Old Trafford echoes with ninemillion.org appeal for refugee children

More than 75,000 diehard soccer fans got an earful about the UNHCR-led ninemillion.org fund raising and awareness campaign for refugee children at a recent crunch match between Manchester United and arch rivals Arsenal.

Old Trafford announcer Alan Keegan interviews UNHCR's Peter Kessler.   © Manchester United/Luisa D'Aprano

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom, September 20 (UNHCR) - More than 75,000 diehard soccer fans got an earful about the UNHCR-led ninemillion.org fund raising and awareness campaign for refugee children at a recent crunch match between Manchester United and arch rivals Arsenal.

On the hallowed turf of Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium last Sunday, UNHCR senior external affairs officer Peter Kessler explained the landmark campaign during a half-time interview over the stadium's tannoy system, which was also broadcast on the home team's MUTV.

The Cars single "Drive" resounded across the stadium as Kessler walked onto the pitch at the invitation of Manchester United and Nike, which is among the main sponsors of the world-famous club and a supporter of ninemillion.org. The hit song reached No. 4 on the British charts in 1984, the year that Ethiopia's famine drove home the need for people around the world to respond to the needs of people in Africa.

Onlookers said Kessler's presentation about ninemillion.org and the needs of refugee children silenced Manchester United's rowdy "Red Army" supporters and the fans of visiting Arsenal, who had a lot to cheer about by the end of the English Premier League match.

"The crowd really came to a halt, and looked, when they heard the American voice talking about refugee children," said Brian Larkin, who was watching the game. Kessler's presence did not bring the home side any luck. Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor scored near the end of the match to give Arsenal a first Premiership victory of the season and halt Manchester's winning run.

Electronic billboards spell out the Ninemillion.org message at the match between Manchester United and Arsenal.  © and courtesy of Manchester United

But ninemillion.org came out ahead thanks to the visibility the campaign received. The campaign's distinctive publicity featuring photos of refugee children and the phrase "Let them play, let them learn" was displayed on side panels throughout the match at Old Trafford and also featured in the match programme.

Nike has already helped ninemillion.org get publicity at previous Manchester United matches, and it featured at Arsenal's 2-1 Champions League victory over Zagreb Dynamo at the London club's new Emirates stadium on August 23.

To help ease fund raising amongst football fans, people wishing to donate to ninemillion.org can now contribute via their mobile phones. All United Kingdom residents have to do is send a message with "ninemillion" to number 84424. Each text message costs £1.65, with £1 going to help refugee children get access to education and sport.