The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge today followed in the footsteps of Northern Ireland legends such as George Best and Pat Jennings and took to the pitch at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park.
The Royal couple watched primary school children from across Belfast take part in some of the Irish Football Association Foundation’s award-winning initiatives such as the Electric Ireland Shooting Stars programme, which promotes football participation for girls aged between four and seven, and the McDonald’s Fun Football programme which is aimed at encouraging kids of all ages to play the game for the first time.
As well as the association’s work with children, the Duke and Duchess learnt about the Irish FA’s ‘Stay Onside’ initiative which uses sport to divert young people away from criminality and offending. The programme is delivered in both custodial and community settings.
The Royal couple also met Jason Browning, a member of the Northern Ireland Powerchair team, and spent time with graduates of the Irish FA Foundation’s Female Football Leadership programme.
Earlier, Prince William and the Duchess toured the Irish FA’s Education and Heritage Centre. They saw how the facility tells the unique story of Northern Ireland football using a variety of media and interactive displays and how it showcases the Irish FA’s mission to promote, foster and develop ‘football for all’.
The Duke and Duchess rounded off their visit by meeting some of the Irish FA staff and volunteers involved in the ‘Ahead of the Game’ mental health programme. They heard how the UEFA funded scheme is helping to support clubs and volunteers when dealing with mental health issues with a focus on challenging the stigma and preventative measures.
Irish FA President David Martin said: “This was a very special day for the association and for the football family in Northern Ireland. The fact that the Royal couple asked to come to the National Football Stadium and to see the work of the Irish FA first-hand is a tremendous endorsement of the programmes our staff deliver.”
Irish FA Director of Football Development Michael Boyd said: “It was a fantastic privilege to welcome the Duke and Duchess to the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park and to tell them about the work that the Irish FA Foundation does promoting football for all, health, education and employability serving communities right across Northern Ireland. The Royal couple were really interested in the projects we deliver, and it was a massive boost for our staff and our participants to meet them and to be encouraged by them.”