The clock is ticking ahead of the first Manchester derby this season – but stars from both blue and red are on duty to team-up before that showdown.
Katie Zelem and Manchester United kicked off their latest campaign with a 2-0 victory against Reading on Friday night, while Caroline Weir and Manchester City took centre stage on Saturday afternoon when they cantered to a 4-0 triumph over Everton.
That clash didn’t only result in three points for Scotland international Weir and her City teammates.
Indeed, the curtain-raiser – which took place at Goodison Park – was screened live on BBC One as part of a bumper TV deal which has been struck by broadcasters and the FA Women’s Super League (WSL).
Worth between £10-15million each season, the arrangement has been pinned up as a game-changer for women’s sport in this country, which in turn should enable the already-booming WSL scene to progress even further in the coming months and years.
Zelem and Weir – ambassadors of the Fun Football scheme headed up by McDonald’s – are right at the forefront of that popularity as they continue to reach out to the next generation.
As part of the initiative, the global fast-food chain provides hundreds of free coaching sessions to kids starting out at grassroots level.
A social endeavour or their first step to following the paths laid out by Zelem and Weir, future Manchester derbies could well be lit up by those who take part in the fun-filled McDonald’s scheme.
With other games to be played first, United and Zelem lock horns with City and Weir in that mouth-watering WSL derby on Saturday, October 9 – but what does the clash mean for this famous footballing city?
Speaking to Manchester Evening News, Zelem said: “Every single year, Manchester United and women’s football is getting better and better. We’ve got aims and goals that we want to achieve, hopefully I can strive that forward as captain. There are two great teams from Manchester now.
“The derby will be a huge occasion and even better with fans back, to be honest. It will be amazing to see. My first game as captain was a Manchester derby at the Etihad and that will always be one of the proudest moments and highlights in my career, forever. To be able to re-do that with all the girls behind me, all the fans and my family and friends in the stadium will be unbelievable.”
Scotland international Weir, who represented Team GB at the Olympic Games this summer, added: “Derbies are all about the fans. The actual football games are not necessarily the most fun to play in, but you want to win and the last few derbies have been good for us, as well. It’s a game that I love to play in. To have fans back will be amazing. It’s something that we always look forward to and especially with having those fans back. It’s going to be great and we’re excited about it.”
Speaking about the McDonald’s scheme, Zelem said: “Everybody wants to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo and that is going to be somebody, but the social side and having fun is the most important thing. I was at an event and, for me, to see the smiles on their faces was amazing. I’m so proud and humbled that I’ve had that opportunity to really help the kids have fun, most importantly, but to get active and maybe even try football for the first time.”
Weir added: “It’s important that kids can go out there with no pressure, be in a safe and friendly environment and have fun. It doesn’t mean they’ve got to take it to any level. It’s sociable and they can make friends. Also, they are exercising, which is really important, too, keeping fit. There are so many positive things to come out of after these last 18 months. Kids have had a tough time of it, so it’s great to see them running around on football pitches again.”