CROYDON COMMENTARY: When it was announced earlier this month that Real Madrid were setting up a special sports school in the borough, many scoffed and suggested that there had been some sort of mix up between Cristiano Ronaldo and the CR7 postcode.
Not so, says ROBERT TEAGUE, the head of the school which is hosting the scheme
“Real Madrid are opening their first football school in the UK to find the next Cristiano Ronaldo… in Croydon”, reported one tabloid newspaper when news of the new Real Madrid Foundation Social Sports School project at The Cedars School first broke.
Leaving aside for now the tone of ridicule implied by that ellipsis (we Croydoners are used to it!), the purpose of the Social Sports School is not to unearth footballing gold but instead to enrich the many boys and girls who will participate in it over the years ahead.
A partnership between The Cedars and Los Galacticos was first mooted in the autumn of 2013. It has taken much hard work since then to make the dream a reality and this month, the Real Madrid Foundation Social Sports School South London – to give it its full title – was inaugurated by club hero Emilio Butragueño in the presence of dignitaries from Croydon Council and the office of the Mayor of London. It is the first Real Madrid Foundation venture in the UK.
The project has been made possible by Sport for Unity, a west London charity who have provided generous sponsorship; the Kinetic Foundation, a Croydon charity involved in football coaching; and PACT Educational Trust. PACT is the organisation that owns The Cedars School along with three other schools in south London and its CEO, Matthew Sherwood, has led planning at the UK end.
The Social Sports School has initially targeted boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 11 from economically or socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Over a period of time, the upper age limit will increase to 17.
Coaching is carried out predominantly by local coaches who have been trained the “Real Madrid way”. This is not just a matter of tactics and technique, but also ethos.
And if the Real Madrid Foundation and The Cedars School seem at first sight to be unlikely bedfellows, it is in the area of ethos that they intersect.
In both, there is an understanding that their daily activity, while important in itself, has a grander purpose.
Let me explain. Real Madrid is a byword for sporting excellence and the Foundation carries out its ordinary activity of coaching young people extremely well. The Cedars, while rather less well-known, endeavours to provide an excellent experience for its pupils in terms of intellectual, sporting, musical and extra-curricular development – the ordinary stuff of school life. Both organisations aim to help the young people in their care to become better people in and through these ordinary activities, whether football coaching or school life. The objective in both cases is to help young people acquire skills for life.
The Real Madrid Foundation, which was founded in 1997, is clear about these ideals, stating that it seeks to “promote… the values inherent in sport, and the latter’s role as an educational tool capable of contributing to the comprehensive development of the personality of those who practise it”.
In addition, sport is promoted “as a means of social integration of those who find themselves suffering from any form of marginalisation, as well as to promote and disseminate all the cultural aspects linked to sport”.
It’s a far cry from discovering the next Ronaldo, isn’t it?
But, before we dismiss the idea completely, one of the great things about enterprises that help young people to acquire good character is that it is precisely those personal qualities such as sincerity, self-discipline and fortitude that give them the best possible chance of success in any human endeavour. In other words, if a potential Ronaldo or Messi turns up at the Social Sports School, they’ll have every chance of turning their latent talent to solid achievement.
What is happening at the Social Sports School is more exciting than the tabloids know. We are not looking for the greatness that is out there but actually trying to produce it.
Oh – and the best way to overcome prejudice about Croydon is to come and see the school. Situated in acres of beautiful parkland, in the grounds of an 18th century manor house while less than half an hour from central London… it’s enough to make more fashionable London boroughs blush with envy.
- Cedars say that it is “reaching out” to local schools for participants in this scheme, to help identify the children who will benefit the most from participation in such a project. Parents can also contact the Kinetic Foundation directly and register their interest. The sessions started in late February; 53 children attended the most recent Saturday session
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