’s patronage of FBB was officially announced at a football tournament hosted by Salford City Academy, with participants from the seven different schools on our North West programme in attendance.

Following Chris’ visit to Salford City Academy in February, this dinner was yet another important way for Chris to show his support for FBB and to help elevate FBB’s profile in the North West. FBB co-founder Jasper Kain was full of gratitude for Chris’ involvement: “We are delighted that Chris Smalling is joining us at this exciting stage of our journey. He is the perfect ambassador for our mission and a huge source of inspiration for our young people. There are so many lessons that our young people can draw from him and his story around resilience, self-belief and leadership.”

For FBB, our expansion to the North West is a very important step in the growth of the organisation and Jasper was keen to emphasise Smalling’s role in this expansion: “From our first conversation with Chris we were impressed by his level of interest in our work and desire to give back. As we expand our programmes to the North West of England, his involvement is crucial. This is a region which is known for its passion for football but also suffers from too many students underachieving at school, with the issue of school exclusions being particularly acute. Having Chris Smalling on board as an active ambassador will help to raise the profile of our mission in the North West of England as well as provide our young people with life changing opportunities through harnessing the power of the game as a force for good.”

FBB would like to extend a massive thanks to Harvey Nichols Manchester for hosting the event, and to Purple PR for helping us amplify Chris Smalling’s amazing work as FBB patron.

If you would like to volunteer or find out more about our programme in the North West, please contact Ceylon Hickman: chickman@footballbeyondborders.org

If you’d like to support the work we do with young people on our FBB Schools programme, please consider donating or becoming a monthly supporter. You can find out more information and donate here.