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Young Cerebral Palsy players shine at the UEFA Super Cup

Local children joined the UEFA Foundation ahead of Wednesday's curtain-raiser in Helsinki for a specially organised session alongside stars from HJK Helsinki and the Finland national team.

UEFA

Local children with cerebral palsy (CP) were guests of the UEFA Foundation for a unique Super Cup training session in Helsinki on Tuesday.

16 kids from the local area joined specially trained CP football coaches, as well as male and female players from HJK Helsinki at the club's Bolt Arena, just metres from the Olympic Stadium which will stage Wednesday night's Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt.

The young players are all linked to the The Finnish Cerebral Palsy (CP) Association, and enjoyed individual and team drills before mini matches and one final game, with the entire HJK Helsinki women's team joining in the fun alongside men's players , Paulus Arajuuri, Santeri Väänänen and Miro Tenho. As well as being one of Finland's leading clubs, HJK is also a fantastic pioneer for disability football, with CP and powerchair teams for both children and adults.

CP players receive instructions from their coach
CP players receive instructions from their coachUEFA

Maisa Fraser, 13, is one of the young players who could showcase her skills on the stadium pitch.

"Events like today are important to show there are people like me that have cerebral palsy, which sometimes makes it harder to move physically," she said. "There are different kinds of people and it's important to show people that.

"One thing I love about playing football is the friendship and the team - I love my team-mates," she continued. "The team is like a second family, you have to appreciate every single one of them. It's a life lesson – you have to appreciate everyone in your life."

Paulus Arajuuri, HJK and former Finland defender

"Football is for everyone and I'm really pleased to see some happy kids here today. Events like this are very important, and if there is the slight chance I can make someone else's day nicer, then it's important to be a part of it. Football is a global sport, the number one in the world, and everyone should be able to enjoy it."

Among the coaches was Finland CP national team player, Mikael Jukarainen, who hopes the event can help to attract more players to the game.

"I started to play football in 1995, and always had lots of fun training and being in a team," he said. "As a coach, you can teach kids to have fun playing football and they can learn teamwork.

"Events like this are very useful, and give young kids a chance to play football. It's really hard, often impossible, to go and play in a 'normal' team, so this is the place. We have always been a marginal sport and had difficulties to find players, so sharing the knowledge that we exist will help us grow."

Essi Sainio, HJK and Finland midfielder

"We have many kinds of people in the world. Everybody should have the chance to play football and be themselves and this is one way to do it. It is amazing to see the joy in the kids, to play with them and see how much they enjoy playing football, you cannot name a price for that. Football is a language we can all talk – it doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are. You can go everywhere in the world, be whoever you want to be and you can always play football."

Lasse Keski-Loppi is a grassroots football expert at the Football Association of Finland (FAF), which has organised specialised disability football programmes for 25 years.

"We are proud to have our grassroots programme showcased at the 2022 UEFA Super Cup," he said. "This year our association launched its own CP football programme to promote football for all in Finland. This CP programme for youngsters and young talents helps many new young players to participate in football and follow their football dreams. We all do share the same game."

One young CP player shows her skills at the UEFA Foundation event
One young CP player shows her skills at the UEFA Foundation eventUEFA

Four of the young players have also been selected to be Mastercard player mascots lined up next to the Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt players at Wednesday's match.

Meanwhile, 20 youngsters from the Icehearts association will play a key role in the opening ceremony, acting as central circle carriers. Icehearts prevents social exclusion, enhances social skills and promotes the well-being of vulnerable children.