Week 271 (22 - 28 December 2018)
For some kids who are spending Christmas in hospital, there is only one thing that could top a visit from Santa and that would be a visit from another icon in red and white, Paul Pogba... and a few of his team-mates.
This Christmas, Manchester United players made that dream come true for children in three different hospitals in Manchester, as they took time out of their schedules to deliver presents, photos and autographs to young fans.
Pogba, Fred, Diogo Dalot and Andreas Pereira visited The Christie’s Palatine Treatment Centre, Nemanja Matic and Phil Jones spent time with children at Francis House in Didsbury, and the remainder of the first-team squad headed to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, the largest single-site children's hospital in the UK.
During the visit, organised annually by the Manchester United Foundation, the players handed out a number of United-themed presents, including signed home shirts. Children had the opportunity to chat and take photos with their heroes, creating unforgettable memories.
“I got some presents signed by Rashford and Lingard, which I am buzzing about,” 11-year old patient Layton said. “On a scale of one to one hundred I would say today is one hundred. This is the best day of my life!”
Giving young fans like Layton one of the best days of their life is what it is all about for the United players. "These visits hold great importance and have great value; we get to come here, give out gifts and put smiles on faces and we are always happy to do this," Rashford said.
Each week sports stars entertain and excite with their incredible skill but it is the one-to-one interactions and voluntary hours that make them true role models. While it often goes unnoticed, athletes around the world give up their time and earnings each week to help fans and local causes that mean so much to them.
The Chicago Bears, an NFL franchise, pledged to donate $500,000 to social justice causes earlier this month and a number of players spent time volunteering on various projects over the holiday period. Liverpool midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gave out presents to children at local charity KIND, while boxer Tyson Fury promised to donate his entire £8 million earnings from the Deontay Wilder fight to help the homeless.
"Seeing the children happy and just giving a picture or signature, it made my day,” Pogba told the Manchester Evening News. “They are the real stars and they are stronger than anybody. They keep fighting with their families, and with the help of the people in the hospital they can recover faster."
“It is so rewarding; you can play football but then you come here and see smiles on faces, that’s what really matters,” defender Chris Smalling added.
Athletes, and particularly footballers, are often criticised for the way they are perceived to live their lives, but the role they play in brightening the lives of others cannot be understated. For their generosity of spirit and time this Christmas, the Manchester United squad are JTA Communicator of the Week.
Photo: Manchester United FC