Young Champions take festival spotlight

Respect and fair play were the watchwords as hundreds of youngsters took to the UEFA Champions Festival in Hyde Park for the culmination of UEFA's Young Champions Tournament.

Youngsters playing on a mini-pitch at the UEFA Champions Festival
Youngsters playing on a mini-pitch at the UEFA Champions Festival ©Sportsfile

The sixth day of the UEFA Champions Festival in Hyde Park represented the culmination of UEFA's Young Champions Tournament.

Conceived by 27 Glasgow schools in the week leading up to the 2002 UEFA Champions League final at Hampden Park, the Young Champions Tournament is now a fixture of the build-up to the final of Europe's premier club competition. Arranged by adidas, in cooperation with UEFA, this year's tournament came to England in order to continue the tradition of concluding it in the same city as the UEFA Champions League decider.

It kicked off in March across six different areas of the UK, with the various regional winners meeting in Hyde Park on Thursday and Friday. "For the kids it's already a prize to come here and play in this environment," said adidas' senior manager of UEFA affairs, Eric Vlieg. "We wanted to give these kids an opportunity to play in a Champions League environment because they are the future. The weather's not with us today so that's a pity, but all in all it's been a success."

Though playing the game in the right spirit was paramount, there was also the small matter of tickets to Saturday's FC Barcelona-Manchester United FC final on offer for the winners in London. With more than 200 girls and boys involved, from Under-12s to U16s, the event was a triumph regardless, however.

"It's a great experience for them," said Carshalton Warriors U12s coach Neil Mason. "The kit, the equipment and facilities here are first class. Not only the football, the whole day and the whole festival are brilliant. Grassroots football is really important for the future. It's all about respect, first and foremost, fair competition, some very good football and a great experience to take into the future."

The day ended with the festival bathed in sunlight for a series of skills clinics conducted by former players Gianfranco Zola, Jay-Jay Okocha and Giovanni van Bronckhorst. "It was great, I really enjoyed it," said former Italy foward Zola. "It is good giving something back to the younger generation. It's so important. The reason I played football is because I saw professionals playing football. For the kids to interact with us is so important and really pleasant."