A former England international has helped a school football team prepare for their Wembley final.
ITV pundit Gareth Southgate visited Slyne-with-Hest St Luke’s School ahead of eight pupils representing Morecambe in the npower Under 11s Kids Cup next month.
The defender who made his name with Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough treated the pupils to a training session before taking questions from youngsters and signing autographs.
He said: “I’ve spent the last 18 months working with the FA (Football Association) on youth development.
“Working with young people is a love of mine and I don’t think it’s ever been more important than it is now.
“It’s been lovely not just to talk to the team that’s going but to other pupils as well because the future’s really important.”
On the Wembley experience, the former Boro boss said: “I think at their age they won’t quite realise how few people get to do it and the teachers are making them aware.
“They’ve just got to enjoy the experience and I think they’re as much looking forward to the overnight stay as the match itself!”
St Luke’s School will face Minterne Junior School representing Gillingham on May 18 in a match to be played on Wembley’s hallowed turf before the League 2 play-off final.
The team will stay overnight in a hotel before enjoying a stadium tour and getting changed in the same dressing rooms used by the pros.
School deputy head David Atkinson said: “We got this email saying Gareth Southgate was coming through and I had to read it two or three times just to check!
“He’s been great.
“He’s got right in there and mixed with the boys and he’s not just done it with the ones in the final, it’s been everybody.
“It’s just one thing after another and the whole experience has been a real buzz for everyone.”
The npower Football League Kids Cup started with a tournament hosted by Morecambe FC, who invited 35 schools to win the right to represent them in the competition.
Slyne-with-Hest St Luke’s School won the right to represent the Shrimps in January in a game played during half-time of a first-team match at the Globe Arena, before seeing off other schools representing League 2 clubs in the northern final on March 12 in Bradford.
Morecambe FC community sports head Janet Preston said: “We’re so delighted and it’s such a fantastic thing for them to be able to go down to Wembley, stay the night before and go and play on the hallowed turf.
“We’ve been fortunate enough that this is the second time for us. We went about five years ago with Halton and they got one of the main dressing rooms and were so well looked after.
“It’s just absolutely fantastic. It’s treated the same way as if it was the main cup final.”
With parents, supporters and Morecambe Football Club representatives, the school expects to have around 80 people in attendance on the day.
One of the team heading to Wembley, Aaron Hartin, 11, said: “It’s just been an amazing day.
“We’ve won matches before but this one’s going to be a lot harder.
“It’s just going to be the best experience.”