The Treble Reunion game could transform lives
The chief executive of Manchester United Foundation believes Sunday’s Treble Reunion game at Old Trafford could lead to a “transformational impact” on the lives of thousands of children in Greater Manchester.
Shiels – whose association with the club stretches back 40 years, to when he first started working with Sir Bobby Charlton’s Soccer Schools – joined the Foundation in 2008, and has been a key driver behind the plans for Sunday’s event, which sees our famous Treble winners of 1999 face the Bayern Munich side they beat in the Champions League final exactly 20 years ago.
But while the United fan cannot wait to see his heroes back on the hallowed turf once more, he's equally excited about the impact the money raised by the event could have on the children and communities that the Foundation supports.
“It’s really exciting to be in Manchester at the moment, because you look out of the window and all the cranes in the country must be here,” explains Shiels.
“At last, Manchester is getting a downtown. We’re putting skyscrapers up and it’s fantastic. But that’s the shop window of Manchester. In the shadows, 76,000 young people in Manchester and Salford live on or below the poverty line.
"Some of the schools we work in have to provide shoes and uniform to the kids. They have to run breakfast clubs, as well as dinner clubs. These children are born into a predicament where, unless someone intervenes, this is going to be their lives. Our plan is to go in and intervene to help them achieve their potential. To empower them to think: I can get myself out of this. To trust in themselves; to believe in themselves. To go out of their comfort zones.
“We do a lot of work in schools. We do a lot of work in community engagement, through our Street Reds project. The Treble Reunion will help us fund that.
"There’s not much public funding anymore. There are not many youth clubs now. There are not many safe places for kids to go now, unless you go to something that’s organised and there are adults there. So we give kids the opportunity to go to a place and to people who look after them, who make them safe, who challenge them, give them a good run round and keep them fit and well. We are there 48 weeks in a year, wind, rain or shine. It gives them an alternative.”
The Foundation’s aim is to inject positivity and provide disadvantaged children with the skills and personal qualities that might help them get a job, and help them be successful.
“What do you need to get a job? You do need your English and maths, which is education,” says Shiels, “but you also need to have an energy about yourself, an attitude. To be confident, reliable, to be able to communicate. We take the traits of success from Manchester United and say: this is what you need, guys and girls, to be successful. You need to be focused, disciplined, determined, resilient.
“These kids maybe struggle at home, and struggle at school. So it’s not rocket science to realise that they probably don’t believe in themselves. So that’s what we do. Our currencies are inspiration and aspiration, which are from the Latin word spiro, which means ‘to breathe life into’, and that sums it up really.
“By getting 60,000-odd United fans to come to Old Trafford on Sunday and support their legends, and their Foundation, it gives us some money to do more of that.
"That’s why the Treble Reunion is important to us as a Foundation, and it’s important to the community of Manchester, but it could be transformational to the lives of the kids we get hold of. And it’s not just now. If we intervene and get things right, their picture – when they’re a grandpa or grandma 50 years on – could be totally different to what it would have been. A 10-minute impact could have a 50-year effect, so it’s pretty significant what Sunday could enable us to achieve.”
As for the game itself, Shiels is looking forward to seeing some of the club's former stars play again – many of whom he has worked with and got to know during recent years.
"I’m really pleased that David [Beckham] has said he’ll come, for example. I’ve known David since he was 12, because he came to Bobby Charlton’s Soccer Schools.
"There was an awful lot of fate in David’s journey. We’d been doing Soccer Schools for a long time, but the year David won it was the first time a children’s TV programme called Blue Peter covered it. They hadn’t covered it before and haven’t since! Blue Peter was the children’s programme.
“Part of the prize was to go and visit a foreign team, so David went to stay at Barcelona. Terry Venables was the manager, Mark Hughes was there, Gary Lineker was there, Steve Archibald. For a 12-year-old boy, if you need inspiration and you need to know where you want to go, then that was it. He was there for probably a week. And then that led to him coming to Manchester United.
“I’ve got to know Denis Irwin, who has been a Foundation trustee. Ronny Johnsen – The Iceman – has played for us in virtually every Legends game. He’s a great lad. Jaap Stam has played for us quite a few times. I’ve got to know Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole... they’re all great lads. We’re very lucky with the lads that come back and help the Foundation. And to do what they did is still unprecedented.
“Bryan Robson is obviously not in the Treble team, but this is his project, really. He’s the one that helps us get the legends together. He’s just such a leader. The man’s just a legend. Without Robbo, we wouldn’t have been able to do this.”
As for the opposition in Sunday’s match, Shiels' intel suggests the Bayern players will arrive in M16 well prepared to exact some revenge for their heartbreak in the Nou Camp two decades ago.
“I’ve heard the Germans have trained, but I don’t know whether they play more regularly together. Germans don’t like losing, and neither do the British, so I think it will be very tight. It could be penalties! But Bayern are on a tight timescale, because they have got to fly back on the night, straight after. No extra-time. But you can’t ever do extra-time in a legends game!”
The Foundation boss is certain that, whatever the scoreline, Sunday will have a lasting legacy.
“Our projects mean we can provide opportunities. It’s whether the kids are inclined to take it to a different level. Have we then got the resource, when a kid comes knocking on the door and they need some support, can we make sure they get that support?
“Every pound is important. That one pound could fund the 10 minutes of a chat that one of our coaches has with a kid that could be a transformational 10 minutes. You don’t know when that 10 minutes might be. But that’s why every penny counts.”
Tickets are still available - via manutd.com/treblereunion or 0161 868 8000 - and can be purchased at Old Trafford on the day.
All proceeds will go to Manchester United Foundation. Donations can also be made online via bt.com/trebledonate.