Raheem Sterling tells of his 'close connection' to his former Wembley school
PUBLISHED: 17:45 11 April 2019 | UPDATED: 17:45 11 April 2019
Meeting Raheem Sterling was "amazing", according to one of the 10 youngsters from his old Brent school invited to visit the England striker in Manchester.
Manchester City player Raheem, who attended Copland Community School in the shadow of Wembley Stadium, also gave the school 550 free tickets to the FA Cup semi-final against Brighton and Hove on April 6, paid for out of his own pocket.
The 24-year-old invited 10 pupils from his alma mater – now called Ark Elvin Academy – to his club’s training ground for a special meet-and-greet ahead of the game.
He said: “I have a close connection to Ark Elvin Academy having attended the school myself when it was Copland Community School, so it is great to be able to give these students the chance to watch a game at Wembley.
“I grew up right next door to the stadium and would dream of one day playing in a cup final or even representing my country there.
“To now be able to play there myself is an honour and this is a great opportunity to give back to the community that helped me get to where I am.”
Mamadou Diallo, one of the 10 students who met Raheem at the Man City complex, said: “It was an amazing experience going to Manchester City.
“Meeting Raheem Sterling and having the opportunity to ask him questions not only inspired but also motivated everyone in the room.”
He added: “Raheem is someone that’s just like us and went to the same school. We know that if we work hard and follow our passion, we can do anything we want.”
Raheem moved to England from Jamaica as a youngster. He was brought up on the St Raphael’s estate in Stonebridge and went to the Cecil Avenue school, which was renamed Ark Elvin Academy in 2014.
He joined Queens Park Rangers as a schoolboy before moving on to Liverpool aged 16. He made his senior debut for the England national team in November 2012 and was signed to Manchester City in 2015.
Some 92 per cent of the 935 students at Ark Elvin are of minority ethnic origin, 36pc qualify for free school meals, and more than 50 different languages are spoken by pupils.
His former Copland and QPR coach Paul Lawrence, who still coaches football at the school, got an email from Raheem’s team asking him to distribute the tickets.
The 59-year-old said: “They sent me an email saying Raheem would like to give 500 tickets to kids from the school if they would like to go and see the match. I wondered how I would get rid of all 550 – in the end we could have done with twice the amount! Loads wanted to go.
“He paid for them out of his own money. Such a great gesture, but not surprising for me.”
Mr Lawrence, who met Raheem when the future England star was eight, added: “He was outstanding from the first time I saw him – I knew he would be a star.
“Raheem did his first ever interview with the Brent & Kilburn Times – the first ever interview he did in his life before he moved from QPR to Liverpool.”
Ark Elvin head Becky Curtis held a raffle with pupils pulling tickets from a hat such was the demand for tickets. Earlier she told this paper: “Isn’t he amazing? It’s incredible, such a lovely gift. Our pupils here idolise him and he’s such a great role model for them.
“Many pupils live in the shadow of stadium and don’t have a chance to watch a game in it.”
Jubil Kunnassery, head of PE at Ark Elvin, who took the 10 pupils to Manchester, said: “We would like to say a huge thank you to Manchester City and Raheem Sterling for inviting us to Manchester and taking the time to meet us, answer questions and take pictures.
“All of the students were inspired by his words and we wish Manchester City and Sterling the best of luck for [...] the rest of the season.”
Man City’s chief operating officer Omar Berrada said: “We are very proud to support Raheem as he reaches out to the community he grew up in, by giving FA Cup semi-final tickets to students from his old school.
“We hope all of the children enjoy their day.”
The FA Cup final between Manchester City and Watford will kick off at 5pm on May 18.