For more than a year, former Hillingdon Borough FC football manager Rob Burton has been teaching sport to disabled and challenged children. Last month, thanks to a charity link, he embarked on a journey to the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada. DAN COOMBS heard his story
SWAPPING his usual training ground of Hedgewood School, in Weymouth Road, Hayes, for the Caribbean sunshine, Rob Burton spent a week helping to teach young kids with special needs the skills of the beautiful game.
Rob, 37, a former manager of Hillingdon Borough Football Club, was in Grenada with Otis Roberts, chief executive of the Jason Roberts Foundation, which helps Grenadian children through football.
It is named after the former Hayes player, who founded it three years ago and was awarded an MBE in the New Year's Honours list in January.
While there, he worked alongside former Fulham coach, Gary Mulcahey. Mr Burton said: "For some of the children, it was the first time they had ever engaged in any type of physical education and I was humbled by their enthusiasm."
Coaching children with physical disabilities, Rob was also dealing with youngsters with Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism.
He is used to working with youngsters with all these conditions at his Hayes based soccer school, but it appeared that on Grenada, this was something of a first.
Rob said: "Despite the lack of equipment and although the facilities were not fantastic, it was a great experience for everyone involved.
"One of the biggest problems for development out there is a lack of equipment, and a lack of footballs and boots, but I was happy to donate some equipment to the cause.
"I saw one lad struggling with his boots, which were hanging together with Sellotape. In the end I gave him my boots to keep.
"There was no grass on the pitches - it was bone dry, it was like concrete and the ball was bobbling everywhere - but it will only serve to make the children more skilful to be able to adapt to those conditions."
The Grenada sessions were enthusiastically received by the islanders and local media.
Mr Roberts said: "It's great to have specialised coaches visiting our island on behalf of the foundation, and we'd like to thank Rob and all the staff for their efforts.
"This is definitely something we look to continue with going forward."
Rob says he would love to go back. "It is important for the children to have stability, and not for this to be a one-off thing," he said.
"Even for able-bodied kids, who I also worked with out there, there are no junior leagues; we have got to get something set up.
"Children with low attention spans were focusing on the coaching for over two hours, there was so much enthusiasm.
"There were tears too - the whole experience was emotional for a lot of the children and support workers."
Now a charity match between the Jason Roberts Foundation and a Liverpool Legends side has been arranged at Hayes and Yeading Football Club, Church Road, Hayes on May 16. Tickets are available from the club now.
* For more information about Rob Burton's soccer schools, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Jason Roberts Foundation's website is at www.jasonrobertsfoundation.com