Wingate and Finchley fans could scarcely believe their eyes when England legend Rachel Yankey pitched up at the Harry Abrahams Stadium for the club's Ryman Premier match against Dulwich and Hamlet on Saturday.
Yankey, the most capped England player in history, was at the game with members of the Gibbons Wreckers Under-15 side, the Harlesden-based grassroots football club she founded in 2007.
The team were invited to the match by Wingate officials and met the players during the pre-arranged visit which forms part of the club's on-going drive to strengthen community links and foster partnerships with local non-league clubs.
Yankey, who mingled freely with Wingate supporters, said she was delighted to accept the invitation and paid tribute to the club for giving the Gibbons players unprecedented access during the visit.
“Everyone has been lovely. We’ve been made to feel very welcome and I have a really positive impression of the club,” the Arsenal Ladies midfielder said.
“They’ve invited all of us to come and watch the game and allowed the boys to speak to the players which I think has been wonderful.
“It’s been fantastic and at top-flight clubs that probably wouldn’t happen but it’s been an education for all of us.
“Non-league football doesn’t get the same attention as football at a higher level but the standard here is good and both teams are getting the ball down and playing it.
“Some of our young players are now 15 and if they desire a career in football this is a good benchmark for them.”
Joint managers of the Gibbons Under-15s Andy Clifford and Rowena Quire also accompanied the boys during the visit and Clifford said the trip had given his players plenty of food for thought.
“We’re a community football club and it doesn’t matter where you are from we encourage kids just to come and play football,” he said.
“Our players have got really good attitudes and this is rewarding for them to come down here and witness a semi-professional game because it gives them a great opportunity to see the level of football.
“They’ve also had a chance to meet some of the players and ask them how they got into the semi-pro game.”
The trip was the brainchild of North Finchley football coach and Brentford FC scout Manisha Tailor, who was recently given the Woman in Football accolade at the Asian Football Awards at Wembley Stadium.
Tailor, who also coaches the Gibbons Wreckers Under-9s, said partnerships between local clubs provide wide-ranging benefits to everyone involved.
"I organised this visit as part of the clubs work on community cohesion and felt the opportunity for the lads to visit a local club and talk to the players about future prospects would be extremely valuable."
“I’m also delighted that some of the fans and players at my local club had the opportunity to meet Rachel Yankey and the Under-15 players at Gibbons Wreckers, some of whom have been with the club since the age of 9.”
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