Former Manchester United and England centre-back, Rio Ferdinand, has launched a new cross-border project in Ireland through his charitable foundation.
The Rio Ferdinand Foundation launched the “Beyond the Ball” project via the medium of a youth football tournament set in Londonderry (Derry), Northern Ireland. The BBC report that the youth initiative aims to provide a “sense of worth and value” to young people in the area.
The five-a-side cross-border event brought together around 75 young people aged 15 or over from both the Northern Irish and Irish counties of Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh and Leitrim. The event kicked off at a Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) ground in Creggan, County Londonderry.
The tournament of course provides the participants a chance to play football at a competitive level but it also aims to allow young people from different cultural and religious backgrounds to “share their hopes for the future and build new friendships”.
The former England international turned pundit has claimed that one of the main objectives for setting up the project was that “in the current climate, young people need support, training, and skills development to build a strong future in uncertain times.”
Ferdinand went on to state that one of the primary reasons for his work in the foundation was because once upon a time he was just like them, growing up in a housing estate in London.
It is clear to see that improving the lives and chances for young people is close to the legendary United defender’s heart. The opening lines of the Foundation’s mission statement is “we create opportunities for young people to tackle inequality, achieve their personal potential and drive social change.”
This work will be especially appreciated in areas like the north-west of Ireland. According to The Belfast Telegraph the Foyle constituency in Derry is one of the poorest areas in Northern Ireland and the entire United Kingdom.
It also must be stated that young people in this area do not only need to deal with economic hardship but are also still trying to navigate the aftermath of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which officially lasted from 1969-1998. Although, too many areas in the country are still dealing with the legacy of such hardship.
Manchester United is a club close to the heart of many on the island and it is certain that many young people will take advantage of such schemes now and in the future.
One such participant told the BBC that “playing football brings people together, being kind to one another, having fun, that’s the best thing about it”.
It must be said that many footballers participate in charitable work but it is a credit to United’s former defender that his charitable organization is involved with something so personal to him. The ex-centre back spent so much of his time defending United’s and England’s goal, now it is great to see him doing the same for young people across the country.