Four Special Olympic gold medal winners from the North East travelled to London on a newly refurbished Virgin Trains service from Durham to mix with their Premier League idols at the 43rd PFA Awards tonight.
The four, who all play for County Durham-based club Beamish Dynamos, were members of the Great Britain football team which won gold medals at the Special Olympics in Los Angeles last year.
They have been invited to the Professional Football Association’s gala annual event as guests of its Chief Executive Gordon Taylor, while Virgin Trains has stepped in to ensure they could travel in style.
Bobby Coltman, who coaches the Dynamos and the GB team, said: “The club is incredibly proud of the lads and their achievement as a British team which not only won a Gold medal in the football event, but did so through winning a penalty shoot out!
“Gordon Taylor has personally invited the squad to what is seen as the top night of the year in British football. We’re grateful to Gordon and the PFA for this tremendous gesture and for Virgin Trains for taking the lads to London for an event with some of the biggest stars of the professional game.”
Gordon Taylor OBE said that he had met the Special Olympics football squad at a reception at the US Embassy in London ahead of the Games last year, “and had promised them that if they won they would be our special guests at the PFA Awards”.
“We also spoke to Steven Gerrard of LA Galaxy who tweeted his support for the team in Los Angeles,” he added: “Even if they had not won but had still given their best they would have been our special guests at the awards.”
The four gold medal winners are: GB captain Andy Hetherington, 28, from Stanley; Alex Sawyer Copus, 18, from Houghton-le-Spring; Michael MacGurk, 20, from Leadgate; Brad Whitfield, 20, from Annfield Plain.
Sunderland fan Alex said: “My time during the Games was such an amazing experience. To play 11-a-side football representing Great Britain is what every kid dreams about.”
Brad, a Newcastle United fan, said he was looking forward to the PFA awards, adding: “Winning the Olympic gold medal was the greatest thing I have achieved, a dream come true.”
Jennie Pitt, People Engagement Manager for Virgin Trains, said: “We’re delighted to support these gold medal winners from communities on our east coast route by taking them down to London in style for the biggest night in the football calendar.”
The Special Olympics is a global organisation that serves athletes with intellectual disabilities.
The PFA Awards is attended by hundreds of current professional footballers who voted for the outstanding performers from the top divisions in English football. The PFA was formed in 1907 and is the world’s longest established professional sportsperson’s union.
About Virgin Trains
Stagecoach and Virgin are working in partnership to operate the East Coast and West Coast inter-city routes under the Virgin Trains brand. Together, they are on track to revolutionise rail travel across the UK.
The combined network connects some of the nation’s most iconic destinations including Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, York and London.
Virgin Trains is committed to delivering a high speed, high frequency service, offering shorter journey times, more comfortable travel and excellent customer service. Customers consistently rate Virgin Trains as one of the top long-distance rail franchise operators in the National Rail Passenger Survey (NRPS) commissioned by industry watchdog, Transport Focus.
On the East Coast route, £140m is being invested to create a more personalised travel experience. This includes a major fleet revamp, smarter stations and exciting new routes. From May 2016, there will be 42 additional services (22,000 extra seats) per week between Edinburgh and London. 2018 will see the introduction of completely new Azuma trains being built in the UK by Hitachi.
The West Coast route has a proud record of challenging the status quo - from introducing tilting Pendolino trains, to a pioneering automated delay repay scheme and becoming the first franchised rail operator to offer m-Tickets for all ticket types.
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