The message from Madrid on UEFA Grassroots Day was that the most important thing is to find joy in football – because the elite game needs a happy and healthy base.
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Football fans in Madrid are being given plenty of fun and entertainment as the countdown continues to Saturday's UEFA Champions League final between FC Bayern München and FC Internazionale Milano in the Spanish city.
The showdown in European club football's blue-riband competition is being preceded by events which are turning the week into a true football festival. UEFA Grassroots Day on Wednesday has brought home the joy of the game to young and old, while the week-long UEFA Champions Festival at the Parque del Retiro (Plaza del Angel Caído) is helping fans and visitors experience the buzz of the UEFA Champions League's showpiece match.
UEFA Grassroots Day has been the focal point of grassroots football promotion across Europe, and, in the week of the most high-profile club fixture of the year, has underlined UEFA's stance that elite football cannot flourish without healthy grassroots, and that football is open to everyone.
"It's an important week in football, for UEFA, the Royal Spanish Football Federation, the clubs and the whole of Europe," said UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino. "Madrid has been working hard to make this week a success. It's magic, it's all about passion and magic – all the things we love about football. This is going to be a tradition in the future – the Wednesday before the final will be Grassroots Day. This is important. When you talk about the top level, you can't forget the people below. This is happening all across Europe today and everybody who loves football is involved."
UEFA Grassroots Day has engaged all 53 UEFA member national associations, with each FA having the chance to advertise its programme with a series of activities. A dedicated website has been packed with information in the run-up to the day.
"This is the inaugural Grassroots Day and we wanted to link it to the top level to remind everyone that football is a whole package," said UEFA's technical director Andy Roxburgh. "The idea is to recognise and celebrate grassroots football throughout Europe – we have a website with news stories, classroom lessons based on football, a pile of fantastic videos which can be downloaded, a blog and practical ideas. Grassroots football is not about producing stars, it's more for social reasons. But, of course, stars are by-products of grassroots football."
Former Real Madrid CF team-mates Fernando Hierro, Raúl González and Luís Figo – themselves products of grassroots football – were also present at the UEFA Grassroots Day press conference to offer their support to UEFA's grassroots programme. All three were keen to stress the importance of the base of football, Figo saying: "At the grassroots level I played with lots of people who were really good [but] who for whatever reason never made it to the top. The important thing is to find joy and happiness in football."
A highlight of UEFA Grassroots Day has been the presentation of three UEFA Grassroots Awards for outstanding achievement. The best grassroots leader award was given to an individual who has excelled in this area. The prize for best grassroots project recognised a scheme run by an association, region or agency, while the best grassroots club award completed the honours list.
Meanwhile, the UEFA Champions Festival opened on Saturday and is aimed at all ages. Here the UEFA Champions League Trophy is on show to the public, while the Theatre of Champions offers a unique audiovisual display featuring the most memorable moments of football's greatest competition.
In addition, the Museum of Champions showcases exclusive club and player memorabilia from European football giants. Supporters are meeting legendary players during ambassadors' appearances and skills clinics – and are relishing the opportunity to get autographs and develop their skills on the pitch during hands-on training sessions.
The festival's UEFA Young Champions tournament involves youngsters aged between 10 and 16, and UEFA is also using the occasion to present its social responsibility programmes and other activities at the UEFA Booth, where visitors can test their football knowledge and win prizes. The Ultimate Champions Match – an exclusive exhibition match starring top former international players from Spain and elsewhere – takes place from 14.00 on Saturday.