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Gerry Armstrong and George Best’s widow Alex join forces for NI’s first ever multi ethnic youth festival

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HONOURED: Alex Best is delighted to return to her second home and help out with the festival

HONOURED: Alex Best is delighted to return to her second home and help out with the festival

HONOURED: Alex Best is delighted to return to her second home and help out with the festival

TV star Alex Best and football legend Gerry Armstrong are teaming up to help kick off Northern Ireland’s first ever Multi Ethnic Youth Festival on Saturday.

Widow of football legend George Best, Alex will join her late husband’s former Northern Ireland team-mate Gerry to present trophies at a huge youth football tournament during a day of cultural diversity at Ormeau Park in Belfast.

The festival of food, music and sport will bring together young people from 55 different ethnic backgrounds along with local youth.

The first of what is hoped will become a huge annual celebration, the festival has been organised by Jahswill Emmanuel, winner of the 2021 Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Charity Champion award.

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BIG HEART: Jahswill Emmanuel with charity trustee Latoya Toffa and his Spirit of NI charity aw

BIG HEART: Jahswill Emmanuel with charity trustee Latoya Toffa and his Spirit of NI charity aw

BIG HEART: Jahswill Emmanuel with charity trustee Latoya Toffa and his Spirit of NI charity aw

Jahswill (34), who moved here in 2004 from Nigeria, set up Multi-Ethnic Sports and Culture Northern Ireland (MSCNI) in 2016.

The charity engages young people from a wide range of backgrounds through participation in sports and Saturday’s event aims to help forge friendships and understanding of each other’s cultures.

Jahswill is thrilled to have Alex and Gerry join the event.

Gerry said: “I am surprised that it is the first one and we haven’t had an event like it before.

“It is right up my street. I recently did an event for the Lighthouse People for suicide awareness and there are so many good causes but this is for the whole of Northern Ireland and I am really pleased to be asked to be part of it.”

Gerry (67) spent lockdown bringing a little light into thousands of homes with his Gerry and Friends weekly chat show on social media.

He hopes to do some interviews on the day for a new show he plans to run periodically.

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STILL GOT IT: Gerry plays a game of headers with Q Radio’s Ibe Sesay as Jahswill Emmanuel, Aya Ayoube and Timilehin look on

STILL GOT IT: Gerry plays a game of headers with Q Radio’s Ibe Sesay as Jahswill Emmanuel, Aya Ayoube and Timilehin look on

STILL GOT IT: Gerry plays a game of headers with Q Radio’s Ibe Sesay as Jahswill Emmanuel, Aya Ayoube and Timilehin look on

He has also been busy in the past year writing his autobiography — Gerry Armstrong: My Story, My Journey – Spirit of 82 — which is due to be published next month.

He promises a “warts and all” look at his early life in Belfast and the football career which took him to England where he played for Tottenham Hotspur.

However, it was with Northern Ireland that he became a hero of the sport for local fans, gaining 63 caps and famously scoring the winning goal against hosts Spain in the 1982 World Cup.

He says: “The book tells the story of my life growing up in Belfast to playing soccer in Bangor when I was 16 and then going to Tottenham and the World Cup in Spain. While there was a lot of fun and a lot of laughs, it wasn’t always easy and there were tough times as well.”

Now working part-time as a football commentator for Virgin Media, Gerry said he was delighted to be sharing the stage this Saturday with Alex.

He says: “I’ve known Alex a long time since when she was married to George. George features in my new book a lot as I made my Northern Ireland debut with him.

“We were close throughout our careers as we both also worked in Sky together.

“I think there will be a wee bit of reminiscing when Alex and I get together for the festival.”

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UP FOR GRABS: Gerry, Jahswill, Aya and Timilehin with some of the trophies

UP FOR GRABS: Gerry, Jahswill, Aya and Timilehin with some of the trophies

UP FOR GRABS: Gerry, Jahswill, Aya and Timilehin with some of the trophies

It will be 16 years on November 25 that the world said goodbye to Belfast boy George, one of the most talented footballers ever to kick a ball.

His widow Alex has maintained close links with Northern Ireland since the couple made their home here and is a regular visitor.

She too is thrilled to be given the chance to support such an important festival. “I love coming back to Northern Ireland, it is my second home and it’s great to be coming over to attend such an absolutely fantastic event,” she says.

“It seems to have a bit of everything from football to music and just getting everyone together to celebrate cultural diversity.

“I am also looking forward to seeing Gerry again as he is a great friend and it will be lovely to catch up with him and his wife Debby.”

Alex revealed that she will also take the opportunity to put flowers on her late husband’s grave to mark his forthcoming anniversary.

She adds: “It is 16 years which have gone by so quickly. I do reflect every year and think about George on his anniversary and this will give me a chance to visit his grave.”

For organiser Jahswill the presence of Alex and Gerry will be a chance to teach the children at the event about Northern Ireland’s proud football history.

He says: “It is good to let our youth know who the local football heroes are.

“Most will know George Best because of the airport but they don’t know the story, so it’s good for them to learn about it and Gerry’s famous World Cup goal.

“Both Alex and Gerry really love what we are doing and I am so happy they are supporting the festival.

“It is good for us as a community to know we are not alone and people want to support what we are doing and it will encourage the young people that they too can follow a career in sport if they want to.”

Events kick off next Saturday with the football tournament at 12 noon, featuring around 20 teams.

Throughout the day Ormeau Park will also reverberate to the sounds of traditional African music and the smells of food from around the world.

The day will culminate with a concert, hosted by radio presenter Ibe Sesay and featuring teenagers from a variety of different cultures.

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Ibe Sesay and Gerry Armstrong have a kickabout

Ibe Sesay and Gerry Armstrong have a kickabout

Ibe Sesay and Gerry Armstrong have a kickabout

Gig highlights include teenager Conor Marcus, who reached the semi-finals of The Voice Kids and who has been mentored by Gary Lightbody, and 13-year-old guitar virtuoso Zac Mac from Lurgan.

It is also hoped that Gerry Armstrong’s daughter Marianna will join Conor on stage for a duet.

The event has been made possible with sponsorship from Belfast City Council and JJIMP Entertainments, with contributions from the IFA, Sport NI and the Rio Ferdinand Foundation who supplied footballs and bibs.

Jahswill adds: “I hope the festival will help bring our youth closer to local youth so that they can start celebrating their cultures together and make new friends.

“I also hope local people come along and support the young people and help to celebrate culture and diversity.”


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