I was present at the Etihad on Saturday night for the latest Soccer Aid fundraiser. It was my first experience of attending Soccer Aid, although I have watched it each year on television of course. It was also the first time it was staged at the Etihad after previously being held at Old Trafford, Wembley and Stamford Bridge.
It was a great event and it was wonderful to see some highly successful former Premier League players like Pablo Zabaleta and Wayne Rooney on the same pitch as entertainers, musicians and reality stars.
Inevitably the crowd was also mixed with many regular football attendees present together with others who came to perhaps their first match as they were fans of one of the celebrities, or maybe they simply wanted to support the charity appeal. It actually created a good atmosphere with certain stars getting great support. The Manchester rapper Aitch was certainly popular, as was singer YUNGBLUD, YouTuber Chunkz and singer Olly Murs.
Due to chance I ended up in a great place to see the Rest of the World players as they arrived at the stadium and you could see the delight on the faces of many of the players as they arrived at the Etihad. Line of Duty’s Martin Compston seemed to be taking in every moment – as he did during the game.
Obviously, the quality of football varied but it was great entertainment. I thought singer James Bay played well. Chelcee Grimes seemed to set up Lee Mack for significant attempts on three occasions – a couple of which Mack fluffed – and she did some of the work before Mack finally scored. The other goals were both scored by Love Island’s Kem Cetinay and the Rest of the World won 3-0.
There are videos and match reports out there so I won’t go through any of that but I do want to say that it was a somewhat surreal experience at times. Most will know that ITV did a Masked Singer like reveal for the Soccer Aid mascot. Before the second half started his head was removed to chants from the crowd of ‘Take it off’ and it turned out it was entertainer Stephen Mulhern. He then played a few minutes in costume (without costme head) and it did seem odd seeing footballers like Paul Scholes in the same team as a costumed sidekick to Ant & Dec. However the majority of children – and many adults – in the stadium loved the pantomime of it all and his name was chanted at times.
For me the whole night was about raising funds and providing some entertainment. It wasn’t meant to be a major clash between two of the world’s strongest footballing teams and, for those reasons, I think anything that adds to the entertainment value of those in the stadium is fine.
When we watch these things we want to see if the former footballers have still got it; whether that reality star or the people who talk about the game really can play; whether the comedian is doing it for laughs and so on.
At the end of the game the players did a lap of honour and by the end of it YUNGBLUD and Olly Murs had given away their shorts to fans. Earlier, during the match, there was a great moment when Aitch was substituted for Max Whitlock. Aitch took off his shirt and handed it to a boy in the stands. He then signed it for the lad and the boy was delighted. He put on the shirt and Aitch took his place on the bench. Within only a few minutes Mo Farrar had to come off through injury and they decided to send Aitch back on. He shouted across to the lad to give him back his shirt but fortunately another shirt appeared and Aitch could get on the pitch. It was one of those typical testimonial style moments.
Soccer Aid is of course a worthy charity and can be supported via donations here:
Congratulations and thanks to everyone involved. This was a nice, positive and well supported event. Important work too!
On a personal level I thought the Etihad stadium looked fantastic on the night and it certainly added to the occasion. Hopefully, Soccer Aid will return there next year. As well as the entertainers on the pitch there were also several ‘faces’ in the stands including, a few rows behind me, Shaun Ryder. It was great to see the event supported in this way.