I don’t know what I’d have done without football – The Sun’s Footie For All fund is vital for kids, says John Obi Mikel

BOUNDING about a pitch, Chelsea legend John Obi Mikel greeted the 20 kids from Wapping FC one by one with a high five or handshake at a special training session.

While Mikel, 36, has retired from elite football, the former midfielder has kept his foot in youth teams with his own foundation in Nigeria.

Chelsea legend John Obi Mikel bounding about the pitch with 20 kids from Wapping FCPaul Edwards – Commissioned by The Sun

He believes it is vital to support clubs for kids in the cost of living crisisPaul Edwards – Commissioned by The Sun

He said: “For many kids, growing up nowadays you play a sport or you’re on the street.

“I chose sport just like these kids and it completely changed my life.

“I don’t know what I would have been without football.

“I remember being this age like it was yesterday.”

Founder Nahimul Islam, 25, started Wapping FC, in Mile End, East London, when he was just 17 to give kids a place to play football and keep out of trouble.

Now more than 250 children are on their books, including 50 girls and 16 players with a range of disabilities.

Parents are charged £5 a week for their children to join in training, and if they can’t afford it the club will do what it can to subsidise or waive fees.

Nahimul said: “We operate in one of the most deprived areas of the country, and this incredible grant will help us give the boys high-class training and facilities without passing that cost on to mum and dad back home.

“Having someone like Mikel come visit the club is inspirational to our players.

“It shows them just what is possible.”

Mikel met 20 kids aged between 11 and 13.

When he was growing up in Nigeria, the former Chelsea ace played in any open area of grass with his friends and a beat-up ball, rather than being coached by professionals.

But he reckons the joy he found in football is the same for the kids he saw training.

Mikel, who has launched his second series of The Obi One Podcast, added: “What I tell kids at this age is don’t look at the money or fame that comes with football now.

“Just enjoy the time you have with your friends because that’ll go by really quickly.

“If you’re focused on the Ferrari or the fancy watches, you’re not playing football for the right reasons.

“Money comes and goes, but this kind of joy doesn’t last for ever.”

Mikel reckons the youths he saw training have found the same joy for footie that he has donePaul Edwards – Commissioned by The Sun

NET WIN

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has declared herself a “proud supporter” of The Sun’s Footie For All campaign.

She praised our initiative to inject £150,000 into the grassroots game with the help of Tesco after the cost-of-living crisis led to many kids dropping out of local sports clubs.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer is a ‘proud supporter’ of Footie For AllRoland Leon – Commissioned by The Sun

Meanwhile, we sent Towie football fan Joey Essex and former Chelsea ace John Obi Mikel to surprise teams awarded one of our Footie For All Fund grants.

Talking to The Sun today at the FA’s national centre at St George’s Park in Burton upon Trent, Staffs, the Culture Secretary said: “It’s really important that we have football access for everyone.

“I’m a proud supporter of The Sun’s campaign.

“We are combining with the sporting bodies, the Department for Education and the Department of Health to achieve our aims, so Footie For All is complementary to that.”

The minister was speaking at the announcement of a £30million plan funded by the Government and the FA to build around 30 state-of-the-art pitches across the country.

Inspired by the Lionesses making it to the final of this year’s women’s World Cup, the new sites will have dedicated female changing rooms, shower facilities and accessible toilets, as well as priority booking for women and girls’ teams.

Elsewhere, TV favourite Joey enjoyed a training session with Broomfield FC in Essex, which caters for children with disabilities.

The club was awarded one of our 1,500 £1,000 grants to help with the cost of pitch hire and specialist staff to keep the sessions free for kids.

Joey, who grew up watching Millwall with his dad, said: “Seeing how much these kids love to play and the difference it makes to their confidence is amazing. I’m so proud to support Footie For All.”

Chelsea’s John Obi was mobbed by enthusiastic young players when he dropped in on Wapping FC in East London after they too were also awarded a grant.

He said: “For many kids, growing up nowadays you play a sport or you’re on the street.

“I chose sport, just like these kids, and it completely changed my life. I don’t know what I would have been without football.

“I remember being this age like it was yesterday.

“It’s great to still see kids running around and enjoying themselves. That’s the most important bit.”

The Sun launched Footie For All this year after statistics revealed how the cost-of-living crisis was forcing many young children to drop out of local sports clubs.

We invited grassroots football clubs which work with kids under 18 to apply for one of 150 grants worth £1,000 each.

The fund was generously provided by Tesco as part of its Stronger Starts campaign, which provides healthy food and activities for children.

Since September, in partnership with the supermarket giant, we have been funding essentials including kits, free places and the cost of pitch hire for kids’ footie clubs up and down the UK — including dozens of girls’ teams.

England team captain Millie Bright has already backed our Footie For All campaign.

She said: “It’s amazing what The Sun and Tesco are doing to support local teams.

“It will help a lot of children keep playing. And who knows, maybe some of the kids they help could become lionesses.

“As a kid, my parents had a hard time getting me away from a football pitch.

“But it wasn’t something I knew I loved until some friends took me to a local club, Killamarsh Dynamos, then it became my focus.

“It opened up a whole new world to me aged nine and without playing when I was little, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear that some kids won’t get the same opportunities because their parents can’t afford it.”

Lionesses training at FA’s national football centre todayRoland Leon – Commissioned by The Sun

HAMILTON IN ESSEX LEAGUE

LITTLE Hamilton Hunt put Joey Essex through his paces — five months after he could barely walk.

The six-year-old, who has developmental difficulties in his legs, got his confidence back thanks to volunteers at Broomfield Football Club in Chelmsford, Essex.

Tyreece knocks a ball past Joey Essex at Broomfield FC’s training groundLouis Wood – Commissioned by The Sun

His mum Skye said: “Coming here has been life-changing for Hamilton and me.”

The Sun’s grant is being used to help cover pitch hire and training costs for staff.

Joey also handed out a new team strip paid for by art business Quantus Gallery, owned by James Ryan.

The Towie star lines up with Hamilton, in blue hat, and his palsLouis Wood – Commissioned by The Sun

Joey continues to join in with Essex club’s kidsLouis Wood – Commissioned by The Sun