SOMETIMES, it is easy to get thoroughly disillusioned with professional football.

At the start of the week, the headlines were dominated by talk of Europe’s biggest clubs making a renewed attempt to create a European Super League. A couple of days later, German newspaper, Der Spiegel, was revealing leaked documents it claims show how Manchester City and its sponsors manipulated contracts to circumvent UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations.

Big clubs, big money, and a whopping great disconnect between the teams at the top of the Premier League and the real world. The beautiful game? Only if you’re a billionaire investor looking for somewhere to park your money.

Yet when it comes to the biggest clubs in our region, there is a different, more uplifting, story to be told. Yes, Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and Sunderland are not without their problems. But they do more to improve and enrich the lives of people in the North-East than they are generally given credit for.

On Tuesday night, I was at Newcastle United Foundation’s tenth anniversary awards dinner. For the benefit of balance, Middlesbrough and Sunderland also have excellent foundations. Here at The Northern Echo, we’ve reported on them extensively, but it was Newcastle’s turn to celebrate this week so the focus is going to fall on them.

Set up in 2008 as an extension of Newcastle’s long-standing Football in the Community programme, the NUFC Foundation now works with more than 58,000 people a year on Tyneside and in the wider North-East.

A charitable institution, it does not receive direct funding from Newcastle United, but the club supports it in a number of different ways, whether through the supply of facilities, kit and equipment, the support of the club’s players and management to raise awareness and generate funds or the presence of Newcastle board members on the charity’s roll call of trustees.

Some of the coaching courses run by the charity are exactly what you would imagine a football club charity would do. But as Tuesday’s event proved, the Foundation’s remit runs much wider than simply teaching youngsters to play football.

Take the story of Olly McKenna, for example, who won the Young Learner of the Year award this week. Olly, who is 11, was diagnosed with a brain tumour a couple of years ago and had to undergo extensive treatment in Newcastle’s Great North Children’s Hospital.

Thanks to a partnership between Newcastle’s Foundation and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, a Foundation employee would visit Olly in his ward at the RVI every day, working with him to ensure he kept up with his school work and giving his parents some much-needed time where they could leave him in safe hands.

Once he was fit enough to leave hospital, the Foundation continued to support Olly and his family, inviting him to a series of special events that included a zip wire over the pitch at St James’ Park. As Olly’s family said in their acceptance speech, just seeing someone with the Newcastle United club badge was enough to lift the spirits of their football-mad son.

Or what about Alex Leigh, who won the Adult Learner Award? Alex was homeless and unemployed when he was referred to Newcastle’s Foundation by Crisis. He wasn’t particularly interested in football, but that didn’t stop the Foundation working with him as part of their mentoring support schemes.

They helped Alex rebuild his confidence, and supplied him with the practical skills he needed to re-enter the job market. A couple of years on, and he is a kitchen porter at Slaley Hall, where he is training to be a chef.

Tuesday’s most poignant award, the Alder Sweeney Award – named in honour of Newcastle fans John Alder and Liam Sweeney, who were killed in the MH17 plane crash – recognises a person or organisation making an outstanding contribution to their local community.

This year’s award went to Newcastle fans Steve Hastie and Bill Corcoran, who worked with Newcastle United to set up the NUFC Fans Foodbank. At every home game, a group of volunteers set up a stall in the shadow of the Gallowgate End to collect donations of food and money that enable Newcastle’s West End food bank to operate.

The food bank feeds more than 1,000 people from some of Newcastle’s most impoverished and vulnerable communities every week, and since its instigation at the start of last year, the NUFC food bank has raised more than £170,000 in money and produce to keep it going.

The club has helped support and publicise the scheme, with Rafael Benitez providing his own personal backing.

Having celebrated its tenth anniversary, the NUFC Foundation’s next major landmark will be the opening of ‘Project Pitchside’, a purpose-built community centre that is planned for Diana Street on Westgate, just a stone’s throw away from St James’ Park.

The new centre will house the Foundation’s educational programme and most of its sporting activities, and will feature a sports hall and football pitches as well as classrooms and learning suites. The Beacon of Light, a similar facility in the shadow of Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, was opened as the permanent home of the SAFC Foundation earlier this year.

The two facilities will have a hugely-transformative effect on the North-East’s two biggest cities. Football can be deeply dispiriting, but it can also be an immense power of good. Greed and avarice might abound in some quarters, but in others, the beautiful game continues to live up to its name.

THERE is always something deeply satisfying about seeing someone succeed in the face of adversity, especially when that someone has North-East links.

Prior to yesterday, former Durham batsman Keaton Jennings’ last century for England had come in his debut innings against India in December 2016.

The Test series in Sri Lanka was widely regarded as his last chance, and he took with it both hands as his unbeaten 146 put England into a dominant position at the end of day three of the first Test.

Form is temporary, class in permanent. As regular Durham watchers will attest, Jennings has always had plenty of the latter.