USM Finch Farm had the honour of hosting the prestigious finals of an international youth tournament featuring some of the best young talent in Europe.
The Football for Freedom International competition saw nine English Category One Academy clubs who had progressed through the qualifiers, along with three international guest teams, all aiming to reach the final on Sunday at Everton's training base in Halewood.
Split into three groups of four, with the top two progressing into the play-offs. Everton’s Under-16s were joined by youth sides from Chelsea, Derby County, Fulham, Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Reading, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United, who were all representing the Premier League and England. The three international spots were occupied by Borussia Dortmund from Germany, French side Olympique Marseille and PSV Eindhoven from the Netherlands.
Academy staff Joel Waldon (Academy Manager), Simon Jennings (Phase Lead) and Phil Jevons (U16 Coach) were all present at the tournament that saw PSV Eindhoven emerge victorious, with the Dutch side beating Manchester City 3-1 in the final.
Everton Under-16s were unfortunate to miss out on the semi-finals, only on goal difference, but were able to finish fifth overall after defeating West Ham United 3-0 on Sunday morning.
The main focus of the Under-16s tournament was how football can be used as a force for good in combating slavery and encouraging unity. Sporting charity Sport for Freedom and the Premier League have joined forces to create a tournament that gives young players an educational, cultural and inspiring experience as part of their development in the modern game.
As well as giving the young aspiring players the opportunity to test themselves on the pitch against some of the best young players in Europe, off-the-pitch, the youngsters were taught about the history of slavery and the present-day problem of human trafficking.
In line with the tournament theme, the youth players from all sides had the opportunity to visit the Merseyside International Slavery Museum to tour the historical and contemporary artefacts and explore the various aspects of slavery including modern slavery. The group of players heard from Al Bangura, the former Watford forward and now Sport for Freedom Ambassador, on his story which saw him trafficked from Africa to the UK aged 14.
Julia Immonen, the founder of Football for Freedom, and Kevin Hyland, UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, also spoke about their roles and how football can help in the fight against slavery.