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Last year my brother told me the story of Diego Ponzé, a Sky TV reporter who flew to England to
play a game with the Citizens, Roberto Mancini’s team. As soon as I got home, I began a feverish
search on the Internet for this report:
I watched it several times then I began to spread the word among friends and colleagues who share
with me the passion for football. For me, taking part in one of their games had become an obsession.

Football Aid is a charity based in Edinburgh, Scotland. On their website you can choose from almost
every team in the Premier League and the English second division, as well as the best Scottish teams.
Their “motto” captures, more than anything else, the idea of what these people do: Passion for
Football Compassion for Others

The basic idea is very simple: a fan who had only ever dreamed of playing a real game on his
favourite pitch, now has the opportunity to experience a day as a real professional player. Wearing
his favorite official team jersey, changing in the favorite team stadium’s locker room and entering the
pitch through the tunnel with the crowd noise (not much really, but very, very passionate) to play 90
intense minutes.

To access your day of glory you must browse the Football Aid website choosing your favorite
team. Usually theclubs give their stadium for 2 games a year during the spring shortly after the
season ends, playing on the same day in the morning and in the afternoon. Whoever wants to
participate must choose which of the 2 matches he wants to play and if he wants to play with the
"home" shirt or with the "away” one. Finally you must choose your position and if you want to play the
whole 90 minutes or only half time.

With a few clicks of the mouse, you're done. Each position has a certain price; the most coveted
positions, such as the 2 strikers, are obviously more expensive than the others, but this definitely
isn’t the lens in which to see it. Everything that Football Aid collects; the purchase of your position on
the pitch, the game’s mascot fee, the acquisition of the captain armband, as well as tickets for
relatives and friends who want to follow you on this wonderful day, well, all of this is donated to
charities, to medical associations, and public assistance that anyone can see by browsing the FA
website here:
In short, a great way to do something good for those less fortunate than ourselves through an
unforgettable day.

My special day has then, after so much waiting, arrived. On June 12 early in the morning I took the
District Line of the London Underground and I got off at Upton Park, East of London. A few hundred
metres walking distance, I found myself in front of the house of the "Hammers", The Boleyn Ground
the mythical WestHam United’s stadium, one of the most followed and popular teams in London. The
Football Aid staff were ready to receive us, a small tour of the stadium and then quickly to the locker
room: the jerseys hanging in front of our seats with our names printed on the back were the prelude
to a day that promised to be as great as in our expectations.
il FOOTBALL come lo abbiamo SOGNATO e AMATO
Thanks to "Football Aid" a fan who had only ever dreamed of playing a real game on his favourite pitch, now has the opportunity to experience a day as a real professional player.
This is the story of Salvatore Lepore and its day ... very special
A very special day
In no time the home team's dressing room was a constant chatter of a language somewhere
between Italian and English: in fact most of my teammates, like me, had arrived from Italy to play
their game. Myself from Milan, four boys from Genova and two from Rome. Ten minutes and we were
all ready to "try out" the pitch.
Back in the locker room after warming up and that's one of my fellow adventurers gives me an
emotional moment: it is customary to invite in all of Football Aid matches a legend of the Club for each
team, as well as a manager. Unfortunately none of the West Ham’s legends was able to participate
this year. That’s why Joel (the name of the English boy), with several experiences with Football Aid,
asked me, as captain, to speak to the team. With great emotion I make a short speech to my
teammates: I’m not sure I was able to convey the right energy, but the excitement for sure. A few
minutes and the referee’s buzz in the locker room announced the referee was on the tunnel’s stairs
waiting for us, it begins!

An incredible emotion, echoing the West Ham’s anthem in the stadium really gave us an amazing
feeling. I can’t  remember how many matches I played in Italy, of course, always as an amateur, but
this was really an unforgettable moment. So, first the ritual photos and then, ready to play:
Unfortunately for me I was not able to play the position I usually play in, that’s one of the 2 central
midfield, so I played the entire first half of the match as a right-sided midfielder, maybe .. a little too
sheltered for me. The away team started very well: 50 seconds, our defense did not "sweep" two
unfortunate rebounds and one of the guys coming from Rimini to play with the guests scored. Not
even a minute and we were down 0-1. What a blow! We actually played well enough, well, good
enough for a team that was formed only 10 minutes ago!

Some of my teammates showed an enviable individual technique. From mid-up we could play very
good football but we’re not filtering in the middle and our defence was outnumbered and often in
trouble. We almost scored several times but also to undergo a second goal on the break, the visiting
team launched a faster counterattack even with 6 players actually wasting several scoring. We wasted
ourselves, continuing to build a lot of play, I played a good first half and got into several actions
despite the fact that I wasn’t playing in my best position.
Unfortunately we were unable to score and 10 minutes from the first half our opponents scored
again with a free-kick from the edge, kicked by another guy coming from Rimini. Our goalkeeper
bent to right, it was comfortably to the ball but it eluded him mockingly rolling into the bottom of
the bag. 0-2 It’s night. Not much time into the first half, we tried anyhow and Joel sweep a shot
around kissing the underside of the crossbar and then came out. There was time for another
occasion during which their goalkeeper deserved the award for "moment of the match” (which he
was awarded during the final ceremony). We went to the dressing room, Home 0 - Away 2.

In the locker room there wasn’t despair, we all are aware that we were playing a good first
half and not be collapsed under counterattack opponents gives us a hope. Who had "bought" the
first half only now left the place for those who had purchased the second 45 minutes, we had to
understand which team would go onto the pitch in the second half. Soon we reorganized. Diego
the fourth guy from Genova, who plays forward, is about to enter, and Matteo, one of his friends,
changed his position going into one of two midfield roles.

A rapid agreement between me, Matteo, Joel and Massimo, the oldest from Genova’s group,
and the team was reversed: second half in my natural role: will play the second time in half and
Matteo stairway right in my position of the first time, a role that is more congenial to him. At the
end we’re going to play the second time with a crazy 4-2-4!

We came out of the changing rooms and it was another game! We were much better on the
pitch, very unbalanced but the ball spins were a pleasure and the opportunities flaked. Our
opponents suffered the pinch and struggling to get out of their own half. They always were
dangerous on the break but didn't mark and after ten minutes we shortened the distances.
Matteo from his new position outside of making a cross-shot venomous insult the innocent
goalkeeper, unstoppable: 1-2.

We started again to weave in and play but we couldn't break through. They were always
frightful but we all were still playing in their field. The match (looking at it from the pitch) was of
good level and really enjoyable. Playing in the middle for me was another story related to the first
half, my feeling with Marco, Matteo and Joel worked very well and the entrance of Diego gave us
the right depth that we were missing in the first half.
15 to the end and the referee gave us a free kick from the edge, 4 of us were on the ball, maybe
5. I asked my friends if we could do the counts as we did were we was children, but Joel gave to me
his second gift of the day: as captain entrusts me the task of kicking and the others teammates
agreed. The referee counts the rituals 9 meters, and once the barrier positioned whistles, I could go,
it's my time.
I had a thousand ideas but I was sure, the barrier covered well the first post but the keeper was
covered by it and did not see me off, so I decided to point his pole, around shooting strong and
bagging, I got it: 2-2 all of my teammates were there to embrace me, how exciting!
It started again, time for our opponents to put the ball in the center, the steal, it started fast, four
steps, Joel put in the middle from the right, at the far post breaks Diego, gore and imperious goal: 2-
3, game overturned!
The last ten minutes were a bit in trouble for us because we have spent much, but they failed to
bite us and we hit a sensational pole with Liam, the oldest person in our team: slightly breathless but
a lot of quality in the feet. There's no time more, this beautiful game is over - we came back in the
locker room: Home 3 - Away 2. In the locker room laughing and joking, it was great, now we will have
the final ceremony.

The organization awards the "man of the match" in both teams: I was mentioned among the
contenders for my free kick but the reward for our team is justly given to Marco, a tightrope walker at
mid-court. One of their central defense was also honored, the oldest in the pitch for their team, and
finally their goalkeeper for the repeated savings on the first half.
It 's over, an unforgettable day full of emotions since the arrival at The Boleyn Ground and will be
really difficult to forget it. Eagerly awaited official photos and DVD of the game I will make them
enough ... until next year! It really was a great play, run and score in West Ham’s stadium and
hopefully I can relive these emotions next season. The idea I could help someone -who is not as lucky
as I am- makes this unique and really important, I must try to repeat it.

Finally, a thought to all of Italian football fans: our club does not have the structures that the English
clubs have and in many cases play in facilities owned by municipalities. The passion for football in our
country deserves a company like Football Aid Association and for sure, we could do a lot for several
organizations collecting large sums if there could be something similar here. In his 11 years of
business in Great Britain, Football Aid has raised more than £ 1,700,000 a very impressive figure.
Hopefully, sooner or later we will succeed here too.

Salvatore Lepore (football lover)
Italian version