Jonathan Woodgate and Stewart Downing donate new goals for old club Marton FC

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Football/Golf Writer

MIDDLESBROUGH-born professional footballers Stewart Downing and Jonathan Woodgate have stunned their childhood club Marton Football Club by donating £3,000 to help safeguard the future of one of its teams.

Marton, the former stomping ground of England internationals Downing and Woodgate, were in need of new goals to be in line with new regulations set by the Football Association for the under 11 age group from next season.

In reducing matches to nine-versus-nine the changes also require the use of a smaller goal and Marton had to come up with the cash to buy new goalposts to ensure the youngsters will still be playing next season.

Downing said: "It's true that we gave Marton some money for equipment.

"I wasn't sure what they needed the money for but when we found out they needed some we were only happy to help.

"If it's goalposts that it has helped to buy then that's great - I hope the nets are bulged plenty by Marton kids!

"Both me and Woody started at Marton so I think it's only right that we help out because of all the help we received from them in the early years.

"I started there when I was seven and was still there until I left for Middlesbrough at 13 or 14.

"They are a fantastic club and I'm sure us helping them will make sure they keep producing professionals from the Teesside area."

With limited resources Marton knew they would struggle to have the goals in place for the next campaign without the help of the Liverpool winger Downing and Middlesbrough defender Woodgate.

And it became a real concern that Marton would have to withdraw their under 11s team from the league.

The two stars heard of their old club's plight and Downing's dad, Stewart Snr, turned up with a cheque offering to help.

Woodgate, whose performances for Marton in his teenage years led to him signing schoolboy forms with Leeds United, said: "Marton was were it all started for me, so I was happy to help.

"I have great memories of growing up and playing for the club and they have produced loads of professionals over the years.

"When I heard that Marton were in need of new goalposts it was a case of 'what can I do', so we did.

"Hopefully Marton can now keep up the great work which they have been doing for years."

Marton are understandably touched by the players' generosity. The club's development officer, Mike Fairbairn, said: "It was a total surprise when Stewart (Snr) turned up at training one night.

"He is good friends with one of our coaches and I think he just found out through word of mouth that we were struggling to fund the new goals.

"The FA has obviously changed the way youth football is played in England and we had to get these goals in place by September or else we risked not being able to run certain teams."

The goals, reduced in size from the normal full-size goals, cost £1,500 a pair.

For a club like Marton, who only receive certain funding benefits from the local FA, funds for new equipment is at a minimum and most of the time they are a wholly self-funded club.

"We had already spent quite a bit of money on drainage for our pitches so we didn't really have a contingency fund and we started to panic a bit," said Fairbairn.

"It's a brilliant gesture from Jonathan and Stewart.

"They are both products of Marton FC and it's nice they've donated the money, which enables us to buy the goals."

Gary Sykes, the club secretary, said: "It's a massive input and we're more than grateful to the pair of them. We can't thank them enough.

"It would be lovely for them to come and hand over the cheque or the goals but we know of course how busy they both are, Stewart at Liverpool and Jonathan obviously at Middlesbrough."

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