Over the last eight years, it has been my privilege to help to arrange for a group of boys to come on a football tour to the Wigan area from Dunmurry High School.
It started in late 2004 when I was approached by a former Police colleague to see if I could assist in some arrangements for a school from Northern Ireland who wanted to come on a football tour of the North West of England and see a professional football game.
As a result, I liaised with Constable George Ellis (PSNI) and PE teacher Mark Watson, and sorted out an action packed few days for the boys from Dunmurry which included the game between Wigan Athletic and Sunderland (then playing in the Championship). To cap it all, the Sunderland team were staying in the same hotel as the boys, and the team agreed to have their photo taken with Dunmurry boys.
This was the start of eight years of Dunmurry High School travelling across to Wigan, and for the last seven, whilst in Wigan, the boys have played football against two local teams (Ashton Athletic and Seneley & Garswood Juniors) and then spent a full day in Rose Bridge High School, building bridges between the two communities and creating lasting friendships.
Last year, Dunmurry High School boys played football against my nephew’s team at Seneley and Garswood Juniors.
Just prior to the annual visit my nephew, Reece Naylor was on holiday in Abu Dhabi, visiting his uncle, when he fell from an escalator in a shopping mall and suffered a severe head trauma and other minor injuries. On admission to hospital and for three days, he was not given much hope of survival. However he has rallied, thanks to the staff and doctors of the hospital.
He suffered some brain damage and had to have two emergency operations to relieve pressure on his brain to save his life. Fortunately, against all the odds, he has started rehabilitation and Reece last week returned home, where he is continuing his long road to recovery.
I made contact with Mark Watson at Dunmurry High School, to let him know the situation with my nephew, and Mark immediately said the school would like to help in any way that they could.
We arranged for Dunmurry High School to play a charity football match against Reece’s team, which was duly played and some money raised was towards Reece’s future rehabilitation.
What later transpired at the post-match presentation, was that Mark and George Ellis had organised some fund-raising at Dunmurry High prior to their visit. They had arranged a Breakfast club, a coffee morning and a ‘non-uniform day’ at school.
Bearing in mind the falling numbers at this school, due to its imminent closure, and the fact that virtually nobody knew my nephew, we were absolutely overwhelmed when Mark Watson presented me with a cheque for £450.
In this day and age when money is tight, and people are only too eager to ‘have a go’ at teachers, the Police and young people, I cannot express my thanks enough to these extremely generous people at Dunmurry High School.
On 5th April 2005, I first met two people whom I am proud to call great friends - Mark Watson and Constable George Ellis.
They are both an inspiration to all the boys at Dunmurry High School who have travelled to Wigan over the years, and their level of commitment and generosity is without bounds.
I would like to thank the staff and pupils of Dunmurry High School for their generosity and prayers for my nephew, and to Mark and George for your many years of friendship and enduring their many visits to Wigan.
Rose Bridge High School are making our second return visit, bringing a group of children across to Lisburn during May and we look forward to thanking everyone in person for their support over the years, and particularly this last year.