With excitement building ahead of the World Cup, the Football Association is encouraging people to get out and play on a weekend of football celebration starting on Friday 6 June.
The weekend - named 'Reds v Blues' after the classic team colours most often worn in football - aims to inspire people of all ages and abilities to sign up and represent either a red or blue team in any kind of football match, from a back garden kickabout to an organised 11-a-side game.
Scores from every game played across the country will be combined to create an overall Reds v Blues final score at the end of the weekend, which comes a week before England's World Cup opener against Italy on 14 June.
The FA - under pressure to reverse a recent decline in playing numbers - hopes that the excitement building ahead of the World Cup and a festival of football in Brazil will drive people to get involved, and they have setup a number of ways to encourage people to join in.
On Friday 6 June, the FA has teamed up with 5-a-side providers Power League, Play Football and Goals to set up Reds v Blues tournaments, with top prizes up for grabs in each centre, while on Saturday 7 June, they are urging everyone who loves the game to just pick up a ball, choose their colour and start or join in a Reds v Blues match.
Fifty County FAs will run activities across the country, with flagship events including a World Cup-inspired beach football festival in Dorset and a disability football showcase at St. George’s Park.
The FA - who gave Wembley Stadium and the Bobby Moore statue the Red v Blue treatment to launch the event (right) - will give away 10,000 special red and blue footballs as part of the celebrations and has also partnered with Goals, Play Football and Power League football centres to offer special rates during the World Cup on selected dates.
Between 12 June and 13 July, the FA Mars Just Play scheme will be offering one free kickabout to each adult at participating venues. To get involved, anyone over 16 can simply search online for 'Just Play', enter their postcode and book themselves into a local kickabout.
Leading the Reds v Blues recruitment drive is former Bolton Wanderers and England Under-21 star Fabrice Muamba, who has supported the FA’s grassroots work since his cardiac arrest on the pitch in March 2012 forced him to give up the game.
“Football is a game I love but am no longer able to take part. It is really important for me to spread the word that people should cherish their opportunity to play, he said.
"It doesn’t matter what your background is, football’s simple beauty is that anyone can get involved wherever they are.
“I fully support the Reds v Blues campaign, especially with the excitement of the World Cup ramping up. It would be great to think of kids watching Steven Gerrard and the boys out in Brazil and then rushing outside to play themselves. You’re never too old either, so mums and dads should join them.”
The FA had £1.6m of Sport England funding cut in March due to a decline in the number of adults playing the game, but they hope that World Cup fever and events such as Reds v Blues - part of its new wider Love Football Play Football initiative, which also includes Sir Bobby Robson Day and an FA Community Weekend later in the summer - will see a reversal in the trend.
FA Chairman Greg Dyke said: “As someone who still plays football at 66 - when my legs allow it - I am proof anyone can get involved!"
“The FA faces big challenges to keep people playing, and we are stepping up our work on the facilities and coaching side – but let’s not forget the most important thing is to get a ball, find some mates and just have a go.
“Reds v Blues will be the perfect time to do just that – especially with excitement building towards the World Cup in Brazil."
Images courtesy of TheFA.com.