Football is coming home to the park where World Cup heroes Sir Bobby Charlton and Jack Charlton first began to play and train, with £2.3 million funding to boost its facilities.
The money from the National Lottery to restore under-used football pitches at Hirst Park, Ashington, Northumberland, has been confirmed as part of a £40 million boost to 13 parks and cemeteries across England and Wales.
Funding for the park will also establish an annual Charlton and Milburn Cup tournament, for local youth groups to follow in their footsteps of the 1966 World Cup winning brothers and their cousin and fellow footballer Jackie Milburn.
Other parks receiving jointly awarded money by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Big Lottery Fund England include Victoria Park, Stafford, Poole Park in Poole, Marble Hill, London and Pearson Park, Hull, while HLF has also awarded a grant to Bishop’s Park, Abergwili.
Hirst Park was created in 1915 to provide green space for the rapidly expanding mining community, but has fallen into decline in recent decades.
As well as helping inspire the next generation of footballers, the funding will support a new horticultural training centre, water splash zone, facilities for charities and a growing zone including therapeutic gardening.
Sir Bobby welcomed the boost to the park where he trained as a youngster before going on to play for Manchester United and England.
He said: “Hirst Park is as necessary and valuable to the youth of today as it was to me.
“Thanks to the generosity of the National Lottery may it continue to flourish for the benefit of the community.”
Jack Charlton, who was spotted playing at Hirst Park by scouts from Leeds United, described the park as their “very own Wembley”.
“The football pitches where we played were created on the ash tip from the colliery and these were our first training grounds, our very own Wembley.
“The park was a precious place where me and Bobby learned our craft, training and playing for fun, before going on to join Leeds and Manchester United and then playing in the World Cup-winning England side in 1966.
“Hirst Park made it all possible for us and we would play all day if we could and we often did.”
HLF’s chairman Sir Peter Luff, said, on behalf of HLF and Big Lottery Fund: “Our parks are where we play some of our first games, where we make some of our first discoveries and where some of us take our first steps to stardom.
“However we use them, parks are an important part of life, which is why we’re delighted to be investing National Lottery players’ money in parks and cemeteries from Northumberland to Poole to carry out vital regeneration and create some wonderful opportunities for communities and wildlife.”
The 13 parks and cemeteries receiving grants are:Victoria Park and Watercress Fields, Ashford, Kent – £3.2 million (earmarked funding, with initial support to develop the project);
Boston Manor Park, London – £3.9 million (earmarked funding, with initial support to develop the project);Poole Park, Poole – £2.9 million;
West Smethwick Park, Sandwell – £4.8 million;Hirst Park, Ashington, Northumberland – £2.3 million;
Victoria Park, Stafford – £1.9 million;Staunton Park, Hampshire – £2.9 million;
Rectory Lane Cemetery, Berkhamsted – £981,200;Springfield Park, London – £3.3 million;
Marble Hill, London – £4.3 million;Canons Park, London – £4.7 million;
Pearson Park, Hull – £3.1 million;Bishop’s Park, Abergwili – £1.4 million.