Crystal Palace midfielder, Lee Chung-Yong, takes some time out of his training schedule to visit the football enthusiasts at Bensham Manor School in Thornton Heath.
Bensham Manor is a special school for young people with a mixture of learning difficulties and Crystal Palace FC Foundation disability lead officer, Michael Harrington, delivers two football sessions in the school once a week. One for the girls in connection with the school and one for the councils LDD youth club- which consists of young people from all ethnic backgrounds, ages and genders.
The partnership is also aided by Croydon Council’s Early Intervention Support Service’s (EISS)- Learning Difficulties and Disabilities Project (LDD) as well as being funded by the Council’s Housing Community Investment Team. Both Council teams share a similar philosophy to the CPFC Foundation: a commitment to supporting all children, young people and families who live, work and play in the local borough in order to enjoy equality of opportunity and realise their full potential.
The Foundation run a comprehensive Disability programme across several local boroughs with the aim of making sport inclusive and representative of the entire community. This is supported by the Premier League/Professional Footballers Fund, which sees a steady investment over a 3-year period into the Foundation’s overall disability programme.
Lee Chung-Yong held a question and answer session with the participants who were keen to know about his footballing background and the differences between playing domestic football in his home country of Korea and now playing for Crystal Palace FC in England.
It was especially rewarding to witness the young people taking inspiration from a Premier League player. Lee Chung-Yong was also kind enough to referee some small-sided games where the young people played in a roll-on roll-off tournament format. This set-up allows all players an equal opportunity to play and emphasises the Foundation’s ethos of inclusivity.
Paul Funnell, from the Croydon Council, commented that before the Foundation was partnered with the school and EISS, some of the children didn’t really enjoy or have an interest in football. He also mentioned that the transformation on the field, in terms of skills learnt, fitness and ability also transcends in to the classroom and youth clubs where participants are displaying greater levels of communication, teamwork and confidence.
Paul also mentioned that these types of sessions are great for raising awareness and dispelling some of the myths surrounding disability. He said: “These sessions are a fantastic way for the children to express themselves. The physical advantages are mirrored by the social benefits and it clear to see that the children are gaining from the weekly interaction on a sports field. There is a noticeable difference in both the children’s physical ability and general self-esteem, which is exceptionally rewarding to see. It is quashing the misconception that children with learning disabilities cannot succeed within sport, these young people are excelling.”
Lee Chung-Yong, Crystal Palace FC, said: “It is great to get out in the community and experience what the Foundation delivers in the local area. It is clear that these sessions make a huge difference to the participants and I hope they continue to enjoy the unique benefits that football can offer for many years to come.”