“You never forget a session,” were the words of Joab Westwood, a Street Reds veteran who has risen through the ranks to become a head coach.
Street Reds is an initiative put on by the Manchester United Foundation which aims to support the young people of Manchester through football.
The foundation is celebrating its 10th year of operation and has helped countless youngsters over the years, none more than Joab Westwood.
Joab, now 26, attended the very first Street Reds session at Old Trafford as a 16-year-old, and he admitted that the initiative has since become a “massive” part of his life.
“I was one of the very first who attended these sessions,” Joab said.
“I remember when this astro turf was built and I remember the first ever training session we had – Rio Ferdinand came down – it was fantastic.
“The fact [we’ve] got something of our own, that we have ownership of and can look after provides a good sense of community.
“I played here for many years [and] as you can see – I’m still here – now as a coach, working with young people who aren’t too different from myself.”
The Street Reds project operates on 12 different locations across Manchester, which all offer two free sessions a week.
Each session is led by a head coach from the Manchester United Foundation and two other coaches; they are usually attended by between 30 and 50 kids.
Joab admitted that although his role at the sessions is first and foremost as a football coach, he also tries to give advice and help the attendees in any way he can.
“It’s not just about football,” he said. “The thing we stress here is that it’s not just about football.
“We’re not all going to be fantastic footballers, we’re not all going to play at the top level, some of us might not ever play again after these sessions.
“But the things you pick up from them – the teamwork, communication, being on time – it’s the little things that are fundamental to all aspects of life.
“If we can help someone get into school on time every day because we’ve drilled time keeping into them here – that’s a greater success than any football match result ever could be.”
A key goal of the Street Reds initiative is to keep kids off the streets by providing a safe and positive environment for them to play football in.
The scheme hopes to provide a routine, or as Joab puts it “consistency”, to the young people’s lives, as many of them lack it in their home and school lives.
“Growing up around here kids don’t have consistency – it doesn’t exist,” Joab continued.
“There’s no consistency and you feel as a kid growing up that you’re not wanted anywhere, that people don’t like you.
“You’re viewed as this stereotypical nuisance that needs to be moved on, whereas here, you’re here to play football – we want you here.
“The truth is with some of them – don’t have continuity at home – so we try to give them that continuity, that consistency here.”
Joab holds a connection with the children he coaches, having walked the same path as them in his younger years, and there was truth in his words about consistency as shown by Sadaq who has attended Street Reds for four years.
Sadaq, 14, said: “I’m happy we’ve got Street Reds – it keeps me out of trouble – I’m happy we have it two nights a week. They look after us and they look after our community.”
Meanwhile Tyler, nine, has only just started attending Street Reds sessions and he spoke of the friendships he has made by being there.
He said: “[I’ve made some] good friends. It’s good to play with [new people], and you can get to know them by playing football with them.”
Street Reds has clearly impacted these two children’s lives positively, and it is impossible to say how many others have been too.
From Wythenshawe to Old Trafford itself – Street Reds has a presence across the communities of Manchester that transcends football.
Joab, whose own life has been shaped by Street Reds, continues to shape and support the young people of Manchester and he sums up the initiative perfectly.
“[Street Reds] is crucial,” he smiled. “In terms of community development, building relationships and breaking down barriers it’s crucial.
“You might not be able to speak the same language but football talks. Football brings people together.”