Toffees midfielder Gareth Barry was on hand at Everton Free School earlier this week to recognise Everton in the Community’s Lee McArdle as a Kicks Hero as part of the Premier League’s 10-year celebration of the nationwide programme.
Lee, 25, joined the Everton Academy when he was eight years old and signed a professional contract with the Blues in 2009 but was forced out of the game due to injury. This did not deter him from still wanting to be involved in the sport that he loves and Lee went on to study for his FA coaching badges before applying for the full-time Kicks Development Coach role that he now holds with EitC.
And Premier League stalwart Gareth Barry was on hand to celebrate Lee’s achievements in overcoming adversity and announce him as an official Kicks Hero and present him with his own Premier League Kicks Hero comic strip where his journey from Premier League academy footballer to Kicks coach had been immortalised by Marvel and DC Comics artist John McCrea.
Premier League Kicks is a youth outreach programme with the aim to create safer, stronger and more respectful communities through the development of young peoples’ potential, whilst giving young people access to facilities, coaching and mentoring.
In its first decade, Premier League Kicks has engaged more than 180,000 young people in weekly football, sport and personal development sessions held at local community venues across the UK.
Speaking at the event, Barry said: “It’s great to come down tonight and find out more about the great impact that Everton’s Kicks sessions have on those who take part.
“Lee’s story shows how a young professional displayed great strength and determination to overcome something that was career-ending and to spin it on his head and leave with a positive outcome. His journey on the Kicks programme with Everton is one we can learn from and I applaud him for using his time now to give back to the local community.”
Everton Kicks Hero Lee added: “It took a lot of mental strength to overcome my injury but I always knew that I wanted to stay working within football. The Premier League Kicks programme allows me to put my FA coaching badges to good use and means I can help young people in the area aspire to greater things. Working with Everton in the Community has allowed me to keep great links with the club and I’m looking forward to what the future brings. I never thought I’d have my own comic when I was younger so I’m buzzing!”
Premier League Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore said: “Premier League Kicks delivers sessions for young people where they are needed most; connecting football clubs with their communities in a meaningful and sustainable way.
“The Kicks Heroes campaign allows us to highlight some of those inspiring individual stories – like Lee’s – and celebrate their achievements and thank the 68 Premier League, English Football League and National League clubs currently delivering the programme.”
The last decade has seen Everton in the Community’s Kicks sessions engage with over 6,000 young people and last year reduced anti-social behaviour by 73 per cent and crime rates by 75 per cent in Merseyside during session times.
Each year over 100 young people aged 19-25 years old will volunteer and gain valuable work experience on the programme.