On June 6, an enclosed rooftop soccer field was unveiled at Public School (P.S.) 72 Lexington Academy in the New York City neighborhood of East Harlem. The facility was a present from Manchester City and the embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Sport 360 reports.
“The pitch was a gift … as part of an initiative set up between the embassy and City when the Premier League champion first toured the United States in the 2010 summer,” the report reads.
“The facility, which is the first of its kind in Manhattan … offers year-round award-winning coaching and education programs from Manchester City.”
Both Lexington Academy students and 600 other local kids will have exclusive access to the field. The synthetic surface was originally laid on the school’s roof in 2010, but the City and the U.A.E. paid over $250,000 (£164,000) to fund the enclosure project.
Although there are a few exceptions, kids who grow up in American cities have little exposure to soccer. This is partly because grass (or turf) fields are in short supply in urban areas. Back in 2010, City defender Pablo Zabaleta told the Guardian these types of facilities can help change that dynamic of the sport in America.
“It’s not just about coming to the US, training, playing some games then leaving,” Zabaleta said. “We want to do something different and to leave a legacy here. It shows the club is not just about spending big money on players, but important projects like this.
“From my own experience in Argentina, the thought of a poor area getting a facility like this is fantastic. I grew up in a small city away from Buenos Aires but the best example in Argentina would be Carlos Tevez, who was born in a really poor area with a reputation for criminals and trouble. Every time he goes back he takes shirts and football equipment to the local people. So many players from Argentina and Brazil come from areas like this and all they need is an opportunity. This will help us produce the Tevezs and Robinhos of the future.”
The facility in “Spanish” Harlem will give plenty of kids a chance to play the game, and it could even help unearth a gem of a player in New York City. In a time when budget cuts are eliminating gym and other athletic programs from public education, neighborhood kids will have a place to excercise and live a healthier lifestyle. This is a much bigger legacy than what Zabaleta talked about.
U.A.E. ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba and City’s U.S. representative Gary Hopkins discuss the Lexington Academy afacility in the video below.