Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Football Put in Proper Perspective as Treasured Tradition Is Honoured; Spirit at Great North Children's Hospital THE AGENDA: Newcastle United Spread Festive

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Football Put in Proper Perspective as Treasured Tradition Is Honoured; Spirit at Great North Children's Hospital THE AGENDA: Newcastle United Spread Festive

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Waugh Sports Writer @CHRISDHWAUGH

Lewis Arnold "The players live a cocooned life and get looked after really well. This does them the world of good, just to see the reality and show them what is happening in the world with all the suffering that is going on, especially in this time around Christmas."

STEVE McClaren knows just how important these events are, and that statement from the Magpies boss sums up perfectly why Newcastle United have made this an annual event.

United may have secured their first back-to-back wins in more than a year on the field, but this was not about their recent rise up the Premier League table.

This was something far more important on a human level.

For one afternoon every December, football takes a backseat as the United squad visit the RVI's Great North Children's hospital to hand out presents and spread a little festive spirit.

From the club's PS14.5m summer signing Georginio Wijnaldum, right down to 18-year-old midfielder Dan Ward, the Magpies players visited the children in the wards who are currently receiving treatment.

Under-21 coach Peter Beardsley, in-form goalkeeper Rob Elliot and midfielder Vurnon Anita were just some of the other staff and players who attended the event.

The smiles on their faces - and by their, I mean the children, the hospital staff AND the Newcastle players - said it all. This is a tradition that is treasured by the community and by the club.

Take Stephen Browne and his three-year-old son Milo, who suffers from a complex medical condition that is so unique there is no specific diagnosis for it yet.

So thrilled were they to see the players that, after receiving presents of their own - the gifts given out included official club footballs, writing pads, team posters, matchday programmes, chocolate selection boxes, as well as a cash donation from the players for the Great North Children's hospital - they returned the favour.

'Our Milo' wristbands, from the foundation set up to raise money in order to create a fully-adapted sensory room for the three-year-old, were handed out to Wijnaldum, Ward and Vurnon Anita. The players seemed incredibly touched. Wijnaldum in particular, who has children of his own, took his time speaking to families and spending time with the kids.

Milo's father Stephen praised the players too, stating: "I really liked how the players took time to ask about Milo and see how he was."

But the time Wijnaldum spent with the children and their parents was nothing compared to McClaren. The United boss spoke at length with families, and he admitted that - as a father himself - the tales he heard were humbling.

"I think you realise how lucky you are having healthy kids really," he said.

"And some of the stories, one of the boys in there has a unique illness that nobody in the world can find out what it is. …

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