The bright future that lies ahead of Spurs and England striker Harry Kane, is now mirrored by the artificial football pitch where he honed his skills once-upon-a-time. The Peter May Sports Centre, in Walthamstow, is where a young Kane learned his trade and first attracted the interest of eagle-eyed scouts keen to snap up the precocious talent.
Even before Harry had come and gone, the Peter May Sports Centre had already played a huge role in the development of David Beckham, who grew up practising his famous pinpoint delivery on the playing field, and England cricketer, Ravi Bopara, who perfected his game on one of the many cricket pitches also on offer at the ground.
The centre is named after Peter May, who captained England in 41 Tests and skippered Surrey to successive county championships, and the appreciation of these major sporting figures who have gone before is palpable amongst the modern day users of the site.
As well as paving the way for star-studded alumni, the centre is a starting point for thousands of other local grassroots sportspeople who may not be fortunate enough to turn professional in their respective disciplines, but nevertheless play their sport purely for the love of doing so. If nothing else, these East London playing fields have kept an entire generation of surrounding communities active and healthy.
The Kanes were one such family. Growing up nearby, Harry was rarely without a ball at his feet – likewise his brother Charlie – with their Mum and Dad cheering their progress from the touchline.
They weren’t alone either. Hundreds of parents still do exactly the same at Peter May every weekend, many during the week too, underlining the fact that these types of facility are real community hubs. This is something that isn’t lost on Kane: “I grew up learning my football trade in this part of the world, so I know how much this new pitch will mean to the local community. This facility will inspire more people to get involved in sport.”
“Grassroots football facilities, like the Peter May Sports Centre, are where a love of sport starts and for the gifted few, where careers begin. They are the golden thread that link the grassroots to the elite end of the game,” maintains Alex Welsh, London Playing Fields Foundation’s CEO and one of Kane’s first ever football coaches. Welsh is adamant: “When youngsters are playing football they need something to inspire them and in Harry’s case it was having access to a pitch, albeit not as good as the one that is there now, where he could train and play with his team mates.”
Welsh has spent most of his career coaching kids, so few are better placed to provide such a forensic analysis of the grassroots game. More pitches are needed, not only to produce more players of Kane’s quality – that remains a fortunate by-product of these facilities – but to make sure that the greatest number of people possible have access to quality facilities in which to play sport.