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Celebrities face off in Soccer Aid match, raising millions for children

© UNICEF 2012/United Kingdom
Members of the England team celebrate their victory at the end of Soccer Aid 2012, a fundraising event for UNICEF UK. They are joined by several members of the opposing team, the Rest of the World.

By James Elder

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, 29 May 2012 – It looked like a script from Hollywood: the small lad face-to-face with the six-foot-plus enforcer. American actor Mike Myers was set against the former national football captain and brick wall of England’s defence for the Premier League for Arsenal, Martin Keown.

In a supporting role was American actor and comedian Will Ferrell, who delivered a ‘hospital pass’ to Mr. Myers – that is, a pass too close for Mr. Myers ignore but equally within striking range of Mr. Keown. The English hardman hit with force, flooring Mr. Myers. From the sidelines, American actor Edward Norton prepared to replace him. But Austin Powered to his feet. The crowd of 70,000 roared in appreciation.

Welcome to Soccer Aid, a remarkable event where celebrity collides – in Mr. Myers case, quite literally – with footballing legends in England’s grandest club stadium, all with the singular aim of raising money for the world’s most disadvantaged children.

Raising awareness and funds

Organized by ITV, one of the United Kingdom’s national broadcasters, and UNICEF UK, Soccer Aid pits the England team against the so-called Rest of the World.

Each side has its celebrities, and each side has its veteran footballing greats. This year, the Rest of the World fielded the likes of chef Gordon Ramsay and actor Michael Sheen (with Mr. Myers, Mr. Ferrell and Mr. Norton) along with soccer greats such as Clarence Seedorf (the only player to win four European Cups, and with three different teams), Argentinian great Herman Crespo, Dutch and Manchester United champion Edwin Van Der Sar, and perhaps the greatest midfielder ever to call Manchester home, Irishman Roy Keane. It was a formidable line-up, one confident they would retain the trophy they took two years ago when American actor Woody Harrelson scored the winning goal.

England came with the likes of singers Robbie Williams, Olly Murs and Mark Owen, and former England football stars Teddy Sheringham, Kevin Philips, and of course Mr. Keown.
The event was televised live across the UK to an audience of millions, with hours before dedicated to short films made with UNICEF Ambassadors and celebrity supporters, including Kiera Knightley and Lewis Hamilton, explaining the hardships children face across the globe. Throughout the game, millions of viewers were invited to donate £5 via SMS.

© UNICEF 2012/United Kingdom
England player Jonathan Wilkes celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal in Soccer Aid 2012, in Manchester, UK.

Competing to help the most vulnerable

People were inspired both by the event and the commitment of the celebrities. “I listened to Mike Myers and Will Ferrell before the game,” said Jason Farmer from Liverpool, who came to the game. “They spoke about the children this was aimed at, the children we help just by buying a ticket and being here. It’s a terrific way to contribute, for me and the celebrities.”

The Government of the United Kingdom will match every pound donated. As a result, this year the money raised by Soccer Aid for UNICEF will reach large numbers of the most vulnerable children suffering in the food crises in East and West Africa. “They’re feeding kids, they’re educating kids, they’re vaccinating kids,” said Mr. Harrelson. “They’re an incredible organization, and this is an incredible event.”

On the pitch, the game may have lacked the pace typically seen at Manchester United’s home stadium, but the quality and competitiveness were there – as were moments of sheer brilliance. The first came when Sergio Pizzorno chipped England’s former number one, David Seaman, putting the Rest of the World in front. The goal roused England, and their legendary striker crudely clattered into Mr. Ramsay, who was stretchered off. Gerard Butler came on for Joe Calzaghe. Then Robbie Williams entered the fray, and screams of joy filled the stadium.

A shared commitment

In the end, England scored two more quality goals, winning the game 3-1.

The thunderous cheers from the crowd continued well after the final whistle, making clear that it was not the result they were applauding. The win was secondary. The crowd – like the millions watching at home – sensed they were part of something special, part of an event that will touch the lives of those who need it most, and a shared commitment to unite for children.

As families left the stadium, celebrities gave interviews, and UNICEF volunteers spoke to spectators about their organization’s work. A young boy was overheard saying to his father, “This was really special, Dad.” He right was on the money.

A short while later, UNICEF announced it had raised £4 million and counting.



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